This new 2 DVD set from Kino from their SLAPSTICK SYMPOSIUM series showcases the talents of a pre-Oliver Hardy Stan Laurel and it's definitely a mixed bag. Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson) began as an English Music Hall comedian who was Chaplin's understudy when they came to America. While Chaplin quickly went on to fame and fortune, Stan labored for a number of outfits as a gag writer, director and performer. This collection features his work for Hal Roach in the early 20's and his own series of Stan Laurel comedies from the mid 20's.
The biggest problem with many of these shorts especially the later ones is that Stan had yet to find a character that worked for him and he had yet to develop his comic timing. Since we don't identify with his character, he wears out his welcome way too soon. Many of the gags are brilliant and the situations quite funny but they go on far too long. The best shorts are the parodies such as THE SOILERS, ROUGHEST AFRICA, and especially DR PYCKLE AND MR PRYDE which is a truly hilarious send-up of the 1920 John Barrymore film. Others indulge in ethnic humor (SHORT KILTS, NEAR DUBLIN) and a few are downright bizarre and very hard to follow (HALF A MAN, THE SLEUTH).
As good as he was, Stan needed someone to play off of and his teaming with Oliver Hardy allowed his comic genius to reach its full potential. A lot of the material on display here and many of Stan's mannerisms would be put to much better use in the L&H comedies. And so despite the 3 star rating I recommend this set for the Hal Roach shorts and for the opportunity of watching Stan honing his craft. Most of the shorts are in good condition considering how rare they are and the piano accompaniment by Neil Brand is a perfect fit. By the way you can catch Ollie (billed as "Babe" sans mustache) in the last short YES YES NANETTE where he's directed by Stan.