Movie Review: 'Stan & Ollie'

John Thomas

There are few that do not know the names Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy). Those that do, know that this famous comedy team began their partnership in the mid 20s and continued working together until the mid 40s, appearing in the last of their 170 films together in 1950. Their final theater tour took place in 1953.

So famed were they world-wide that many countries coined their own special names for them. In Denmark they were known as “Gøg og Gokke,” loosely translated into wacky and pompous. The two men set the stage for comedians and comedy routines for decades to come.

Stan and Ollie provides a glimpse into their personal lives when they were at the top of their careers and into their slow decline in popularity. Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) is the more focused of the two; he works on new material for their shows and films, conferring with producers and wrangling with agents. Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) is the more hedonistic partner. They both, however, see the need to increase their visibility with theater and movie audiences, to this end, they embark on a theater tour of Britain and Ireland.

Their English agent has booked them into smaller theaters in more obscure towns and smaller cities throughout England. The audiences are few in number, but when Stan and Ollie’s  theme song, Dance of the Cuckoos begins, everyone is ready for a good, happy time – and that they will have.

Stan and Ollie hope to perform in major theaters in London at the close of the tour. To this end, their agent suggests they promote their shows through advertising. The “boys” are reluctant, but finally agree - a good choice as when they do arrive in London the theaters in which they perform are filled to capacity with cheering adoring crowds.

The tour has not been an easy one, at least not for Ollie as his enormous weight and weak heart are taking their physical toll. He has the “show must go on” spirit which doesn’t make the situation any easier on his health. Stan is concerned for his friend, so concerned that he doesn’t mention that their proposed Robin Hood film may not have a producer and their debts are piling up. Their wives arrive which makes some things better and others worse. With all the complications surrounding them, they do decide to finish the tour in Ireland as originally outlined. The four board the ship and sail away for the final shows and a somewhat unknown future.

Steve and John recreate Stan and Ollie so well that frequently one confuses the now with the then. That is what actors are supposed to do, and in this case, these two actors perform brilliantly. Special recognition should also be paid to the makeup artists – their work is outstanding. Lastly, the screen play and script writers deserve generous accolades for having prepared such a caring and sensitively composed script.

Directed by Jon S. Baird (Credits:  Cass,  Filth) Stan and Ollie is a “should see” movie that runs for 97 minutes.


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