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Robin Ince on Laurel & Hardy (Bonus)

Jordan Harrison-Twist

18.01.19

‘When I was growing up, Laurel and Hardy was on BBC2 all the time. Charlie Chaplin silent movies were on at 5:40pm. At that point, all of that culture was still around. It has only recently come back on television with things like Talking Pictures which has just started to show Laurel and Hardy again. That brilliant 30s comedy was something that was fortunately around a lot’.

¶ Just the detail of something like Helpmates (1932) with its cinematic first shot. What looks like a monologue recounted straight down the lens is, when the camera pulls back and reveals the entire scene, Oliver Hardy talking to himself in the mirror. Then the nosy postman arrives to deliver a telegram and tells him exactly what is contained within this supposedly private correspondence. So subtle.

'It’s always fun when you watch some of the feature films and you basically have a twenty-minute short just attached. And you think: this makes no sense. County Hospital ends with a routine in which Stan Laurel keeps dozing off because he’s accidentally been injected with something. And it’s not nearly as good as the rest of the film. “We’ve got three minutes to fill — let’s just drive around in a weird way”. But the best moments are just perfect'.

'One of the greatest moments is in Blockheads (1938) when Oliver Hardy thinks Stan Laurel has died in the First World War, but it turns out he is alive and has been guarding a trench, alone, for twenty years. When he returns, Stan just happens to be sitting in a wheelchair for comfort, and has folded one of his legs under the other. Ollie carries him, awkwardly, with difficulty, because he’s conscious of the fact Stan has one leg. He even drops his hat, and it takes a great deal of effort for him to get it back, still holding Stan in his arms. But the simplest of twists: Ollie, once they get to his car, looks down and realises that the whole time, Stan has had two legs. It is immaculately timed. You can see why Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Beckett liked it — the perfection of the humanity.

I mention this in the book: I went to a live screening with Johnny Vegas. We were both awestruck, moved to tears, screeching with laughter. Johnny at the time had a heavily pregnant wife, and if she gave birth during the screening I said the child should have to be called Laughing Gravy, in homage to the short (1930). That is the greatest name for a dog ever. Laughing Gravy. Fucking fantastic'.

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