Socialist Worker

Stan and Ollie delivers dash of slapstick and tenderness

A strong cast of actors fill the shoes of Laurel, Hardy and the people around them in John S Baird’s account of the duo’s twilight years, writes Pat Carmody

Issue No. 2637

Stan and Ollie

John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan excel


One thing I learned watching TV in the 1970s was that if I ever needed a piano shifting I shouldn’t ask Laurel and Hardy.

The slapstick duo’s films were a regular and popular feature on the schedules then despite more than 40 years passing since their heyday.

Director John S Baird’s Stan & Ollie begins in 1937. The duo are about to seek a better return from the profits that their world-wide success had brought ruthless movie mogul Hal Roach.

In contrast to his clumsy and child-like screen persona, the off-screen Stan Laurel was a workaholic.

He was constantly honing and writing new routines and was determined that they should both be rewarded with a hefty pay rise.

On the other hand Oliver Hardy was handing his hard-earned cash to the bookies or on his way to the next party.

When Roach makes it clear they’ll not get another cent, Stan berates him for being a cheapskate and for his support of Mussolini.

Ollie pathetically tries to placate the boss.

The film then moves to Newcastle some 16 years later.

The pair are about to embark on a tour of Britain while trying to track down a backer for their new film ­version of Robin Hood.

Much has happened in the ­intervening period and they are not as in demand as they used to be.

Eclipsed

Ollie is struggling with his health, and their stars have long since been eclipsed by the likes of Jerry Lewis and Abbott and Costello.

There is an elephant in the room. A past betrayal hangs over their relationship.

But to keep the show on the road and maintain the precious bond between them, both make efforts to ensure that simmering grievances don’t erupt. But you fancy they will.

Much has been said about the brilliant performances of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in the title roles.

These were very big shoes to fill. Coogan and Reilly excel in expressing the affection in the relationship at the centre of the film.

But the picture isn’t complete without Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, whose caustic exchanges as the protective wives Ida and Lucille are as sharp as any in film.

Is this funny and bittersweet film worth a trip to cinema even for those not familiar with Laurel & Hardy’s work?

It most certainly is.


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