Laurel & Hardy, Vol. 1 [DVD]

This collection of films featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy -- including their final feature, Utopia, as well as a handful of short subjects -- gets a bare-bones DVD release. The titles on Laurel & Hardy, Vol. 1 have been transferred to disc in the full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and the audio has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono. The dialogue is in English, with no multiple language options or bonus materials included. Utopia and the other titles on this disc are currently in the public domain, and are available on home video from a variety of different sources.
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Overview

Special Features

  • Interactive menus
  • Scene index
  • Digitally mastered

Synopsis

Utopia
In their very last feature film, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy travel to London so that Stan can claim his uncle's inheritance. All of the cash has been eaten up by taxes, but at least Stan is able to claim a tax-free island and yacht that his uncle has left him. Boarding the yacht (actually a run-down tub) in Marseilles, Stan and Ollie set sail for their island in the company of stateless refugee Max Elloy, who signs on as a cook, and Italian bricklayer Adriano Rimoldi, a stowaway. The little party is nearly torn to bits by a storm at sea, but the yacht runs safely aground on a newly formed atoll. Its population is increased to five when nightclub singer Suzy Delair, fleeing her domineering naval-officer fiancé Luigi Tosi, takes refuge with the other castaways. Laurel & Hardy and their friends live an idyllic, Robinson Crusoe-like existence until Delair's fiancé shows up. He announces he hasn't come to claim her, but to investigate reports that the atoll is rich with uranium. Indeed it is, and soon every nation in the world is clamoring to claim the island's radioactive deposits. Laurel and Hardy take quick action, declaring sovereignty over "Crusoeland." They then devise an anarchic government over which Ollie presides. Stan is relegated to the position of "The People." Comical chaos reigns when their "no laws, no taxes" policies attract the attention of various unsavory types, including rabble-rouser Michael Dalmatoff. Filmed over a period of 12 months, this expensive Franco-Italian co-production suffers from a too-complex plot, lazy direction, poor voice-over dubbing of the largely European supporting cast, and especially the horrible physical condition of Laurel, who was suffering from several life-threatening illnesses during filming. Fortunately, he regained his health after the production wrapped, as proven by his hale-and-hearty appearance on a 1954 installment of TV's This Is Your Life. Though some disciples of Laurel and Hardy will have a great deal of difficulty sitting through Atoll K, it does contain a few isolated moments of pantomimic brilliance and first-rate sight gags. Originally running 98 minutes, Atoll K was judiciously pruned down to 82 minutes for its English-language release. In Great Britain, the film was titled Robinson Crusoeland, while it was released as Utopia in America. ~ Hal Erickson, 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

Tree in a Test Tube
This short educational film, produced by the United States Department of Agriculture, offers a look at just how many products are made from wood, and stresses the consequential importance of forest cultivation. The film is best remembered today for a cameo appearance by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, in which the comic team show off a number of wood-based items; it was the first and only time Stan and Ollie appeared in a full-color film. Pete Smith, who was best known for his short comedies for MGM, serves as narrator. ~ Mark Deming, 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

Kid Speed
White-faced comedian Larry Semon produced, co-directed, and starred in this two-reel farce, filmed at breakneck speed at the Charles Ray studios and the Santa Monica Auto Race Course. Avery DuPays (Frank "Fatty" Alexander), the city's wealthiest man, has promised his daughter Lou's hand in marriage to whomever wins the Big Auto Race. Both Dangerous Dan McGrew (Oliver Hardy) and The Speed Kid (Semon) love Lou (Dorothy Dwan), but she seems to prefer the latter. Avery, of course, favors the richer McGrew, who, unbeknownst to the Kid and his mechanic (Spencer Bell), removes the brakes from Larry's race car. Despite this handicap -- or perhaps because of it -- the Kid wins both the race and the girl. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Lucky Dog
In this two-reeler, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appear together for the very first time. However, they're a long way from their famous Laurel and Hardy characters (that pairing wasn't to come until 1927). Laurel, after an up-and-down career in Vaudeville, had just begun acting in films, while Hardy was heavily established in movies already (both literally and figuratively). Laurel is the lead in this film, nevertheless, as an unfortunate who, after being evicted, winds up befriending a stray dog. He stuffs the dog in a decrepit suitcase, but it sticks its legs through the bag's holes and runs away. While Laurel is chasing after the suitcase, he bumps into a hold-up man (Hardy). A chase leaves the big man behind when he gets stuck trying to crawl through a hole in a fence. Hardy also appears later on in the film. Laurel and his dog have made the acquaintance of a pretty girl and her poodle, and her jealous boyfriend enlists Hardy's help to get rid of Laurel. But the dog saves the day by chasing the villains off with a stick of dynamite that was originally meant for Laurel. The film was made in 1919 but not released until 1922. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The Sawmill
Comedians Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy battle over Kathleen O'Connor, the belle of the logging camp, in this 2-reel farce co-directed by Semon and Norman Taurog. The always extravagant Semon went too far making this film on location at Sequoia National Forest, where he made the Vitagraph Company build a permanent logging camp. According to the company's owner, Albert J. Smith, the film could just as easily have been produced at the studio back lot in Los Angeles. As a result, Semon's new contract made him his own producer and he was henceforth obliged to pay the cast, crew, and various other production expenses out of his own pocket. Years before he found world wide fame opposite Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy honed his comedic skills playing a menace opposite the white-faced Semon. They worked well together and remained personal friends until Semon's early death from pneumonia in 1928. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Wandering Papas
This was one of Clyde Cook's better comedies for Hal Roach, perhaps due in part to the excellent direction of Stan Laurel, who at the time preferred working behind the camera (that would change a little later on when he teamed up with Oliver Hardy, who also has a small role here). Living up to his name, Clyde is a cook, working for an engineering camp that is being threatened by a local hermit (Adolph Milar). The hermit vows to blow up the whole camp if any of its members get involved with his daughter (Sue "Bugs" O'Neill). The daughter, meanwhile, makes arrangements to run off with the bridge engineer (Tyler Brooke). Her father discovers the plan, but believes the lucky man is Cook. In attempt to do away with him, the hermit puts explosives in the pancake batter, and his plot is almost successful because the pancakes blow up in the faces of everyone served (Hardy has an especially large stack explode) and they all come after the cook. Cook, the eloping couple, and the father all wind up on the same train. The couple falls off it, and it heads towards the edge of a cliff and stops. Cook and the hermit find themselves about to go over the cliff. After a number of tense but hilarious stunts, the hermit falls into the river below, and Cook jumps in when he sees a bear. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

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