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Sidekicks

by David Lamble

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are "Stan & Ollie." Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are "Stan & Ollie." Photo: Sony Pictures Classics  

If you're a fan of comedy duos like Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis or the Smothers Brothers, you're aware that their onscreen chemistry often masked a different off-screen relationship. With "Stan & Ollie," director Jon S. Baird shows that despite their comedy shorts and features making a small fortune for mogul Hal Roach, "the Boys" were underpaid and disrespected.

"Stan & Ollie" opens in 1953 when, long past their prime, their comedy gems languishing on TV, Laurel & Hardy made a farewell tour through the music-hall circuit in the British hinterlands, where their fans were legion and wildly enthusiastic.

Skinny Stan Laurel (a revelatory Steve Coogan) was both the brains (writing their famous skits) and the business manager for the team, a role that forced him to butt heads with the miserly Roach and agent Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones). Laurel & Hardy (John C. Reilly) were a real-life couple in every way but romantically. In mid-film, the truth tumbles out, expressed with sadness by Hardy, and with a comic edge by Laurel.

Oliver Hardy: "I'll miss us when we're gone."

Stan Laurel: "So will you."

"Stan & Ollie" reveals the way the men's decades-long professional bond became a partnership that overshadowed their off-stage hetero marriages. Inspired by the book "Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours" by A.J. Marriot. (Opens Friday.)

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are "Stan & Ollie." Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

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