Laurel & Hardy Volume 5: Our Relations Review

Released as part of Universal’s Laurel & Hardy Collection, thematically grouping some of the comedy duo’s best work, Laurel & Hardy Volume 5: Our Relations contains one Laurel & Hardy feature, Our Relations (70 mins) and two 20 min shorts, Brats and Twice Two – each of the films relying on Stan and Ollie playing dual roles as respectively, their own twins, children and sisters. The main feature is the one of interest here, the longer format giving the duo more room to develop routines which are revisited for satisfactory pay-offs later in the film, although the two shorts are among the best-known and well-liked of their short features.

Our Relations (Harry Lachman, 1936)

Stan and Ollie learn of the fate of their twin brothers Alf and Bert who, according to their mother, turned out to be bad lads who ran away to sea and were hanged after a mutiny. However their twins are very much alive and on board the HMS Periwinkle, which co-incidentally has just docked in the boys’ town. Alf and Bert are sent out by the captain to collect a package, but they meet some dames and having been swindled of their money earlier by Finn (James Finlayson) the boys are out of pocket when the girls order up a big feed. Needing to pay-up, the sailors try to catch-up with Finn, leaving the captain’s package – a pearl ring – for security and leaving a sticky situation for their doubles, Stan and Ollie (and their wives) to inevitably get caught up in.
This seventy minute feature – one of the team’s most accomplished films in look and scripting - contains many famous and inventive routines, all inspired by the rather obvious twin-confusion premise – Stan and Ollie having fun with Finn’s toupee, the “Singapore Eskimos”, Arthur Housman’s terrific drunk (was there ever a better comedy drunk?), and the inventive feet in cement routine on the pier.

Brats (James Parrott, 1930)

Stan and Ollie are trying to play checkers and a game of pool at home one evening, but their games are disrupted by the bad behaviour of their two ‘brats’, Stanley Jr. and Oliver Jr.
This is one of the Laurel & Hardy’s most loved films, but it doesn’t particularly work for me – I find the slapstick forced and uninspired, while the humour is hit and miss – “If you must make a noise, make it quietly”, and “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead” are two of Stanley’s funnier pronouncements. Overall though the impression is that this film over-relies on the novelty value of Stan & Ollie miniaturised on a huge set. Personally, I find the image of them as children somewhat disturbing.

Twice Two (James Parrot, 1933)

…not as disturbing though as the horrifying sight of Stan and Ollie in drag. Stan is married to Ollie’s sister and Ollie is married to Stan’s sister, both sisters played by the boys in women’s clothes. It’s both couple’s anniversary and the wives have prepared a special dinner and a surprise cake. No prizes for guessing what happens to the cake…
Again, the impression is that novelty value and camera trickery has taken precedence over script and humour, with the episode simply dragging through its short twenty minutes. Not their finest moment.

Laurel & Hardy Volume 5: Our Relations, like the earlier reviewed Laurel & Hardy Volume 4: Ollie & Matrimony, is released both as part of the twenty-one volume Laurel & Hardy Collection, but is also available to buy separately. According to the information on the DVD, each film has been “newly restored and painstakingly preserved”, transferred from the finest surviving 35mm elements and all are complete prints. The DVDs are encoded for Region 2 and 4.

Each of the films on this DVD is presented in the original black & white and in a colourised version. With exceptionally good cinematography and lighting, Our Relations stands out from any other Laurel & Hardy film and the quality of the print that is presented here is wonderful – strong black & white tones, a clear sharp image, minimal grain, a steady picture and nothing more than a few very minor dust spots and marks on the print. The computer-coloured version however is appalling – exchanging the crispness of the b&w print for hazy, garish and wholly unnatural colours, colour-bleed and numerous digital artefacts (see captures below). To make matters worse, the film has about 5 minutes of material cut – the first scene is cut, Ollie’s letter from his mother and the glasses routine are removed and various other scenes are pointlessly trimmed.

There are quite few scratches and marks during the first reel of Brats, but after that only a few minor marks and nothing that causes too much distraction. The oldest film here (1930), the image is soft and grainy, though blacks are strong, if lacking in detail. Twice Two is slightly better. Neither of the shorts have had the same kind of restoration that the feature appears to have had, but it’s probable that the existing original materials are not of the same quality. Both shorts are similarly well-transferred with no artefacting or compression blocking. That's more than can be said for their colourised versions which, while the colouring is slightly more natural looking and there are no obvious cuts, both have shifting blocks of colour which fails to stay within lines and numerous digital artefacts. Again the whole pointlessness of the fake colouring process must be called into question – the space that they take up could be better employed in expanding the number of features on the disc.

The audio quality is fine on all features, presented in the original Dolby Digital 1.0 through the centre speaker. Thankfully, the need hasn’t been seen to create DTS 5.1 remixes to go along with the colourised films. The sound can appear a little harsh in places, noisy in others, with a fair bit of background noise and there are one to two drop-outs in sound, but overall, voices are clear and sounds loud. Considering the ages of these films, there is little to complain about.

No extras on the DVD, although like Volume 4 already reviewed, the DVD should come with a 16 page booklet, which is unseen with these advance copies. All volumes contain English subtitles for hard of hearing.

All in all, Volume 5 doesn’t show the best of Laurel & Hardy. The novelty and technical achievements of the duo playing dual roles in each of the films tends to dampen the humour of the two short features, but is used to excellent effect in Our Relations, which may not be the funniest film Laurel & Hardy ever made, but it is certainly one of the most accomplished and effective as a film rather than just a series of routines. With a superbly restored picture, it seems likely that this rather neglected and underrated film may be due for a re-assessment, making this volume of the Laurel & Hardy Collection certainly worth taking a look at.

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