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The Stan Laurel Collection [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Navy Blue Days
Stan Laurel was still a few years off from fine-tuning his slow-moving, dim-witted comic persona (and teaming up with Oliver Hardy), and in this two reel film from producer Joe Rock, he reverts to a cruder, more hyperactive personality. He plays a gob, or sailor, stationed on a ship that sails into a South American port. The gob spends most of his time following around his superior officer, who has received an invitation to dine with one of the local families. The gob invites himself along and meets Grenadine (Julie Leonard), a friend of the officer's. After the officer leaves, the gob cozies up to the girl until her sweetheart, Pete Vermicelli (Glen Cavender), shows up. Vermicelli gives chase, bringing a number of his men along. The gob's officer winds up thrashing the bunch, who turn out to be outlaws, but somehow the gob is the one who gets the credit. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Roughest Africa
Not one, but two epic documentaries about the wilds of Africa were released in 1923 (Hunting Big Game in Africa and Trailing African Wilds). It had been some months since Stan Laurel had made any parodies -- something he was famous for before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy -- and a safari seemed like a good subject to spoof. The two-reel Roughest Africa turned out to be a winner, with Laurel playing Stanislaus Laurello, an adventuresome professor, and James Finlayson as Hans Downe, Laurello's cameraman and sidekick. There's not much plot to speak of, and much of the action revolves around Stan chasing or being chased by a variety of wild animals, from lions to an ostrich to a porcupine. Laurello proves to be less than capable in the wild. He has a hard time shooting and hitting an elephant, even after drawing a target on the beast's head. Some sources falsely claim that future famed director George Stevens was the cinematographer on Roughest Africa; the credit actually goes to Frank Young. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Postage Due
In the days before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel often did his best film work in burlesques of popular feature films. Many of his standard, situation-type comedies paled in comparison, and this particular picture is definitely one of Laurel's lesser efforts. Laurel plays a dimwitted young man who wants to be photographed as Venus for a postcard. He finds a photographer (cross-eyed George Rowe) to do the job, and then drops off the resulting postcard at the office. The only problem is that he has forgotten to put a stamp on it and he panics when he overhears the postal inspector (James Finlayson) inform another customer of the penalty for sending mail without postage. Stan creates havoc in the post office as he searches for his postcard, with the postal inspector following closely behind him. A couple of mail thieves get involved in the situation before they, and Stan, are rounded up. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Frozen Hearts
Although Frozen Hearts is meant to be a burlesque of Enemies of Women (which was produced on epic scale by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst), it also lampoons any number of situations generally seen in overblown costume dramas. Stan Laurel's character is a Russian peasant who is in love with Sonia, a girl of his own class (Katherine Grant). But Sonia is taken away by the Czar's forces to perform in a ballet and Stan is arrested. He manages to escape, however, and disguises himself as an officer. He goes to Sonia's rescue but is waylaid by a seductive princess (Mae Laurel, at the time Laurel's common-law wife). Sonia sees them together and gets revenge by flirting with the general (James Finlayson). The general challenges Stan to a duel, and the two fight it out in an impossibly long dueling sequence. Finally, Stan is able to grab Sonia and get away. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

West of Hot Dog
Before teaming up with Oliver Hardy, comedian Stan Laurel starred in a number of very funny parodies. He burlesqued Rudolph Valentino's Blood and Sand with Mud and Sand and Monsieur Beaucaire with Monsieur Don't Care. Here the Western West of the Pecos undergoes a comic transformation. Stan plays an eastern wimp who is headed West to claim an inheritance. But the stagecoach he is on gets held up and his silly behavior in front of the bandits does not impress the girl (Julie Leonard) who is also a passenger. When he arrives in town to hear the reading of the will, he discovers that the other heirs happen to be the bandits, who will get full possession of the estate in the event of Stan's unfortunate demise. Of course the bad guys try to make sure this happens as quickly as possible. Stan leaves town to save his life, but his hiding spot is invaded by the bandits, who have just robbed the saloon. Somehow -- more through the villains' ineptitude than from any bravery on Stan's part -- he rounds up the bad guys before the posse arrives. The girl from the stagecoach turns out to be the sheriff's daughter, but now that she is willing to be Stan's girl, her father wants nothing more to do with her. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride
