Film and Book Reviews

Poignant twilight tour makes us laugh and cry

FilmStand and Ollie reviewed

By Beryl Rule

March 5 2019Stan and Ollie begins with the comic duo Laurel and Hardy walking through Hal Roach’s Hollywood studio debating their chances of a pay rise. It is 1937and their films are being seen around the world, yet their salaries are locked in by what Stan (Steve Coogan) now regards as an unfair contact. He is all for tackling Roach but Ollie (John C. Reilly), about to marry for the third time and an addicted but unsuccessful punter, is uneasy. Obviously (in contradiction to their screen personas) he is the more cautious one and his partner is the mover and shaker.

Stan speaks casually of a coming weekend with stars like Clark Gable and Myrna Lloyd but Ollie isn’t very interested. Stan speaks cynically about women, declaring he won’t ever marry again: it will be easier just to “find a woman he dislikes and buy her a house”, but the blasé attitude doesn’t quite match up with the scenes which follow. There is a simplicity, almost an innocence, to the pair, which is reflected in the slapstick comedy of their routines. These are repetitive, straightforward and predictable, but those very things make them extremely funny.

Sixteen years later, television is in the ascendant, former fans believe Laurel and Hardy to have been long retired (if not dead) and money is so short they are forced to undertake a tour – destined to be their last – of Britain, organised by slippery promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones). He books them into cheap hotels and end-of-the line music halls but blames everything unsatisfactory on an entirely mythical “they”. When the curtains draw back and Stan and Ollie stride on stage to their signature tune, to be greeted by enthusiastic applause from small venues which are less than a quarter full, sadness begins to surface. For though these stars are ageing, their skills have not deteriorated – their performances remain flawlessly professional. But the entertainment world has moved on.

The arrival of their wives, towards the end of the tour, adds a comic dimension of its own, with Ollie’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) having some sarcastic asides to make on Stan’s forceful spouse Ida (Nina Arianda).

But although a demanding publicity campaign brings back the audiences, the outlook continues to darken. The tour has taken a dangerous toll on Ollie’s health, Stan’s long-held grievance about Ollie’s “betrayal” in the Roach era threatens to spell the end of their friendship, and the promise of a new film, the guiding star which kept them motivated during the tour, proves to be humiliatingly false.

Coogan and Reilly brilliantly re-create some of the most memorable Hardy and Laurel routines, and as unsophisticated and vaudevillian as these are, you can’t help laughing. The timing, footwork (especially from Coogan) and facial expressions are perfect.

This film is a gem. The writing is sensitive and the performances are outstanding. You don’t have to have been a Laurel and Hardy fan to find their story gentle, amusing, and poignant.