Sunday, June 14, 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Flying Deuces

Laurel and Hardy: The Flying Deuces
Blu-ray (also available as a DVD)  (Main Feature: 65 min)
Released by Network on June 15, 2015. SRP £14.99 (Blu Ray) & £12.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 1.33:1 black & white Audio: LPCM Mono  HD: 1080p

This is a Regions A, B, and C Blu-ray only available from the UK. This release is BBFC classified U for Universal. This film is suitable for audiences aged four years and over.
Although not a British television series, I was thrilled to be invited by Network to do reviews for their body of work. I have long been a fan of their output of British television which ranged from mainstream to the obscure and virtually everything they put out they made sure was in the best quality they could give us in a release.

I decided that I needed a laugh. Over the past few weeks I’ve suffered a major loss in my family and one thing that I think most people can agree on is when you face these challenging times, one thing can make it better and that is laughter. I saw that Network was going to release a Blu-ray of the Laurel and Hardy film, The Flying Deuces, and I thought that would be the best recipe for what has been going on in my life. I found that this was going to be an intriguing release.
To start with, I feel that Laurel and Hardy is not represented well on the home media front. Just looking at the US and UK releases available, it can be daunting to figure out what is the most complete vs. what would be the best quality. There is not one studio that handles the entire body of Laurel and Hardy material and you run into a situation where a film like The Flying Deuces has fallen into public domain which could complex the situation even more because you don’t know who is handling the material or even if the material is the best a studio can get a hold of for a release. I will go into great detail in my “Quality” section of this review but just to put everyone at ease, Network has done right by this title.

By the time this film was made in 1939, Laurel and Hardy were basically done with making shorts with the Hal Roach studios and moved on to making feature films. This part of their career saw them making features for multiple studios such as 20th Century Fox and MGM. The Flying Deuces was an RKO Production.
The film starts out with the duo on holiday in Paris France. How on Earth they end up there is anyone’s guess. They are just about to leave to go back to Des Moines when Ollie makes a startling announcement. He is not going to go back with Stan. In fact, he may never leave Paris again because he has fallen in love with Georgette who is the daughter of the innkeeper where the two are staying. He is quite smitten with the young lady and it is very cute how much of a shy little boy Ollie can be when he is around her. He is going to ask for her hand in marriage. He feels pretty strongly that this going to work out. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know the whole story.

Georgette is married to Francois a Foreign Legion officer. Laurel and Hardy are basically children who sees everything through child-like glasses. Through strong prompting of Stan, Ollie decides this is the night to ask Georgette to marry him. Obviously this does not go well as Ollie finds out that Georgette’s heart is with another man. Devastated by these turn of events, Ollie goes down to the river with Stan. Ollie’s intention is to tie a rock around his waist and jump into the river ending his life. Oh, and he plans on taking Stan with him too. It’s actually pretty funny listening to Ollie give Stan the reason why he also needs to jump into the river with him and Stan ends up agreeing with those reasons. “People will stare at you and wonder what you are!” -Ollie to Stan.
As they prepare for their final jump into the river, Francois, unbeknownst to Ollie this is Georgette’s husband, hears the two arguing and goes down to the river to see what is going on. After hearing about Ollie’s sad predicament, Francois urges the two to join the foreign legion where Ollie can forget all about the love that scorned him. Once the two join the Foreign Legion, this is where the film really gets going as the boys don’t quite understand what they joined is a commitment and they signed up for a long time.

There comes a point in the Laurel and Hardy catalog where the films lose some of its luster. I don’t think we are there yet with this film. This film still provides a number of laugh out loud moments, even when you know what is coming up it is still funny.
There are simple comedic moments such as Stan continually bumping his head on a low ceiling in the room they are staying at in Paris. The whole sequence of Ollie wanting to throw his life away by jumping into the river is very funny with a nice payoff. There are some really nice moments when the two have joined the Foreign Legion and immediately mouth off to the Commandant. This leads the two to do laundry duty. There is so much laundry that the drying racks go on and on and even worse is the pile waiting to get done. None of it matters because Ollie accidentally takes care of everything….for good.

I think there is some really nice moments in the film. As I mention above, Ollie’s crush on Georgette is really sweet. Ollie has this ability to play this as a very innocent and wonderful crush. It is so nice but what ruins it is knowing that not only Georgette does not feel the same way for him but her friends actually laugh at him about it. It makes me sad because Ollie is so excited by the prospect of marriage. There is a great moment when the boys are trying to leave the Foreign Legion camp and walk past a group of musicians playing a song. Ollie jumps right in and starts singing “Shine on Harvest Moon”. As Ollie sings, Stan does a little soft shoe dance that Ollie eventually joins in too. This is very reminiscent of a similar sequence in Way Out West (1937). It’s a treat to watch them do this. As simplistic as it is, it’s a fun mixture of comedy but true talent.
An ongoing gag in the Laurel and Hardy shorts and features was giving Stan the ability to do things that were impossible while Ollie stares on in disbelief. Such gags had included Stan’s ability to produce a flame on his thumb just like a lighter. In this film, while the two are prisoners in a jail cell, Stan is able to take a bedframe and play it like a harp. What makes these sequences so funny is that Ollie not only stares at this in disbelief, he will turn to look incredulously at us. It gets a laugh out of me every time.

