The 25 Most Essential Laurel and Hardy Comedy Shorts – Vulture

Laurel and Hardy in Battle of the Century. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Newfound fans watching the 25 weekday hours of Friends reruns on TBS or who are streaming all ten seasons on HBO Max may have noticed a poster in Joey and Chandler’s apartment of a rotund guy and a skinny guy. That visual Easter egg is a poster of Laurel and Hardy, perhaps the screen’s most beloved comedy team.

Friends set decorator Greg Grande said in a phone interview he was reminded of Laurel and Hardy when he watched rehearsals for the fledgling series’ pilot episode and saw in roommates Joey and Chandler a similar comedy dynamic and close-knit bond. And so it was kismet when he was poking around a Warner Bros. studio prop house and found an unframed black-and-white Laurel and Hardy poster from their 1928 short Leave ’Em Laughing. Grande, himself a fan (“Who’s not?” he asked rhetorically), hung it in Joey and Chandler’s apartment, where it became a piece of iconic set design and, he proudly noted, introduced new generations to the comedy duo.

Laurel, a British-born music-hall performer in the same troupe as Charlie Chaplin, was the thin and perpetually befuddled one (offscreen, he took the upper hand in creating the team’s routines). Hardy, a native of Harlem, Georgia, was the mustachioed long-suffering big one, the deluded “strong” who grandiosely took it upon himself to help the “weak” Laurel. They appeared for the first time together, but not as a team, in the 1917 Laurel comedy, Lucky Dog. As contract players for producer Hal Roach, they were first teamed in 1927. They survived the transition from silent to sound films and made more than 100 shorts and features together. Hardy died in 1957, Laurel in 1965.

“The Boys,” as they were affectionately called, never had a Zeitgeist revival moment during the Vietnam War era as did the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Mae West, whose subversive, anti-authority personas resonated with rebellious college students. But they have never gone out of style. Even “sick” comic Lenny Bruce was charmed by them. “The relationship that Laurel and Hardy had was so delightful and such a hard thing to do,” he said in a 1959 radio broadcast included on the four-CD box set, Lenny Bruce: Let the Buyer Beware. “You really feel a sincere love there.”

They were caricatured in 1930s Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons. They are in Vladimir and Estragon’s DNA in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Hanna-Barbera created a short-loved animated series, The Laurel and Hardy Show, in 1966. Baby boomers discovered them on television. In 2018, John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan brilliantly portrayed them in the affectionate Stan & Ollie. And the global appreciation society, the Sons of the Desert, formed in 1965 “to perpetuate the spirit and genius of Laurel and Hardy,” is still going strong.

The team is seen to its best advantage on Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, a recently released four-disc Blu-ray collection distributed by Kit Parker Films. The set contains 2K and 4K digital restorations of the team’s two best features, Sons of the Desert and Way Out West, plus 17 mostly essential shorts, along with over eight hours of commentaries, interviews, archival photos, posters and studio files, and rarities, such as “That’s That,” an outtakes reel compiled for Laurel’s birthday in 1937.

On The Definitive Restorations, the films themselves don’t look like they’re pushing a century. In an email, film historian Leonard Maltin, who wrote the book on Movie Comedy Teams, said, “They’ve never looked or sounded as good as they do, that’s for sure.”

Laurel and Hardy have aged remarkably well with their emphasis on physical humor and slapstick, the universal language of laughter. We’ve chosen 25 essential shorts, presented alphabetically. Unless noted, all are in the Blu-ray collection. (The videos included are not indicative of the pristine Blu-ray restorations.)