Laurel & Hardy were one of the few great silent movie acts to have even greater success in sound, and for a while, their films seemed ubiquitous on TV. Having long ago become cultural icons — the skinny one, the fat one; the exasperating, the exasperated — they achieved unity in diversity. It’s worthwhile getting reacquainted with their work with this set, even if it contradicts itself by proving what any Laurel & Hardy fan knows: Their strong suit was short-form comedies rather than features, and the features they were in were often padded by extraneous music and fraying plotlines.
Elastic Stan Laurel was a child of the English musical hall tradition and a theater family, the “genius” of the team who was paid more than his chubby counterpart because he wrote and produced their material. Roly-poly Oliver Hardy was the yeoman actor and child of a slave-owning family whose roots in Southern gentility often surfaced in his comedy, even when tipping his hat meant getting a kick in the pants.
Anchored by two decent mid-career features — “The Devil’s Brother” (1933) and “Bonnie Scotland” (1935) — the collection also includes a 2002 docu about shorts, produced for Turner Classics Movies. While not new, it’s a joy to revisit: It chronicles the history of short subjects from two-reeler silents to Laurel & Hardy to the Three Stooges and Our Gang comedies and the history of Vitaphone shorts made in Brooklyn all the way up to the mock-docs of people like Peter Smith (still shown regularly on TCM).
Extras include a colorized fragment of “The Rogue Song,” a “lost” film directed in 1930 by Lionel Barrymore; and several bits from 1934’s “Hollywood Party,” which really show the team at its best. Perhaps the highlight of the package is “The Egg Skit” in which the pair and “Mexican Spitfire” Lupe Velez (playing herself) explore several creative ways of breaking eggs on each other. The routine lasts just as long as it should, which is something you can’t always say about Laurel & Hardy’s features.