REVIEW: Laurel and Hardy – From The Forties Forward

Unless they happen to be written by good friends, it isn’t often I review or promote books here at Illegible Me. I feel an exception must be made however, for Scott MacGillivray’s Laurel and Hardy – From the Forties Forward, the revised second edition of which made it into my 2009 Christmas stocking (thanks Auntie Hazel).

Every so often a book comes along that encourages me not just to dip in and out, but to devour it. This has certainly been the case with MacGillivray’s brilliantly researched tome. I consider myself a well read Laurel and Hardy fan, having seen 99 percent of the team’s films and being well versed in their off-screen history history, but every page of From The Forties Forward offered me revelatory information that challenged my assumptions about the duo’s time at Fox and MGM during the latter stage of their career. I’m not the type of fan to have dismissed these latter-day films before reading this book, but it has certainly enlightened me to their surprisingly complex production history.

It is pretty much universally accepted that Laurel and Hardy made their finest pictures at the Hal Roach studios from the 1920s to the 1930s and MacGillivray doesn’t really try to argue otherwise. What he does do, however, is to make a persuasive case for taking their later work just as seriously as their peak creative years. Even when working for studios who didn’t understand their comedy, the Boy’s and many of their co-workers show true craftsmanship in everyone of their films.

If I were to make one criticism it would be that the last three chapters of the book – covering home movies, home video, and fandom – would perhaps work better as appendices. As it stands the book seems to loose a bit of it’s steam towards the end. There is nothing wrong with these chapters; in fact they’re perfectly interesting. They just don’t feel like part of the main story.

Highly recommended.

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4 Responses to “REVIEW: Laurel and Hardy – From The Forties Forward”

  1. Eric Schultz Says:

    This is an interesting review. Thank you for writing and posting it.l I’ve got the original edition of the book, and found it quite interesting. It’s a very well-written and thoughtful book, now that this new edition has about 50% more text than the original, I’m definately going to buy the new one as well. Laurel and Hardy’s later career as a comedy team has all too often been overlooked, and this book shows that these last films of theirs deserve attention. actually, I’m intersted in reading those last chapters on home movie/video/dvd releases as well. Maybe this book might shed some light on why most of L&H’s ’30s films have been hard to come by in the last couple of decades in North America. It’s about time that all of their films were made available on dvd in Region 1.

    • illegibleme Says:

      Thanks for the well considered reply Eric, I’m glad you got something out of this review. The book’s final chapters certainly taught me a lot about the complicated copyright history of the Laurel and Hardy film legacy. I was very glad recently when TCM in America gained the rights to broadcast the Hal Roach library on television. Here’s hoping an equally respectable company can procure the rights to DVD distribution; Hell, by the time R1 sees a release they may skip DVD and go straight to BluRay!

      • At the rate they’re going, we might not see Laurel and Hardy’s Roach films on dvd in R1 until they’ve got 3d virtual reality projections of them, with an IMAX recreation of Hats Off! Hopefully, they’ll do the right thing and release all of the L&H films soon.

  2. Steve Burstein Says:

    It occured to me fairly recently that one tends to forget about an era’s tastes and trends, and economic realities, when assessing latter day studio policies toward veteran comedians.For instance, Greenbriar Picture Shows recently revealed that the Marx’s DAY AT THE RACES actually lost money.Maybe Mayer didn’t like the Brothers, but It still made perfect sense . Why should MGM put in all that effort and expense-why not just give them the script and ask them to perform?(At the Circus, etc.) Maybe they’d net this time.

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