The Laurel and Hardy Collection, Vol. 2

Laurel and Hardy left the Hal Roach studios in 1940 looking for more creative control; they never got it, settling for some supremely dumb efforts on the Fox lot that were wastes of their talent. As with the Marx Brothers, the elements that made their partnership so memorable were buried in idiot plots and distracting romances, lest the madness overcome a too-straight audience. Thus, this second collection of such titles from Fox is largely a pass for anyone but completists. Best of the bad lot is The Dancing Masters, in which Stan and Ollie are proprietors of a dancing school where a pretty heiress studies. In turn they get involved with her boyfriend and his underfinanced military invention. The dancing gimmick is jettisoned pretty quickly (Stan wears a tutu and Ollie wears a satin… something), but there are wayward good gags, including an auction sequence where the boys blow their rent money. Alas, there’s too much sickly sentiment between the young lover supporting cast, and it’s strictly "hit or miss” with the jokes and routines. Coming up behind is the nonsensically titled A Haunting We Will Go, in which our duo agree to transport a dead man by train, little do they know that the "corpse” is a notorious gangster looking to leave town. Of course, the pair screw everything up but not before falling in with Dante the Magician and becoming part of his show. This at least passes for cheap laughs, with one of those "meet up with a real celebrity” numbers for added credulity. Still, the plot is full of holes and the bits never translate into laughs. But these are masterpieces next to The Bullfighters, in which the duo are private eyes chasing a suspect to Mexico City. Once there, things get complicated when A: the guy they wrongfully sent to prison wants revenge, and B: a Laurel look-alike matador fails to show up, meaning Stan has to fill his shoes. There’s nothing funny going on here — not only do the boys seem unsympathetic for sending someone up the river for five years but the jokes are stale and the final bullfighting sequence is hugely lame. Dancing Masters features silent footage of their 1932 tour and an interview with Hardy just before the release of Utopia; Haunting has newsreel footage and a rare educational film with the boys; and Bullfighters includes a featurette called "Laurel and Hardy: the Fox Years.” A commentary by Scott MacGillivray graces each disc. (Fox)