Even before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel's solo films were often quite funny, especially when he spoofed a famous film such as The Spoilers (the Laurel version is called The Soilers) or Blood and Sand (which became the two-reel Mud and Sand). One of the funniest of these "travesties," as they were called in those days, was Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, in which Stan lampoons Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As the kindly Dr. Pyckle, Laurel is experimenting to discover a drug that will separate the good from the bad in man. When he finally has an elixir, he drinks it with trepidation. After a satirical sequence of comic spasms, the horrific Mr. Pride reveals himself and proceeds to terrorize the town: he chases a little boy down and steals his ice cream cone, he cheats at a game of marbles, and he explodes a paper bag behind a little old lady, startling her. Worst of all, he tricks one of the town's leading citizens into getting caught in a Chinese finger trap! The whole town is up in arms at these evil acts but Pride manages to take the antidote before they can catch up with him. He goes through yet another transformation before his assistant (Julie Leonard) catches him. Devastated over what he has done, Dr. Pyckle decides to poison himself, but instead of the fatal brew, he mistakenly drinks castor oil. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Chasing the Chaser
Zeb Vs. Paprika
This two-reel comedy, which Stan Laurel (who had not yet teamed up with Oliver Hardy) made for producer Hal Roach, was a burlesque of a famous horse race of the day. The studio began planning the short even before the real race -- between horses Zev and Papyrus -- was run on October 23, 1923, and production began on October 22. Stan stars as jockey Dippy Donawho (the real-life jockey was named Steve Donoghue), who is supposed to ride the English horse, Paprika, in the big race. He's shown training for the big day (his trainer is the dependably funny James Finlayson). But there's a mix-up on the day of the race, and somehow Donawho winds up on the back of the wrong horse. The other jockey is disqualified, however, so Donawho emerges victorious. Others in the cast include Ena Gregory, George Rose, Eddie Baker, and Fred Karno, Jr., son of famed English vaudeville impresario Fred Karno. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Sleuth
This Stan Laurel spoof on detective films should not be confused with the Larry Semon two-reeler of the same name. Laurel is detective Webster Dingle, hired by a wife (Alberta Vaughn) who believes her husband (Glen Cavender) is cheating on her. Dingle gets down to business by donning a number of disguises. First he poses as a maid and the husband comes onto her. This is nothing new, because when Dingle shows up later in a different costume, the husband is chasing after yet another maid. The husband figures out what Dingle is up to and hires a trio of thugs and a woman to get rid of him, and also to steal some valuable papers. Dingle confuses them with his disguises, but soon enough they give chase. A sexy vamp comes along and distracts the men, and they wind up fighting amongst themselves. When they have knocked each other out, leaving only the husband, the vamp takes the papers from him and reveals that she is actually Dingle, wearing one more disguise. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Yes, Yes, Nanette
This two-reel Hal Roach comedy was not one of James Finlayson's best starring efforts, but it's notable because it's the first film in which Stan Laurel directed his future comic partner, Oliver Hardy. Hardy just has a bit part, and according to Rob Stone's excellent book, Laurel or Hardy, he only received 12.50 for a day's work -- an extra's pay -- instead of his usual 250 dollars per week. Nanette (Lyle Tayo) informs her family that she has married the perfect man, but when she arrives home with hubby Hillory (Finlayson), no one is terribly impressed. In fact, Nanette's family does everything they can to make the wimpy Hillory miserable, especially when it comes to his cheap toupee. Even Nanette's former suitor (Hardy) comes around to give the hapless new husband a hard time -- until Hillory finally rounds up enough courage to get rid of the ex-boyfriend and assert himself. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Oranges and Lemons
During his early days working for the Hal Roach studios, the plots to Stan Laurel's comedies were as interchangeable as their titles -- Pick and Shovel, Collars and Cuffs, Gas and Air, and this one, Oranges and Lemons. They all seem to involve Laurel as a laborer who spends more time flirting with a pretty girl (usually Katherine Grant, who plays Little Valencia here) instead of working, and who constantly annoys the foreman (this time around it's Eddie Baker, going by the unlikely name of Orange Blossom). Laurel's character here is known as Sunkist and, as might be guessed by both the characters' names and the film's title, he works in a citrus grove. The foreman, fed up with Sunkist's behavior, chases him into the packing plant, where much mayhem ensues. There's some funny business on a conveyor belt before Sunkist traps his antagonists (the number has grown as he has wreaked havoc) and breaks for lunch. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The Soilers
This two-reel travesty of Rex Beach's oft-filmed story The Spoilers was not appreciated in its day -- several critics noted that it was one of Stan Laurel's weaker films for Hal Roach. Modern-day audiences find it funnier, perhaps because a later sound version of The Spoilers starring John Wayne and Randolph Scott is more accessible than some of the other silent pictures he lampooned. In any case, Laurel plays the Roy Glennister character as Bob Canister. Canister has a gold mine that is wanted by his rival, I. Smacknamara (James Finlayson as a comic version of Alex McNamara). Things come to a head when Canister blows up Smacknamara's mine. Finally, in a climatic ending, the two men come to blows. In The Spoilers, this was a show-stopping moment, and all action in the town halts as everyone watches the two men brutally duke it out. In The Soilers, nobody cares -- the guys beat each other to a pulp and the townsfolk are completely oblivious...except for one particular cowboy. When Canister emerges victorious, the cowboy sighs effeminately and announces that Bob is his hero. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Half a Man
