Silent Cinema: A Night of Laurel & Hardy Festival Theatre  Review Friday 6th  October 2017

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Four films from the most famous comedic film duo of all time, Laurel and Hardy, feature in this  screening of The Festival Theatre’s “Silent Cinema” programme complete with  live music played by silent cinema pianist extraordinaire Forrester Clifton Pyke.

Stan Laurel (1890 – 1965) was born in Lancaster, England while Oliver Hardy (1892 – 1957) was born in Harlem, Georgia, USA.  After successful separate film careers (over 50 for Stan and over 250 for Oliver), they first appeared together in 1926 under separate film contracts, and officially as a partnership in 1927.  Two of these films, Do Detectives Think (1927) and The Second 100 Years (1927) are from the period just before that official partnership, and the other two, Bacon Grabbers (1929) and Liberty (1929) come from the end of their silent  film career (well the end too of pretty much everyone’s silent film career).

Laurel and Hardy were, and continue to be, a global phenomenon. They appeared as a team in 107 films, starring in 32 short silent, 40 short sound, and 23 full-length feature films (thanks for that info Wikipedia). Over the years they have appeared in comics, cartoons, and their images have been reproduced on a vast range of merchandise.  Their fan club “Sons of The Desert” is still very active too.

All of these films tonight show clearly two men who had learned their craft long before becoming a comedy duo.  Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are masters of comedic timing.  Sound actually added little to what either could say in facial expression and body movement in silent films (in fact often less).  These films are tightly scripted comedy at its visual best with something happening every few minutes with the ability to make something happen out of often the smallest and most mundane moments in everyday life. Yes, some of the humour may very much be of its period and by default questionable to our modern day PC ideals, but judging by the audience tonight, Laurel and Hardy films still retain that universal ability to make an audience laugh at them and sympathise with them. One film in particular – Liberty (1929) – with its vertigo inducing comedy atop a partially completed skyscraper still drew gasps of anticipation from this audience.

This whole screening of Laurel and Hardy films was made even more poignant by the fact that Laurel and Hardy played in this venue when it was the Empire Theatre in 1947, 1952 and 1954.  From all contemporary reports I have read of these appearances the duo were perfect gentlemen not only thoroughly entertaining the audiences with their show, but happily talking to them and signing autographs.  Sadly, Oliver Hardy died a few years later in 1957.

Laurel and Hardy, two screen legends whose stars of fame show no signs of ever fading out.

Our next Silent Cinema outing is The Cabinet of Dr Caligari on Friday 12th January

 

Review by Tom King

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