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DVD review: The Larger World of Laurel and Hardy Volume 13

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New three disc collection of silent and early sound comedy

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In the world of vintage cinema on DVD, there are a few big companies that support making classic films readily available. Kino Classics, Flicker Alley, Milestone, and a few of the studio-based archive collections have done a nice job finding the best prints possible in order to allow greater accessibility to cinema’s rich history.

Looser Than Loose is a smaller, privately owned company that, for years, has been offering some hard to find silent and early talkie films, especially comedies. This latest disc is one of their most impressive. It is part of a series called The Larger World of Laurel and Hardy, which spotlights films featuring both Stan and Ollie during their solo years, as well as movies featuring the notable people with whom they’d worked. It embellishes our understanding and appreciation of all that surrounded the classic comedy team's brilliantly funny output.

On this three-disc set, we see the work of Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Andy Clyde, Larry Semon, Al St John, Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, and other fine comic stars of the past, from iconic geniuses to those who were just plain funny.

Disc One offers the MGM feature “Speak Easily,” starring Keaton and Durante as well as frequent Laurel and Hardy co-star Thelma Todd, and future Charlie Chan actor Sidney Toler. This public domain movie is available in varying quality, but the Looser Than Loose print is perhaps the best currently available.

Disc Two features five short films, including “Those Bitter Sweets,” a Mack Sennett production starring Mae Busch, who memorably played Hardy’s wife in a few high profile Laurel and Hardy movies. “The Show” is a typically wild, funny Larry Semon short in which Oliver Hardy offers able support. Semon’s vision was grander and more expansive than most comedians, and his gags were explosive and over-the-top. It is as fascinating as it is hilarious. The Cameo comedy “Scrambled Eggs” features rotund Babe London, so funny as Hardy’s wife in the Laurel and Hardy short “Our Wife.” “Honeymoon Trio” is an Educational release, this one a talkie with Al St. John and directed by Arbuckle. “Boy Oh Boy!” is another Educational talkie production with Andy Clyde and frequent Laurel and Hardy nemesis James Finlayson. The disc concludes with a three minute excerpt from the Neil Hamilton (yes Commissioner Gordon) film “Command Performance” in which Thelma Todd appears.

Disc Three offers four more short comedies including “His Day Out,” a King Bee production with Chaplin imitator Billy West and Oliver Hardy; two Stan Laurel solo films – “Smithy” and “Half a Man” are also included; and finally a “Voice of Hollywood” from 1931 in which Laurel and Hardy impersonators cavort with Keaton, Arthur Lake, and Wheeler and Woolsey.

As usual, Looser Than Loose gathers the best cinematic elements available, usually with original titles and intertitles. Unlike many independent DVD producers, the music on the silent films is never tacked on lazily, with no concern as to whether it is appropriate to the action. The music is always carefully selected and fits the action comfortably.

There are some notable exceptions also on this disc. “The Show” offers footage from an Italian print of the film has been restored for this release. Thus we have scenes in this version that are not on previously releases. The print of “Half a Man” is given a new score that works even better with the material than any other DVD version of this short. Finally, there are more films on this volume of “The Larger World of Laurel and Hardy” than any previous discs from the series.

The triumvirate of silent comedy giants, the hierarchy of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, is certainly genuine and of utmost importance. But looking beyond their contribution and exploring the many other silent and early sound comedians whose work is unfairly forgotten, usually reveals many great surprises. This three disc set is most highly recommended.

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