Two minds without a single thought

Like W.C. Fields, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began their careers in silent film, then hit their stride with the coming of sound. It’s hard to think of any of these gentlemen without Fields’ gutteral growl, Laurel’s lyrical lilt, or Hardy’s exasperated Southern twang. Nonetheless, it was in pantomime that they honed their craft as comedians, and their silent work is becoming more popular as the appeal of their wordless comedy is being rediscovered. And, also like Fields, the team receives the R. Crumb seal of approval:

Great. Love ‘em. One of my favorites. I like them better than Chaplin, actually. Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, they’re right up there at the top for me. I love Laurel and Hardy.

On Saturday, July 7, the Silent Clowns Film Series at Lincoln Center will present “The Disaster Masters,” four of Laurel & Hardy’s silent comedies from 1928, just before they made the leap into sound. From Soup to Nuts, You’re Darn Tootin’, Their Purple Moment, and Should Married Men Go Home? feature the team struggling with “the frustrations of everyday life,” as the series’ web page puts it. The program, curated by Bruce Lawton, will feature a live piano accompaniment by Ben Model.

The most recent biography is by Simon Louvish, and the lion’s share of their pre-1940 sound films for Hal Roach, before they entered a period of creative and popular decline with their move to 20th Century-Fox, is available on DVD. UCLA’s Film and Television Archive is engaged in a full-scale project to restore L&H films, though the silents don’t appear to be high on the list. Which makes the July 7 screening all the more welcome. More information at the Silent Clowns Film Series web site here. Admission is free.

Below, Laurel & Hardy in From Soup to Nuts, directed by Edgar Kennedy (no slouch among comedians of the period himself).

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