“Stan and Ollie”*
Meet the real Laurel and Hardy. “Babe” Hardy was a gentle soul who played the horses and simply wanted others to like him. Stan Laurel was a driven perfectionist who conceived the skits that helped to make them stars. As a young man, Laurel had been Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. Some believed that he spent the rest of his life chasing Chaplin.
Could there be a greater acting challenge than impersonating comedians known to millions?
Steve Coogan (Laurel) and John C. Reilly (Hardy) are nothing short of astonishing in the way they inhabit these legendary characters. You will search in vain for something that seems heavy handed or out of place. In the wrong hands, this film could have been the kind of cinematic disaster that people joke about for years.
When the film opens in 1953, Abbott and Costello are stars, Laurel and Hardy are has-beens and Babe Hardy is careening toward the health crisis that will end their careers. The boys have been lured to the United Kingdom by the opportunity to make a new movie about Robin Hood. As they wait for the details to be worked out, they do the theatre circuit, performing their classic bits on stage from one end of the U.K. to the other.
The key to understanding this film is to recognize that we are witnessing the portrait of a marriage.
While this was a celibate union, the two achieved a degree of intimacy that was never equaled in the long string of marriages, mistresses and misery in which the two men indulged. In one key scene, a concerned Laurel climbs into bed with an exhausted and frightened Hardy. Laurel provides some badly needed comfort by holding his partner’s hand. Witnessing the intense hatred that the two men’s wives feel for each other is an intriguing subplot of this remarkable film.
*Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Dick Levinson has lived in Philadelphia since 1995.
He is a Librarian at the Parkway Central Library.