Academic journal article CineAction

Right Again: A Loving Tribute to Stan, Ollie and Leo

Academic journal article CineAction

Right Again: A Loving Tribute to Stan, Ollie and Leo

Article excerpt

During my childhood, in England in the 1930s and into the 40s, movie theatre programmes typically consisted of: a main feature (or 'A' movie), a second feature ('B' movie), a newsreel, and, quite often, a Laurel & Hardy short. The moment their signature tune (commonly known as 'I'm cuckoo, you're cuckoo ...') came on, the older family member(s) accompanying me emitted loud groans. But I loved Stan and Ollie, and refused to be influenced by my older siblings' contempt (which today looks more like culpable ignorance). I far preferred them to Chaplin (I didn't discover Keaton until much later). Surprisingly perhaps, time has only confirmed this preference. I have always had problems with Chaplin. While I have learnt to admire the skills, he has almost never made me laugh. I think what gets in the way is the selfconsciousness, the narcissism: the way in which every gesture seems to say 'Look at this, isn't it amazing?'. L & H understood their place and function, as humble entertainers, programme-fillers. They never told me I had to love and admire them. I didn't need to be told.

I don't think I grasped that a film had a director until 1938/9, my annus mirabilis, the year I look back on as the genesis of my career as a film critic (I was eight years old): the year I first saw The Lady Vanishes and Stagecoach, when the names of Hitchcock and Ford were on every filmgoer's lips. (It was also the year of Only Angels Have Wings, but my mother decreed that it wasn't 'suitable', on what grounds I know not, so Hawks had to wait). But it was a great many years before I became aware of Leo McCarey, and even more before I fully recognized his importance in Stan and Ollie's joint career. He was 'Supervisory Manager' on most or all of their films during their richest and most prolific period (1928-1930), during which they made thirty short features, and he personally directed three of them. As Supervisory Manager he worked with them on their scripts, encouraging them to go further, developing gags and routines: a fine example of the communal art of Hollywood's great period, and to my mind a further reason for preferring them to Chaplin, who wrote and directed his own films apparently without help or interference, hence with no checks on his egocentricity. The richest periods of art (the Renaissance, the Elizabethan theatre, the Vienna of Mozart) have always been communal in this sense, as against the loneliness of the modern auteur. …

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