Since the last post, I’ve viewed the shorts Hog Wild (1930), Come Clean and One Good Turn (both 1931), and the feature Sons of the Desert (1933). All have superb commentary tracks by Randy Skretvedt—whose L&H book is absolutely definitive (to overuse the word!). I bought the first edition paperback in early 1988, and this copy is still with me—and in surprisingly good shape! The newest edition is more of the same, only much more, but it’s an indispensible tome whatever edition you own. (I own both. I wouldn’t part with that first edition.)
Hog Wild is possibly my fave amongst this lot (they are all excellent, though), and it’s also methinks the star of the show in terms of restoration. It’s the one where they try to fit the radio aerial on the roof—that’s all anyone who’s seen it needs to know! All prints of this film seen since, I don’t know, the ’40s I suppose, have not only looked kind of grotty, but have had a heavily cropped frame. I’m not going to say this necessarily marred the viewing experience; truth to tell, as a kid I never once pondered picture quality or what odd details might be cropped out! Nonetheless, Hog Wild looks really, really nice, and the extended frame is a tremendous upgrade. Excellent stuff.
As to the film itself, with the flimsiest of plots, it delivers a really solid, sustained burst of pure L&H business, and it’s amongst the very best of their early talkies (1929-30), not least because it has none of the occasional out-of-character or awkward moments that sometimes turn up. It stands alongside the likes of Brats, Blotto and Below Zero, although maybe it’s a shade or two below the magnificent Laughing Gravy—which may actually be my absolute fave L&H short (very sadly not represented on this set). Thinking about it, 1930 was a brilliant year for the team.
Picture-wise, Come Clean and One Good Turn are much the same—generally a nice picture, a little soft at times, with some inherent softness of certain shots that is par for the course.
Laughs-wise, I’m going to give the edge to Come Clean. The problem with One Good Turn is the ending, I think. As Randy explains in his commentary, the assertive Stan—kicking Ollie’s ass when it’s proved that he’s falsely accused Stan of theft—was included as a salve for Stan’s daughter, Lois, who was actually nervous of Babe in real-life due to his fairly regular violence towards Stan on screen. A very worthy cause! But, even though a falling hunk of wood sends Stan back to “normal” in the closing moments, the sequence doesn’t quite ring true. Stan’s character is always shown to have occasional bursts of retaliatory aggression towards Babe, but this sustained attack feels forced, somehow.
And of course, Sons of the Desert—what can I say about this one? It’s an absolute classic, it gave its name to the international L&H fan club, it has a raft of iconic moments… but it’s still not L&H’s best feature (that, for me, comes later in this set)… and it has a very strong restoration. I wouldn’t say night-and-day—the opening and closing titles, pristine as they might be, are clearly heavily restored stills which completely lack the heavy grain & flicker inherent to the rest of the movie. The movie itself fares as well as it can; there’s a lot of picture inconsistency locked in, such as softness of certain shots, as mentioned above. The shots inside the Hardy apartment, for instance, are consistently soft throughout, whereas the newsreel footage showing the Boys funning around on parade is really sharp and detailed—quite unlike the in-cinema footage framing it!
All in all, so far I am enjoying the set enormously… it is not perfect (nor can it be), but the high points far outweight the low!
PS. Before posting this, I just watched a couple more, including one restoration that was truly stunning… more soon!