Laurel & Hardy Volume 3: Way Out West Review

Transported by some cinematic sleight of hand to the Wild West, Laurel and Hardy play their usual hapless duo on a mission, this time carrying out a dead man's last wishes. They arrive in some hillbilly town to deliver a goldmine's title deed to their late friend's daughter. She has been supporting herself living as a waitress at the local saloon but the bar owner (the fantastic James Finlayson) gets wind of their plans. Realising both are as daft as the other, he devises a plan to assure he will become the sole owner of the gold mine...

Way Out West was one of their first experimentations with feature-length films and, by and large, this move worked out quite well. It gives them more time to develop their jokes and also to add some extra depth to the second roles. The Falkirk-born Finlayson makes one of his first leading appearances in their world, perfect as their habitual nemesis whom they somehow manage to continually escape. Despite running for only 63 minutes, Way Out West does bear some signs of substantial padding; there's lengthy song sequences - though one of them features a classic dance routine between Laurel and Hardy - and some of the chase scenes make Benny Hill's exemplary in their conciseness. Still the laugh out loud moments are frequent and the narrative arc is much stronger than in their short films, showing a certain effort at coming to some sensible conclusion by the end of the film.

To many this is their finest feature-length movie and it's easy to see why: the inventiveness of some of the visual gags, Laurel's infamous singing routine as well as a decent - though rather classical - plot, all contribute to the film's overall quality making it a classic in the Laurel and Hardy canon.

Also featured on the disc:

Thicker Than Water (1935):
As Hardy has settled into matrimonial life, Stan is still living with him as a lodger, much to Mrs. Hardy's disapproval. Stan's rent does however come in handy to pay off the debts they have accumulated furnishing their new flat. This week however, they didn't pay their bills and the eternally dour James Finlayson is on the war path to get his money back.

One Good Turn (1931):
Laurel and Hardy have been badly hit by the recession - with no means of subsistence, they have been reduced to wandering the highways of America, sleeping in a small tent. Their proverbial "fine mess" is swiftly visited upon them when Stan manages to set fire to most of their meagre possessions. With nowhere left to go, they go to the city to beg for some food.

Both these shorts are entertaining enough, but are quite disjointed, mostly because the visual jokes are left to drive the plot. The gags themselves seem to have trouble finding any coherence with the each other but this all plays a good part in making Laurel and Hardy's shambolic universe more burlesque than ever. Besides, if you are expecting coherent story-lines in Laurel and Hardy, you're missing the point! Both shorts contain some seminal visual gags (ripped off by many since) and make them a must-watch by their mere presence.

The DVD:

The DVD is available both individually and as part of the massive boxset containing all their works.

The image:
All three films are available in the original B&W and in a colourised version. Let's not pull any punches here - why, oh why, do studios plough money into colourising B&W classics? It looks dreadful (a bit like a five-year old has had a go at colouring them) and just seems to waste money on the wrong things - surely restoration of the B&W originals is more important? Talking of which, I found the B&W image quality to be quite poor - there have been claims that this has been restored in depth but, as far as I can see, this has not been the case: some print damage and film jumps that are present in the B&W versions are not present in the colour version which dates back to the 80s. Though the colourised versions have much less print damage, they are however quite blurry and lacking in sharpness and natural grain (check the screengrabs for further evidence)... The colour versions are also trimmed at the beginning of each film by about 5-10 seconds - it doesn't really spoil the DVD but seems to be a major oversight on the manufacturer's part. Generally speaking, the image is acceptable but really should have been restored in depth - if a small French DVD manufacturer can work wonders on the comparatively obscure (and much older!) Fantomas, why can't Universal do the same for these films?

The sound:
Again this seems to have needed some more extensive restoration but it sounds fine enough - there's the occasional dropoff and some nasty pops and crackles but the dialogue is audible and clear enough.

The extras:
Nothing at all - unless you count the inclusion of the two shorts as extras.

Quite frankly, I'm deeply disappointed with the transfers - the colourised versions are diabolical and a waste of disc space whereas the B&W versions have not been (sufficiently?) restored. However, restoration is not the be all, end all of DVDs and the mere fact of being able to buy all of Laurel and Hardy's output on our favourite format, is a huge bonus.

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