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Bless This Mess: Laurel & Hardy Shorts (1934-1935)

They’ve been called the original odd couple. The portly, pompous Oliver Hardy and the gangly, guileless Stan Laurel were the perfect blend of opposites. They were unique among comedy teams in that neither was the straight man; they were both comics living in their own little world, a perpetual folie à deux. Hardy was already a contract player with Hal Roach when Laurel signed on as a writer in 1925. They had appeared together in supporting roles in 14 shorts before they officially became a team in Putting Pants on Philip (1927). With their voices a perfect match for their onscreen personas and their continued involvement with Roach, they were among the few silent screen clowns to adapt successfully to talking films, with their first, Unaccustomed as We Are, released in 1929. They started making features together with Pardon Us (1931) but continued making shorts as well until 1936.

Here, film archivist Jeff Joseph presents three of their last Hal Roach shorts. In Going Bye-Bye! (1934) the two try to avoid an escaped criminal against whom they had testified. They had used a similar escaped-crook plot in the silent Do Detectives Think? (1927) and would later come up against a man they had sent to prison in their last U.S. feature, The Bullfighters (1945).

Next, Stan and Ollie take a trip to Them Thar Hills (1934), only to get drunk when their well is contaminated with moonshine, leading to a hilarious comedy of destruction with a belligerent tourist (frequent nemesis Charlie Hall). The film did so well, Roach put the team into a follow-up, Tit for Tat (1935), the only sequel the two stars made. This time Laurel and Hardy have opened an electrical supply store only to discover Hall runs the neighboring grocery store. Once again, they engage in reciprocal destruction until both places are wrecked. The film was one of their most popular shorts and was nominated for an Academy Award.

For 20 years, Jeff Joseph ran SabuCat Productions, which was dedicated to collecting, preserving, and distributing rare films, including the world’s largest collection of theatrical trailers. When SabuCat closed in 2009, its materials moved to the UCLA and Academy Film Archives. Joseph has been working with UCLA for several years to restore the Laurel and Hardy films, with this program displaying some of the fruits of their labors.

d. Charles Rogers, 60 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Jeff Joseph