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Warner Home Video presents
"Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."
DVD ReviewWhile most of Laurel and Hardy's beloved comedies languish unreleased in Hallmark's vaults (except for those able to enjoy the lovely Region 2 restorations), a few of the beloved comics' pictures are controlled by others. This pair of features made by Stan and Ollie for MGM at the height of their success in the early 1930s aren't exactly their best or most famous work, but they are undeniably worth checking out.
The Devil's Brother (1933)
"We can be bandits. It doesn't require any brains." - Ollio (Oliver Hardy)
In this loose adaptation of Auber's 1830 comic opera Fra Diavolo, Stan and Ollie are Stanlio and Ollio, two vagabonds who lose their life savings to bandits. They decide to turn to banditry themselves, but run afoul of Fra Diavolo (Dennis King), a rascally thief who also masquerades as the Marquis de San Marco in order to learn where the wealthy keep their cash and jewelry. He has his eyes on Lady Pamela (Thelma Todd), who succumbs to his charms, and her elderly husband Lord Rocburg (James Finlayson). Fra Diavolo enlists Stanlio and Ollio in his plan to rob the rich but predictably the results are disastrous.
Dennis King makes for an appealing Robin Hood-like lead, with charm to spare and a terrific baritone voice. Thelma Todd, an accomplished comedienne in her own right, is highly amusing as the dotty Lady Pamela. Two supporting characters who are the ostensible romantic leads, soldier Lorenzo (Arthur Person) and maid Zerlina (Lucile Brown) are rather bland and quite nondescript. Stan and Ollie are in fine form, with several classic bits from Stan, such as his engaging games of Kneesie-Earsie-Nosie and Finger-Wiggle, to Ollie's exasperation. The romantic interludes aren't allowed to go on too long without returning to the boys, so the interest never quite flags. The script is by Jeanie McPherson, who was the longtime writer for Cecil B. DeMille. The picture includes some delightful pre-Code moments, most notably several scantily clad ladies and Zerlina's song as she admires her own figure. There are also some dark undercurrents and an emphasis on death, with Stan being ordered to execute Ollie, and the two of them eventually facing a firing squad as well. These elements lend some depth to what would otherwise be a forgettable farce.
Bonnie Scotland (1935)
Once again, I have to come to your rescue and be the mother of invention." - Ollie (Oliver Hardy)
Much more in the typical mold of a Laurel and Hardy film is this 1935 feature that was later cut down into three different two-reelers. It does have a rather episodic story, making that recutting something of a natural, but it's also very funny as a coherent whole. Stan is Stan "Sandy" McLaurel, who has come into an inheritance from his Scottish grandfather. Escaping from jail, Stan and Ollie stow away to Scotland only to learn that the inheritance consists of a set of bagpipes and a snuffbox. After a series of mishaps, the boys find themselves enlisted in a Scottish army unit. Stan's beautiful cousin, Lorna McLaurel (June Lang) is taken to India with her guardian Col. Gregor McGregor (Vernon Steele), leaving behind her sweetheart Alan Douglas (William Janney). When Alan learns that Stan and Ollie are to be sent to India as well, he enlists himself, only to learn upon arrival that Lorna has become engaged to her guardian. Of course, Stan and Ollie create havoc in India to an even greater extent than in Scotland, much to the chagrin of Sgt. Finlayson (James Finlayson).
Something of a takeoff on Lives of a Bengal Lancer, the picture is a fine combination of the comedy routines with the romantic story. Without songs to bog the presentation down, the 80 minutes run along briskly and the romance is limited enough that it never manages to become tiresome. The focus is so much on the comedy that the romance never actually resolves onscreen, but is left to the imagination so that the film could conclude with a massive and well-staged gag. Stan and Ollie are in very fine form indeed, with plenty of great comedy sequences that verge on the surreal. Several segments are highly absurd, such as a supposed mirage of an accordion and a goofy segment involving Stan's hat. The interaction between the pair is all perfectly timed and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It deserves to be better known, and its restoration to its original form is very welcome indeed.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The films show some wear of the years, with flicker, scratches and speckling, which tends to be much worse at the reel ends. The transfer, however, is quite good, with even such difficult scenes as the dust blowing in Bonnie Scotland being artifact-free. Grain is quite heavy and tends to be a little sparkly. Contrast is quite good, with a fine range of greyscale.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: As one would expect for 1930s films the audio is less than stellar. There's plenty of hiss and noise throughout, with rather a fair amount of crackle. The Devil's Brother occasionally has a rather muffled quality to it. Given the limitations of the source material, this is probably about as good as one can reasonably expect, hence the somewhat higher letter grade.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 46 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann
Disc 2 is completely devoted to even more extras. The one that serious Laurel and Hardy fans will be most excited to see will be the surviving fragments of the lost two-strip Technicolor feature, The Rogue Song (1930). The segment (1m:38s) features Laurel and Hardy taking shelter from a storm in a bear cave. The disc also includes segments from several other features that employ the pair in discrete bits. Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929, 6m:22s) is represented by a magic act skit, featuring a then-younger-than-39 Jack Benny. Another revue-type film, Hollywood Party (1934) has two segments here, totalling nearly nine minutes. The first of these is a somewhat rambling doorbell skit, but the second, featuring a battle with eggs against sexy but hot-tempered spitfire Lupe Velez is a hilarious highlight. Finally, the two long sequences featuring the boys from Pick a Star (1937) are included. The first is a comical take on a Mexican barroom brawl, while the second features a duel over a miniature harmonica. The talents of the pair in wringing laughs from even the silliest prop are demonstrated here. Since the participation of the duo in these films was rather limited, it's nice to see their segments excerpted on this DVD, since the full features probably wouldn't support a release of their own.
And that's not all. The second disc also contains the documentary Added Attractions (1h:26m:02s), narrated by Chevy Chase, which traces the history of the short subject, with particular emphasis on the comedy and musical short. It features copious clips from the beginnings with Mack Sennett to the early talkie shorts of Hal Roach and others, Laurel and Hardy, and many others. The clips are interspersed with the recollections of the now-aged child stars and also modern comedians discussing the influence of these classic shorts. It's well worth watching though only tangentially related to Laurel and Hardy. A very solid set of extras, with the only downside being the awkward overlapping case that requires removing Disc 1 in order to get to Disc 2.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsWhile The Devil's Brother isn't one of the pair's best films, Bonnie Scotland is an underrated classic that never fails to amuse. The transfer is good, though the elements are a little rough, and the extras are copious and highly valuable.
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