Unaccustomed as we are to promoting TCM — despite it being a favourite channel — kudos to them this month for saluting the greatest film comedy team of all time.
The Atlanta-based classic movie channel is featuring Laurel & Hardy on Mondays throughout December. This is the best Christmas present fans of the duo could ask for in 2020. Follow this link to an appreciation plus, further down, a complete list of the Laurel & Hardy shorts and features being shown every Monday on TCM.
Their 1933 classic feature “Sons of the Desert” is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET this Monday, Dec. 7, but don’t miss their hilarious two-reelers, including the late silent gem “Big Business” (1929) at 2:30 p.m. the same day, the uproariously destructive “Helpmates” (1932) airing Dec. 14 or the sort of two-parter “Them Thar Hills” (1934) and “Tit for Tat” (1935) the afternoon of Dec. 28.
The shorts really stand as the blueprint for TV sitcoms extending well into this century. If you’ve seen The Honeymooners or Gilligan’s Island or Two and a Half Men or even The Big Bang Theory and wondered where the producers got their inspiration, look no further than Laurel & Hardy.
Even the very adult British sensation Fleabag pays a subconscious homage to Oliver Hardy every time Phoebe Waller-Bridge does her take to the camera. Although, when I suggested this to Waller-Bridge a few years ago, she said Michael Caine in “Alfie” was more of an influence. Still, Caine probably had Hardy in his head at the time.
The best news is that TCM is showing fully restored versions of these films. The Laurel & Hardy collection was in a fine mess after years of neglect, including a period of Toronto ownership during the premature colourization craze of the ’80s. The original producer, Hall Roach, never valued the original negatives, which were generally ruined or lost as they fell into the hands of new owners over the decades. Thankfully, most of the best surviving prints have been digitized and restored thanks to preservation work conducted by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Laurel & Hardy film collectors, as well, contributed “lost” image and music sequences resulting in shorts such as “Battle of the Century” (1927) being seen in their entirety for the first time in 70 years. Fans can own several of these restored titles, in 4K quality, by purchasing the Blu-ray box set Laurel & Hardy: the Definitive Restorations.
Kudos also to TCM for the delightful tribute to the comedy masters delivered by “Star Wars” headliner Mark Hamill. Look for it occasionally between features during the month of December. Like many of us, Hamill discovered Laurel & Hardy on television, in his case running home from school over the lunch hour to watch Babe and Stan do their shtick. If you don’t see the boys in C-3P0 or R2-D2, well, pardon us.