Meet Stan and Ollie

Stan & Ollie, a valentine to the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, bows in US theaters this Friday, December 28.

The film, starring Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy, has already received widespread critical acclaim. It’s highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes, with a Golden Globe nomination for Reilly. Can Oscar nominations be in the offing?

It’s all great recognition for the renowned comedy duo who began fading in popularity in the 1940s but then didn’t disappear from memory. That’s due — at least in part — to the Laurel and Hardy appreciation society known as The Sons of the Desert (named for one of their best features).

Founded in New York City in 1965 with the blessing of Stan Laurel, chapters named for different Laurel and Hardy films (Way Out West, Them Thar Hills, etc.)  – properly called “tents” – have since sprouted around the world. There are more than 80 tents in the US, as well as chapters in Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. Meetings consist of toasts to Laurel and Hardy and such beloved foils as Mae Busch, James Finlayson and Charlie Hall. Most important, the gatherings are a welcoming setting where anyone can discover the films of Laurel and Hardy and their comedic contemporaries.

For more information about a tent near you, search this tent directory.

If you’re not able to make it to a Sons meeting, DVD sets are available from Amazon and other providers.

But as a news site that covers streaming content, The Savvy Screener is pleased to point out options for watching Laurel and Hardy films online. The question is, where does an L&H newbie start?

Below are some of our picks for Laurel and Hardy’s best, including both silent and sound shorts, and features (they made more than 100 films as a team from 1927 to 1951). You can find from many providers, including Amazon and YouTube. If you’re already a Laurel and Hardy fan, feel free to add your must-see choices in the comment section below.

Silent Shorts

Two Tars (1928)

Two sailors on leave (Laurel and Hardy) pick up two women and then, with their dates’ encouragement, battle with short-tempered motorists stuck in a traffic jam. Talk about road rage.

Liberty (1929)

Laurel and Hardy escape prison and find vertiginous refuge on the girders of an unfinished skyscraper.

Big Business (1929)

The boys sell Christmas trees door-to-door in LA, incurring the wrath of James Finlayson.

Sound Shorts

The Music Box (1932)

In this Oscar winner, Laurel and Hardy attempt to deliver a piano to a house “right on top of the stoop.” Among their obstacles: gravity and a haughty piano-hating professor (Billy Gilbert).  You can purchase this short starting at $2.99 from Amazon and other sources.

Them Thar Hills (1934)

Having engaged in too much “high living,” the duo rent a trailer and drive into the hills to drink the mountain water. Unfortunately, they imbibe from a spiked well and then encounter two stranded motorists – husband and wife Charlie Hall and Mae Busch.

Pom! Pom!

You can buy this short for $1.99 from Amazon and iTunes.

Tit for Tat (1935)

Laurel and Hardy meet the Halls again in this sequel to Them Thar Hills (their only sequel). This time they open an electrical appliance store next to Hall’s grocery. Mr. Hall proves to be less than neighborly. This short received an Oscar nomination.

You can buy this short from iTunes for $2.99.

The Features

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Stan and Ollie engage in subterfuge, trying to convince their wives (Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy) that the two must go to Hawaii for Ollie’s health. Instead, they travel to Chicago for a fraternal convention. The boys soon learn that “honesty is the best politics.”

You can watch Sons of the Desert for free on library streamer Hoopla or with a paid subscription to The Criterion Channel. You can also rent it for $1.99 from YouTube and other providers.

Way Out West (1937)

Laurel and Hardy must deliver a gold mine deed to Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence) who works at a saloon operated by Mickey Finn (James Finlayson). Through misdirection, the two messengers instead give it to Finn’s wife (Sharon Lynn). Will Stan and Ollie be able to recover the deed and give it to its rightful owner?  Composer Marvin Hatley received an Oscar nomination for best original score. There’s also a famous dance routine, recreated by Coogan and Reilly in Stan & Ollie.

You can watch Way Out West for free on library streamer Hoopla and Pluto TV; or rent for $1.99 from Google Play and other providers.

About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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3 thoughts on “Meet Stan and Ollie”

  1. Randy, I’m curious to know what you thought of the biopic “Stan & Ollie.” I liked it very much, especially the two lead performances, but was disappointed they didn’t recreate actual L&H stage material. Longtime fans would have enjoyed seeing “Birds of a Feather” or the Driver’s License sketch finally brought to life on film.

  2. Shameless self-promotion here — I have been researching and writing about Laurel and Hardy’s lives and work for close to 50 years and had the pleasure of knowing and interviewing more than 60 of their associates. If you would like to know more about how the team made their 106 films, you might look at my books, “Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies,” or “The Laurel and Hardy Movie Scripts,” available through Amazon. Thanks!


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