Andrewh's Reviews > Stan And Ollie

Stan And Ollie by Simon Louvish
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Nov 23, 2011

really liked it
Read from October 29 to November 23, 2011

Louvish has written widely about early Hollywood culture (with bios of Chaplin, Sennett, WC Fields and the Marx Bros. among others), and his gentle, light style is perfectly suited to the charms of Laurel and Hardy. Louvish traces their divergent upbringings (Oliver 'Babe' Hardy in the American Deep South, and Stan Jefferson/Laurel in the north of England) in much loving detail (in fact, it's a full 160pp before the duo meet here, which is a third of the book). He then goes through their film career in sometimes prosaic detail, concentrating on the big feature films (such as the great Sons of the Desert and Way out West, which spawned their hit single in the 70s, older readers may remember), though these hour-long sketches (as Louvish points out, their best films had no real plot, just set ups for their genius for pratfalls and visual comedy) comprise a very small part of the L&H oeuvre - they made several hundreds of shorts, what were termed 'two-reelers', both individually and as a team. Inevitably, as clowns do, they had somewhat sad personal lives - Babe was married to an alcoholic and Stan was married to several off-screen versions of the harridan wives he would be running away from on screen for many years. Most sadly, they fell out of fashion in the late 30s and entered the Fox studio, after severing their ties with the legendary Hal Roach, whom Stan had fouhgt for years for artistic control, only to find themselves being subjected to the machine-like production values of Fox's B-unit, which resulted in mostly terrible films, according to Louvish (i've never seen any myself). For me, they are encapsulated by the fantastic sketch called the Music Box, in which they valiantly attempt to push a piano up a flight of stairs, constantly failing and constantly trying again - they represent everyman engaged in the almost Sisyphean task of retaining one's dignity while earning a living in an uncaring modern world. A fine mess, They have gotten us into, indeed!
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