The “pictures” were the place to go in West Dunbartonshire in the Sixties.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play iconic comic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Nothing sells like nostalgia. The old ones are the best – and they are even better when they are funny. That’s why the new Stan & Ollie film will be hugely popular with the 60 somethings who went to see this comic duo at “the pictures” when movies were the only show in town. Who remembers The Rialto, The Picture House, The Regal, The La Scala, The Roxy, The Hall and The Strand and the La Scala and Tower in Helensburgh? This movie will take you back to the days when people did their “winching” in the back row of the cinema and children turned out in their hundreds every Saturday for the ABC Minors – “We are the boys and girls well known as …”
Funny – but always benign and never subversive or blue …
Review by the Hollywood Reporter
“Genial” is the word for Stan & Ollie. Even though they remained household names for years after their heyday due to TV re-runs of their many comedy hits, Laurel & Hardy are no doubt little-known to millennials. But the lovely performances by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly should lure a decent number of fans to this warm account of the team’s final live performance tours through the British Isles in the early 1950s, thereby likely sparking a degree of renewed interest in one of Hollywood’s most successful comedy teams.
“We’re getting older, but we’re not done yet,” Hardy, the fat one, proclaims early on, although, due to his weight and related health issues, he’s closer to the end than he’d like to think. A popular screen team since 1926, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy specialized in slow-burn comedy routines that typically saw the derby-hatted duo sink ever-deeper into exasperating predicaments, with the slight, bewildered, borderline infantile Laurel usually leading the duo into trouble from which the smugly superior Hardy haughtily thinks he can extricate them. Built with a deliberation that at its best was both agonizing and hilarious, the humour almost invariably stemmed from the gradual compounding of multiple dilemmas one on top of another.
Working for producer Hal Roach from 1926-1940, the pair made dozens of shorts and 27 features. But when they left Roach, their status declined, as plainly delineated at the beginning of Jeff Pope’s creditable but overly expository script. By the early 1950s, having been supplanted as the big screen’s kings of comedy by Abbott and Costello, the duo was nearly broke. So they headed for the U.K. on a tour of live music-hall performances with the hope of launching a new movie with promoter/producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), whose abiding interest at the time was promoting the home-bred comedian Norman Wisdom.
Even for those well acquainted with the looks and behaviour of the two performers, it takes no time at all to accept Coogan and Reilly as Laurel and Hardy. Born, like Laurel, in Lancashire, England, Coogan is more conventionally good-looking than the man he’s playing, but he slips neatly into the role of the duo’s brains and writer. He seems an eminently decent and normal man whose expertise is playing a slow-witted simpleton.
Coogan and Reilly not only excel at creating convincing impressions of one of the most famous comic teams of the last century, but they do an uncanny job of recreating a handful of their famous routines, which today mostly play as mild yet expertly timed delights.
There was little that was bold or adventurous about Laurel and Hardy’s comedy, which is doubtless why their films have not been rediscovered by younger generations over the past half-century; unusually for top comics, their work was benign, not subversive. But even if it only occasionally provokes big laughs, this sweet, small film makes you smile most of the way through, which may be a more uncommon feat.