20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Stronger than the previous Fox set,
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This review is from: Laurel and Hardy Collection, Vol. 2 (A Haunting we Will Go / Dancing Masters / Bullfighters) (DVD)
I found the films contained in this set to generally be funnier and stronger than the ones on the first volume. While it's true that L&H's career after they left Hal Roach is kind of hit and miss, it's not true that everything they did after 1940 is horrible and deserves to be dismissed out of hand without letting the viewer judge for oneself or without a modern critical re-evaluation of these films. I wish more people would realise that these films are *different* than their Hal Roach films, not inferior per se. They actually have many very funny moments and some pretty decent scripts, if one can get past the popular misconception about them being unwatchable garbage.
'The Bullfighters' (filmed in late 1944 but released in 1945) is easily the strongest of the three. Its strength is due in no small part to how they finally had gotten a sizeable amount of creative control back by this time, and how Stan wrote and directed (without credit) at least two of the scenes. It also seems like one of their Hal Roach films, and they seem far more in character than they do in some of the other Fox films. The boys are private detectives who go to Mexico in search of a woman nicknamed Larceny Nell, but after failing to arrest her, in one of the scenes Stan wrote and directed, they find themselves having to hide from Richard Muldoon, a man they sent to prison years ago. They believed Muldoon was a murderer, but it turned out that he was innocent and the real criminal confessed. Stan is able to hide his true identity because he looks exactly like Don Sebastian, a matador whose arrival in town is delayed due to troubles with his passport, but Ollie has more trouble avoiding running into Muldoon. The only real fault I could find with this film is that it ends without resolving the subplot about Larceny Nell, like that part of the plot was developed and then just dropped. This film is only an hour long, so it's not like it was anywhere near running overtime and had to be ended right then.
'The Dancing Masters' (1943) is the second-best film on here. It also helps that some of the scenes are remakes of scenes in some of their earlier films, such as the auction scene in 'Thicker Than Water' and the idea of insuring Stan so that they can collect a lot of money on his injury, which was a big part of the plot in 'The Battle of the Century.' It's hysterically funny throughout, and for once the subplot featuring a young couple doesn't really drag the story down, as it does in some of their other Fox films. This film also features a young Robert Mitchum in a minor role as one of the men who sells them the insurance policy, and the always wonderful Margaret Dumont as the mother of their friend and student Trudy. Here the boys are dancing teachers, with Stan once again in drag when he teaches his class (although unlike the other times when he dressed in drag in their films, here he's not pretending to be a woman and isn't wearing a wig). Although they're really behind on their rent and other living expenses, they're hopeful that Trudy's boyfriend Grant will come through for them when they get rich on his inventions, in particular a very potent ray gun intended for use against the Nazis. Things are complicated because not only does Trudy's father hate Stan and Ollie, he also hates Grant and is hoping Trudy will marry a young man more to his liking, Wentworth Harlan. Though this film is also very funny, I was rather disappointed by how it seemed to end rather abruptly, with not a lot of resolution to most of the plotlines.
'A-Haunting We Will Go' (1942) is the weakest film on here. Stan and Ollie have just been thrown out of jail and are ordered to leave town very soon, or else, and think they've found an easy way out when they see a newspaper advertisement for someone to travel to Dayton, Ohio, all expenses paid. They run terrified when they find out this means travelling with a coffin with a corpse (so they think) inside, but go back and say they'll do it when they see a cop. Little do they know that they've just gotten mixed up with a bunch of gangsters and con men, nor that their coffin gets mixed up with a coffin to be used by Dante the Magician in his upcoming show. On the train to Dayton, they get swindled some more, but Dante comes to their rescue and befriends them, asking them to assist in his upcoming show. The gangsters of course discover they've gotten the wrong coffin, and go to Dayton to confront them and to try to get their living cohort out of that coffin before their criminal plan is discovered. This film just doesn't have a lot of flavor in it, and the boys seem more like supporting characters than the leading comedians at times. It's also not consistently funny, though there are some very funny scenes in it. As with other of their weaker Fox films, they just seem out of character, indistinguishable from any other comedians, and worse yet not only aware of their stupidity but also the brunt of a bunch of jokes and comments from other characters about how stupid they are. They're supposed to be dumb, but in a sweet endearing way, like two overgrown little boys, not constantly being made fun of and swindled by nearly everyone in their path on account of it.
Extras include audio commentaries, trailers, their 1943 Technicolor short 'Tree in a Test Tube' (which is available on several other releases), a short interview with Ollie on the 1950s program 'A Ship's Reporter,' a mini-documentary on the boys' years at Fox, footage of Fox Movietone News, and two silent 1932 newsreels featuring their visit to England. These two newsreels are also available on the Kino release of 'The Flying Deuces,' but here I found them much more enjoyable and lively because they actually had a soundtrack, instead of being pure silence. While this isn't a release I'd recommend to new or casual fans, overall the films are funnier and stronger than the ones on the previous volume.