3 Stars – Wholesome
Classic films may get academy awards but widely popular films can easily go without recognition. What makes them memorable though, is that these stories often touch our hearts or make us laugh. Such was the work of the comedy duo of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly).
In 1936, Laurel and Hardy were on the top of their game, making some of the most sought-after comedy films of the day. Like many people who experience the thrill of fame, they found that it is easily lost over time. Within a decade or two, the next generation of theater goers have moved on to the next “new” thing and your moment in the sun is over.
Stan & Ollie takes us on a journey to Great Britain in 1953 when the comedy due tries one last time to go on tour and save their sagging career and financial fortunes. Ironically, it is here late in their career that they both discover their personal brotherly affection for one another. Their career made them famous, even rich, but it was the trials of their downward spiral and loss of public support that made them realize how much they meant to each other.
Even though some of the greatest American comedy teams had their heyday 50-100 years ago, through the archives of television reruns the works of Laurel & Hardy, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Abbot & Castelo, the Three Stooges, or Desi & Lucille Ball are among the most beloved comedy routines remembered today. Stan Laurel’s and Oliver Hardy’s facial stunts, top-hat tricks, Laurel’s chin scratching, or their dancing in the 1937 classic Way Out West are among the most memorable scenes in Hollywood history.
Almost all of the successful stars of the 1920’s through the 1950’s were under contract to the great studios of the day. As such, they got a weekly salary and were assigned to one movie or another. These many comedy teams such as the Keystone Cops were under contract to the Hal Roach Studios, and they got the same salary whether their films were highly successful or bombed at the Box Office. Laurel and Hardy’s fortunes were greatly impacted by multiple marriages, divorces, and expensive alimony. By 1953 they were nearly broke.
By the time Stan and Ollie took off for a final tour of England in 1953, they were faced with the twin fractures of health and popularity. Now forced to stay in second class hotels and performing to half-empty small theaters in small towns, they were also acutely aware of the toll the tour was taking on their health. Oliver Hardy was significantly over-weight, and would soon realize that he was dying of congestive heart failure. Their two-month tour was quickly dissolving into a three-week stint and a pending movie deal that had been on the horizon was about to disintegrate leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy.
When they least expected it, redemption occurred. With their tour at its lowest point, they agreed out of desperation, to do a series of free public events. These public appearances caught hold with the public, who remembered their classic uplifting impact on the pre-war jitters just prior to World War II. Soon, theaters began to fill, and by the time they played London, it was a sold-out triumph. It was also here where both men had to face their fears and let go of the pains from their past. For the first time in their lives together, they had to speak the truth to each other, confess their anger over past hurts, and finally come to a place of forgiveness and affection for one another.
It was only a few months after the end of their tour that Oliver Hardy succumbed to heart failure, and Stan Laurel never entertained professionally again. Even so, Laurel continued for another decade until his death to write comedy sketches for his beloved partner in comedy. Their work remains as popular today as it ever was while they were with us.
The unique nature of Stan and Ollie’s comedy rests in part on their very different physical and personality characteristics. Do you find their type of humor interesting? Why or why not.
Comedians often take their pain and turn it into humor, choosing to laugh instead of cry. How do you handle your pain? If you choose humor do you find it helpful.
Research has shown that laughter is a healing potion. Do you find a good laugh healing?