Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Laurel And Hardy And Twats At Oxford


I remember once reading a thread on the "Exiles" section of the main Belfast internet forum where a lady in her sixties from Canada wistfully recalled the good old days and the friends she left behind. She mentioned three of them by name in the hope that the possibility may arise in the scary new digital world that somebody would know them and there might be a way to re-establish contact. The first reply from a jet black Ulster cyber-humourist simply noted: "They're all dead".

My first interface with the fateful circularity of life came as a child when I was watching an old compendium of clips from Laurel and Hardy movies - one that included the famous Way Out West sequence of their charming soft-shoe shuffle outside a saloon bar. On asking my mother about their whereabouts thereafter I was informed that alas they were gone in body and spirit. A crushing and literally tearful blow I recall to this day.

For many people in their forties and fifties Laurel and Hardy were a mainstay of television viewing in their youth. In hindsight, and while cross-referencing their filmography, I can distinctly recall seeing the entireity of their 1929-1935 talking shorts. These were often transmitted around the 6pm slot on BBC2 in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Likewise for all thirteen of their Hal Roach- directed feature films made between 1931 and 1940. I also remember that Channel 4 showed some of the later Twentieth Century Fox and RKO features during the Nineties - A-Haunting We Will Go, Air Raid Wardens, The Big Noise etc - though these were essentially of interest to movie buffs only by virtue of their status as some of the worst films ever made.

One of the final Laurel and Hardy features to be generally well regarded was 1940's A Chump At Oxford. In this film Stan and Ollie are a pair of total fuckwits in America who manage to foil a bank raid. The kindly and decent bank manager subsequently offers them a reward of their own choosing. Being conscious of being complete morons they decide upon "an education". They are subsequently dispatched to Oxford University England while dressed as Eton schoolboys - as fifty year olds.

At this point an interesting timelapse interface kicks in with regard to the social backgrounds of the New British nomenklatura - of both conservative and socialist hue - who have governed us so magnificently in recent times to offically make the UK the happiest country on earth. Not.

For on arriving in Oxford the world's most beloved comedy duo are mercilessly harried and bullied by the resident sneering and well-heeled students including a particularly young Peter Cushing. They are directed to their digs by way of a maze and - while lost therein - are practically scared to death by a genuinely terrifying apparition of a ghost-demon which of course is nothing more than a bastard upper class prank. Their accomodation also turns out to be the dean's residence and he is well fucking furious.

This of course is trumped by Stan Laurel bashing his head and transforming into Lord Paddington - the ultimate upper class sneering cunt imaginable.

Ear-wiggling and monocoled Paddington physically thrashes the student body ranged against him before turning on his erstwhile buddy Ollie and tormenting him mercilessly. From calling him "Fatty" every minute to denigrating his obesity and physical bearing alike...it is truly painful to watch even seven decades later. Stan finally snaps out of his reverie but not before directly inducing Oliver Hardy's nervous breakdown.

This movie is dated beyond words though this ten minute segment alone is a priceless moment of truly magnificent comedy and arguably one of the highlights in the entire career of Ulverston's finest son.

The rock group Mott The Hoople once reflected upon the light-year distance between the Liverpool docks and the Hollywood Bowl. Cumbria to Culver City was certainly no mean feat either let's face it.

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