Film Review: Stan & Ollie

Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie is a lovingly-crafted portrait of the comedy duo. The strong performances certainly add to this.

It is 1953, and comedy double act Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are about to embark on a tour of Britain. The duo aim to reignite their career with the tour, which they are hoping will lead to a new film…

Directed by Jon S. Baird with a screenplay by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie focuses on the double act later in their career. This is a good choice, for there is more meat with their career in decline. The film is really about fading lights chasing a second chance, than stars on the rise. The story begins with the pair embarking on their tour in the UK. This set up works well; it is sad to see duo perform half-empty shows at the beginning of the tour, and illustrates that they are far from Hollywood.

As expected, Stan & Ollie concentrates on the relationship between the duo. Everyone know how well they work together on screen, so the film explores their real-life relationship. Baird delves into the gamut of emotions during this later period. The film incorporates some of their skits; the comedy here is gentle at best. There is more amusement to be found from the relationship of their wives, and their interactions with a flamboyant tour manager.

Performances from John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are great. It is clear a lot of care has gone into getting the moves and mannerisms spot on. Nevertheless, Reilly’s prosthetics are very distracting; it may take a while to get used to them. Nina Arianda is a joy as Ida, and Rufus Jones is perfect as Bernard. The score is a little overblown at times. 

Stan & Ollie is a comforter of a movie, harking back to a bygone era. There is nothing remarkable about the film, but it tells the story engagingly enough, and performances impress.

Stan & Ollie closes the BFI London Film Festival on 21st October 2018.

Film Review: The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Wizard of Oz (1925)The Wizard of Oz (1925) is a vehicle for the physical comedy of director and star Larry Semon rather than a faithful retelling of any of the Oz tales.

A toymaker tells the story of how Dorothy, the rightful ruler of Oz, was sent to Kansas as a baby. Oz is under the rule of Prime Minister Kruel, who is determined to stop Dorothy from taking her place on the throne…

Made fourteen years before Victor Fleming’s film, The Wizard of Oz appears a stark contrast to its successor. Much of the plot has been altered, with much less focus on Dorothy’s quest. Semon’s The Wizard of Oz is more of a comedy than a fantasy, with many of the magical elements of Oz being toned down.

The main reason that this 1925 film is not as memorable or cherished as the 1939 movie is undoubtedly because of where the emphasis lies. The focus is on Semon’s farmhand character rather the Dorothy. She becomes a secondary player in this adaptation. The film is more concerned with the farmhand getting himself out of scrapes.

Moreover, Kansas dominates as the prime location, instead of Oz. Semon’s film misses the magic of the land; an element so intrinsic to later versions. Even the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are not actual characters but the farm workers purposefully dressing up. Downplaying the fantasy elements of the books is a significant misstep.

Performances are fine,with Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy and G. Howe Black making the most of their athleticism. There are some good stunts in the film, particularly given the era in which it was produced.

Overall, The Wizard of Oz is not a bad film in its own right. However, it is not a memorable version of Baum’s tale.

The Wizard of Oz (1925) was screened with animated short The Wizard of Oz (1933) as part of the BFI’s ‘Returning to Oz’ season Piano accompaniment was provided by Stephen Horne.

We’re Off To See The Wizard

The Wizard of OzOz fever has hit I Heart The Talkies this week! Seriously, I can’t get enough of all things The Wizard of Oz-related. Luckily Disney and the British Film Institute are on hand to sate my appetite. Oz The Great and Powerful, a prequel of sorts, hits cinemas on Friday 8th March 2013. The British Film Institute meanwhile are wowing with their ‘Returning to Oz’ season that runs from 1st-14th March. As well as screenings of the 1939 fantasy classic, lesser-known Oz films are being screened…

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

I am really looking forward to seeing the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. Directed by and starring Larry Semon, the film also features a young Oliver Hardy. Apparently it is quite different to the book and subsequent films, so it will be interesting to see how this version plays out.

The Wiz

Michael Jackson stars as the Scarecrow in this 1978 Motown adaption. Diana Ross is a little too old to be playing Dorothy, but otherwise an interesting transportation of Oz to New York City. My good friend once played the Michael Jackson role in a stage adaptation of The Wiz; he was fantastic.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz

You would be forgiven for thinking you had been slipped LSD whilst watching The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Based on L. Frank Baum’s book of the same name, the story concentrates on less familiar characters. It is weird and wonderful.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This 1910 short was the first movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. The film attempts to fit the entire story into less than 13 minutes. Suffice to say, it is short but sweet. Also, it features an amazing Toto transformation. That is all you need to know.

The ‘Returning to Oz’ season is running at the BFI Southbank from 1st-14th March 2013.