Stan & Ollie

Last week I saw a sad movie, Glass, both in its content and its quality. Was there anything truly heroic about characters who were supposed to be superheroes? Throw in the fact that little of it made a lick of sense and I left the theater with a sour taste in my mouth, which is no good for me personally as I enjoy going to the movies a (if this blog does not give that away). But that was last week. This time around, when looking over my options, I initially thought I was in for another rough trip to the cinema. The choices I was worried I was limited to were The Kid Who Would Be King and Serenity. I saw a preview recently of the former and rolled my eyes through most of it, and Serenity seemed to be of the same seedy ilk as Glass. So put off was I by my Glass experience that I almost signed up for seeing The Kid Who Would Be King. But then I recalled that Stan & Ollie had recently come out, and I let out a sigh of relief.

I will admit, however, that despite my education, I know little about Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) and Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan). I wrote my dissertation on Catholics in American Film, and had there been a priest or a nun in any of their films, I would have seen one. Yet it is a testament to their icon-status that so much of the things they did in their careers made Stan & Ollie familiar. I saw it with somebody more knowledgable about Laurel and Hardy, and his immediate reaction when Coogan and Reilly appeared on camera in their costumes was how much they resembled the comedy duo of decades past. In a sense, though, this was the one flaw in the film. Apparently Laurel and Hardy went through their lives just being Laurel and Hardy. They were constantly performing their stage personas, so much so that at moments in the film (and throughout it for me) it was difficult for onlookers to tell what was real and what was acted. But at least the movie was not asking me to have sympathy for a murderer with split personality disorder as Glass did.

The historian in me bristled at a few moments in Stan & Ollie, as well. There was a quick snapshot of an integrated movie theater in the 1930s that caught my attention. And I am pretty sure that there is no train that could give that view of the Tower Bridge as it crosses the Thames, either today or in 1953. These were small issues, however, and did not detract from my overall enjoyment.

What really made Stan & Ollie good, of course, was the interaction between Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. No friendship is perfect, and in this sense theirs is eminently relatable. The special moment for me came towards the end when Hardy’s doctor tells him he cannot perform anymore. Despite having congestive heart failure, such was his dedication to Laurel that he took to the stage anyway to complete their tour. John 15:13 came to mind, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Until I had reflected a little on this part of the film, I was having trouble seeing the point of it all. Yes, Laurel and Hardy were a funny comedic team. Yet it was in the things that they did for each other that made them special. That is a concept for a movie I can sit down for two hours and view any day.

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