Laurel and Hardy’s career highs were all at Hal Roach Studios, and these three films are from their Fox period, in the twilight of their filmography. It is hard to call any of these classics, but there is still some very worthwhile comedy.
Best of the bunch is Jitterbugs (1943), where are duo hook up with con man Robert Bailey, and decide to pull a sting on the grifters who robbed Vivian Blaine’s mother of her savings. As is the case with the other two films, the trademarked…L&H destruction is kept to a minimum (though there is a nice bit of business involving a steamship at the climax). Stan Laurel’s turn in drag makes up for this – the oldest gag in the book is still gold when in the hands of a master.
By contrast, The Big Noise (1944) is widely considered to be the worst film of the duo’s career. Much was made in the promo material at the time of the care being taken not to waste material with too much wanton destruction (there was a war on, and all that), but the result was a very tired tale of two janitors pretending to be detectives and then getting caught up in a plot to steal a super-bomb.
Falling somewhere in between the two is Great Guns (1941). Their first film for Fox, this sees the two friends as chauffeur and gardener to a rich young man. When their employer is drafted, they enlist as well, with the inevitable results. Classic L&H? No, but not terrible, and historically interesting for the shift it marks both for their career and in their appearance on film (toned down).
You have your usual choice of mono and stereo remixes in this set. The latter, rather predictably, indiscriminate, pumping any and all sounds through all speakers, and this includes dialogue. The result is a bit happier with the score, fleshing it out somewhat. Jitterbugs has the weakest track, with an overall sound quality that is noticeably old (older sounding than many other releases from the same era), rather thin and constricted. There is no static, at least, but there is some sibilance.
Variable. The image is pretty sharp, and there grain is minimal. The blacks are good, but the grey tones are very variable. At times, there is a fair amount of harsh, bleaching contrasts – the sort of thing one associates with low-end transfers of movies ten years older. This isn’t a constant problem (Jitterbugs, for instance, starts off rather rough and then improves, while The Big Noise gets things right immediately). There are also scenes with character sporting massive halos over their heads.
If the movies aren’t stellar, the accompanying extras are very solid, especially for the film history buffs. Laurel and Hardy historian Randy Skretveldt provides commentary on all three discs. His discourse is lively and extremely informative. Sylvia Stoddard supplements things with good liner notes. Each disc also has a still gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a Movietone newsreel clip (minus narration). The Big Noise also has a documentary: “The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert,” a rather irreverent look at the L&H appreciation society (how it is “not a fan club” escapes me). The menus are basic.
The quality of the extras makes this a package worth picking up by fans of the duo, helping to balance out the fact that the movies are never better than okay.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “Revenge of the Sons of the Desert” Documentary
- Liner Notes
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- Movietone Newsreel