While this Stan Laurel film (made before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy) was not one of the most inspired comedies he made for producer Joe Rock, it still has some amusing moments. Laurel plays a Harry Langdon-like innocent, Winchell McSweeny, whose parents have fallen on hard times. Unaware of the ways of the world, and severely warned against the wiles of women by his mother, Winchell finds himself on a ship containing a bevy of beauties (including the Amazonian Blanche Payson). Winchell accidentally causes the boat to catch fire and the women find themselves cast away on an island with no men -- until Winchell shows up. Winchell finds the sudden female interest in him disconcerting until he discovers it can be used as a source of power. Unfortunately for McSweeny, some more men show up on the island and Payson ditches him over the nearest cliff. But young Winchell is in luck after all; he finds pretty Julie Leonard and the film ends on a romantic note. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Mother's Joy
As a single, Stan Laurel was quite a funny comedian, although not as much of a standout as he would be after he teamed up with Oliver Hardy. He has several inspired moments in this Hal Roach two-reeler. Baron Buttontop (James Finlayson) is aghast when his daughter (Helen Gilmore) defies him and runs away with Magnus Dippytack (Laurel). They elope to Honolulu, where Dippytack deserts her. When the girl returns with her baby (Laurel in a baby carriage), her father turns her away. Many years later, he regrets his action and has his lawyer locate his daughter and grandson. The now-grown grandson, Basil (Laurel again, of course), has been working as a cabby and is overwhelmed by his newfound life of wealth and luxury. The Baron wants the young man to marry Flavia de Lorgnette, an heiress (Mae Laurel, Stan's real-life common-law wife). But Basil prefers the maid (Ena Gregory), and Flavia doesn't necessarily want to get married, either. Nevertheless, the wedding plans go forward at the parents' insistence. Ultimately the minister, fed up with the situation, takes off without going through with the ceremony. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Short Kilts
Although Putting Pants on Phillip was one of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's first efforts as a team, it wasn't the first time that Laurel wore kilts in a Hal Roach comedy. This two-reeler, made when he was still a single, is about two feisty Scottish clans, the MacGregors and the McPhersons. The MacGregor son (James Finlayson) tells his family that they have been invited to the McPhersons for dinner, but apparently he's mistaken; when they arrive at the McPhersons', they're told to wait while the family finishes their meal. The McHungry family joins the festivities, but when a game of musical chairs gets out of control, the MacGregors and the McPhersons have a row. The McPherson son (Laurel) refuses to allow the feud to come between him and his sweetheart, the MacGregor girl (Ena Gregory). They elope, as do the MacGregor son and the McPherson daughter. The feud ends as a result of the two marriages, but starts up again with yet another game of musical chairs. As the youngest McPherson, Our Gang member Mickey Daniels has some amusing moments when he makes life difficult for his big brother, Stan. This was Laurel's last film for Hal Roach for about a year -- after this completion of this film, he moved over to Joe Rock's production company. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The Snow Hawk
This Stan Laurel two-reel spoof on Northwest melodramas was shot on-location at Lake Arrowhead and initially, Anita Garvin was meant to be his co-star. But Garvin fell ill early on in the shooting and was replaced by Julie Leonard, who had already made several films with Laurel. Stan is an employee at a general store in the frozen North, and he's in love with the store owner's daughter (Leonard). But the girl won't give him the time of day -- she prefers a burly Mountie (Glen Cavender), who thrills her with tales of his adventures. A broken-hearted Stan leaves, but returns as a Mountie himself. It turns out that the Mountie that has entranced the girl is really Midnight Mike, a dangerous outlaw. Mike steals from the store's safe and then pretends he's in search of the thief. Stan, determined to find the culprit, discovers that Midnight Mike and the Mountie are one in the same. He rounds up the bad guy and wins the girl. Although Garvin missed her chance in this film, she would later on make a number memorable appearances in Laurel and Hardy features at the Hal Roach studios. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Near Dublin
In spite of its obvious production values, this Stan Laurel comedy (made before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy) is not one of his best. Con (Laurel) is the mailman for a little Irish village. Since he has a bad habit of reading everyone's letters, he discovers that the father (Dick Gilbert) of his girlfriend (Ena Gregory) is in dire financial straits. The father owes rent to the brick merchant (James Finlayson), who is willing to forgive the debt if he can marry the daughter. To save his sweetheart, Con pays the rent himself. Con is arrested after a brick fight, but he busts out of jail when he sees the brick merchant attacking his girl. The two men come to blows and Con pretends to die. The brick merchant is arrested for Con's murder, but Con is discovered hiding in the loft. He and his sweetheart escape from the brick merchant and the sheriff (George Rowe) -- actually, they go skipping off hand-in-hand into the distance, as do the brick merchant and sheriff! ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

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