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Acting superb in Stan and Ollie

(From left) John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan play the titular roles of Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. (Entertainment One photo)

 

By Leonard Heldreth
This month’s films include two biographical films and a new film by a controversial Greek director.

STAN AND OLLIE
Director John S. Baird’s film opens in 1937 when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were at the peak of their fame, and he sets the stage with a long tracking shot that follows the two men crossing the Hal Roach studio lot while arguing about their working conditions and pay; eventually they arrive at the set of Way Out West and seamlessly slip into their roles, performing the famous soft shoe routine from that film on set, and then sliding into the film itself, as they exit through the saloon doors.
The film then cuts to 1953; the famous duo has aged, their fame has declined, and they are about to embark on a tour of the U.K., partly just to drum up some badly needed money and partly to raise funds and establish their credibility to make a new movie about Robin Hood (the film was never made). Instead of staying in luxury hotels and eating at fancy restaurants, they stay in run-down resorts and perform in fading music halls. But with some carefully planned public relations skits, they build up their following, although they are still arguing over various matters. Then Hardy has a heart attack and ends up in the hospital. How it all works out makes a nice conclusion to a charming movie.
The acting throughout is superb, as Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are totally believable as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Coogan’s Laurel is the more subtle performance, and he manages to keep the physical characteristics and facial expressions of the skinny comedian just right; it doesn’t become a caricature. Reilly, swaddled in a fat suit that took four hours to apply and left only his eyes visible, captures Hardy’s physical appearance and also his constant frustration with Laurel, as he mutters, “Another fine mess.” Both men were married several times, and it is Hardy’s third spouse, Lucille (Shirley Henderson), and Laurel’s fourth wife, Ida (Nina Arianda), who join the comedians in London; both actresses are excellent and hold their own in the ensemble scenes.
Like most Hollywood films, the script doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Despite the opening shot, Laurel and Hardy worked out their differences with Hal Roach and made several more films with him. They had also done previous British stage tours—
in 1932, in 1947, and in 1952, the latter apparently the basis for most of the events in the film. As the film winds down, its focus shifts to the relationship between the two comedians and to the fact that as performers, their time is running out; they have no choice but to make way for new blood. All four leads reflect this quality as they deal with Hardy’s illness and question whether or not they should continue the tour. Fortunately, the film usually strikes the right balance between scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy and those of quiet, effective drama. It’s a must-see for fans; for those wanting to see more, the 10-disc DVD Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection, covers most of their sound-era shorts & features (1929-1940).

THE FAVOURITE
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s three previous films—Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)—were all surrealistic or fantastic in major ways. The Lobster sent people to a hotel for single individuals where they had to find a mate in forty-five days or be turned into an animal, while The Killing of a Sacred Deer chronicled a young man’s search for revenge on the doctor who may have had a drink before a botched surgery and killed his father. The latter two were recommended in these pages with qualifications, and while Lanthimos’s most recent film is clearly more mainstream, it also must come with qualifications. Heavily influenced by the ribald and often obscene genre of Restoration drama, The Favourite is laced with witty, often four-letter word dialogue, vicious repartee and characters with very few redeeming qualities. Among the cast at the end are “Fastest Duck in the City,” “Wanking Man” and “Nude Pomegranate Tory,” the latter a reference to a scene where spectators throw rotten fruit at an overweight man in a huge wig. Despite these drawbacks (if they are seen as such), The Favourite was nominated for nine Academy Awards…

(All films reviewed are available as DVDs from local stores.)

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