It’s interesting to me but it seems like most of the feature films have co-stars who are relatively vanilla. Jean Parker is Georgette and Reginald Gardiner is Francois. They play the roles just fine but when they are on the screen, I am wondering where Laurel and Hardy are and when will they be on the screen again. Long gone by this point are the days when there were a regular troupe of comedic actors that joined the two in their shorts from the Hal Roach days. The only exception in this case was James Finlayson. Finlayson had appeared in many of the Laurel and Hardy shorts and features and I think he is just as funny as those two. When I went through all the shorts a few years ago, I would just wait to see Finlayson’s name in the credits. He was brilliant. Unfortunately, he is so underused in this film. He is more of a cameo. He plays the jailor and doesn’t really do anything that showcases his talent which is a shame. That being said, I was still happy to see him and his connection with Laurel and Hardy was far from over by this point.
Quality:

As I mentioned above, this film is in the public domain. This could mean a couple of things could happen. Public domain could mean that any old print could be found and slapped onto a disc.  I am really happy to say that this is not the case here and I am pleased with what Network did to bring us this release.
The film print is crisp and vibrant. For HD, it looked as good as I would have liked to have seen it. There is a lot of detail to what is on screen. I am really curious where the source for this release came from. It is stated that Turner holds the original negative for this film but that doesn’t mean that this is sourced from a positive print. There could be a European release negative that could be the source. It could be from a positive print but if it were, I don’t think it had been played much.

There are occasional scratches on the picture but I only noticed them on the sides of the frame. Like I said, very minimal. There are also a couple of occasions where the picture gets cloudy (almost like a fungus) but once again very little and fleeting. I was surprised and pleased to see at the end of the film a credit given to Jonathan Wood for the clean-up of the film. You can read all about my crush on his work here. I think this bolsters my point above. This is a public domain film. Network has sought out a print (whether negative or positive) of high enough quality that warrants the skills of Jonathan Wood and his team at the BBC Digital Media Services. That’s quality and it shows on this release. It looks really good. In fact, preparing for this review, I took a look at Blu-ray.com’s review of this title released by VCI in the US in May. The picture quality is nowhere near as good as the Network release. There is no detail to the VCI picture. I have stolen a grab from Blu-ray.com’s review to show a comparison. Under the screengrab I took it does say: “Disclaimer: Please note that this screenshot was captured at 1080p, resized to 720p and then compressed using JPEG to improve the loading time. While it should give you a general idea of what a title will look like, it's not representative of the true quality that Blu-ray offers.” You can read their full review here.




The audio is fine for that period of film and what I expected. There is a bit of a hiss that can become noticeable when no one is talking but never becomes annoying.

Extras:
This release includes the German version of this film called Dick und Doof in der Fremdenlegion. I wasn’t sure if this was a version of the film re-shot with Laurel and Hardy speaking in German. This has happened before where they have re-shot their scenes in a different language for other films. This presentation looks to me like a dubbed soundtrack. Not really my thing but it makes sense for a disc that is sold in the European market.

Image Gallery & Promotional PDF material: This is a nice piece to have to put the film in a contextual sense of how it was marketed. Most of the images are film posters and it is fun.
Out of the other options available for The Flying Deuces, I don’t think the other releases will look better than the effort put forth by Network. There is a great deal of care taken to present this film in the best way possible. The film itself is a solid Laurel and Hardy film. They still pull off the laughs and although not as funny as their heyday in the Hal Roach era it still a very enjoyable way to pass 65 minutes. This release is Recommended.

I dedicate this review to my Dad who passed away nearly two weeks ago. Laurel and Hardy was his favourite and he introduced their humour to me when I was young. When watching the antics of those two in this film, I can hear him laugh at all the wonderful slapstick moments. It’s fantastic to see that new audiences are being introduced to these films all the time.
Next review: I am going to look at the final series of Lovejoy (Series 6) being released in the US by Acorn Media on June 16th. Being a massive fan of this series, I had actually seen very little of Series 6 including the finale. I made some interesting observations on what I saw when I viewed these episodes amd I am looking forward to sharing them.
Have a great week!

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6 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Wjat a relief to know that this is being released in a really goof HD edition - thanks very much for the detailed review.

Tboneator64 said...

Those are excellent Screenshots, which display some very high quality visuals, which are easily the best that have ever been seen of THE FLYING DEUCES!

However, regarding the Region B listing, I feel I should note that on Network's own website, this title is designated as Region ABC!

CHEERS!

Tony

Greg said...

Hi Tony,

You are right. This is Region A, B, C and I will change it on my review to be clear. My test disc even says it so I am not sure why I got it wrong. The film is really sharp. I think you will really like it when you see it.

Take care,
Greg

Greg said...

Sergio,

Thanks for your comment. It is really sharp picture. I hope you like it as much as I did.

Take care,
Greg

Tboneator64 said...

Hi Greg!

First off, sorry about your tremendous loss! I know from personal experience how hard it is to lose a parent or close loved one!

Second, thank you very much for your detailed, heartfelt review, and also for providing first hand clarification regarding the ABC Region coding.

I do have one other question. Does the opening on the Network Blu-ray include the RKO Logo, which preceded the Title Card on the VCI Entertainment Blu-ray?

Anyway, Take Care!

CHEERS!

Tony

Greg Bakun said...

Hi Tony,

Thank you for the kind words. It definitely was a completely unexpected shock. Yes, the film starts out with the RKO logo with the radio antenna on top of the globe. Happy to help!

Take care,
Greg