Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

I just finally received a copy of Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations on Blu-ray! It has taken a while—it was released back in June of 2020. Fortunately, I had some extra cash from selling some stuff, and it showed up at a very nice price… ’twas a no-brainer.

Laurel Hardy Definitive

This four-disc release has generated some minor controversy/argument with regards to the quality of some of the restorations—discussions I have, as a big L&H fan, followed with interest. I’ll probably throw in my own views as I work through more of the contents, but for now I just wanted to react to a particular item—the one item that makes the set an absolute must. Obviously, it was the very first thing I checked out!

Namely, the restored and almost-complete Battle of the Century (1927).

Up until 2015, the second reel of the film—the extended pie fight for which the movie is famous—existed only as a three-minute “extract” that was used by Robert Youngson in his clips compilation Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing 20s. The first reel, which consisted of Stan having a boxing match with Noah Young followed by the Boys signing an insurance policy for Stan, was complete except for the short insurance scene. This apparently was due to it being spliced from a separate negative—the sepia-toned boxing match reel was, in a sense, complete in and of itself.

When the complete second reel turned up, in 2015, albeit in a lower-grade 16mm form, it meant the film was at last almost complete. Maybe the insurance scene is lost forever. In this restoration, its absence is covered with two surviving stills and a couple of title cards. It works fine, and the second still shows us that Stan doubtless has one of his pen “incidents” as he signs the form—Babe is stood there with an ink-spattered face.

Seeing the complete pie fight sequence is a fantastic experience, of course. Everything that was seen previously in a kind of shorthand is now shown in full context, and flows beautifully. It’s an epic; it deserves all the kudos it gets, and its (re)discovery was a massive, massive landmark in L&H history.

But, oddly enough, the real star of the show might well be seeing the boxing match reel in full HD. It was almost like seeing this for the first time, too. I mean—WOW. The level of detail and clarity is genuinely awesome. Look, I don’t mean to dismiss the wonderful, complete reel two! It’s just that the 35mm source for reel one in HD is so nice—exceptionally detailed, naturally grained, generally stunning.

Battle of the Century
Screen grab from the sepia-toned first reel of BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1927).
(Found on Twitter, via HiDefDiscNews)

Richard Bann’s commentary is typically excellent, too, and it’s worth saying that the presence of a very young Lou Costello—in one of his first appearances—as a ringside spectator has never been more visible. There he is, clear as day!

And that’s my first reaction. The restored Battle of the Century is a thing of beauty. The rest of the set may not quite live up to it—it’ll be fun to find out.

Battle of the Century on IMDb

6 thoughts on “Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations”

  1. Not only is the boxing match a joy to behold, it’s virtually a standalone short in itself (merely needing a tidier resolution). The eponymous battle is fantastic, of course, and great to see local lad Charlie Hall in one of his early screen appearances.

  2. My father was a huge fan and I saw a lot of the shorts as a child because they were regularly shown on, I think, Saturday mornings. I haven’t sat down to watch any since as I’m not that fond of ’embarrassing’ comedy (Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, for instance). I know that Talking Pictures is showing them at the moment – perhaps it’s time to have another look

    1. It’d be nice if you did ‘get’ them finally, but I think it’d depend on your outlook somewhat. I wouldn’t suggest looking to them for brilliant gags, etc. I’d say their enduring appeal as a fan is their characters and their relationship. And the nuance in their performances… especially Ollie. Oliver Hardy was a genuinely great actor. See him in John Wayne’s The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)—where he is called to do a bunch of “Ollie” type things, but there are a couple of moments of proper drama too, and he’s excellent. He’s a really interesting performer.

      1. Also, FWIW, I think the absolute best movie for someone to watch who isn’t a fan is 1937’s Way Out West. It has a decent plot—a beginning, middle & end—and their material & performances are at their peak.

    2. Way Out West is a good one. I agree with you on the characters relationships and Hardy’s acting, but I also enjoy the absurdity and surreal moments that Stan Laurel brought to the table.

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