Most people are unaware that in the mid-1920s Stan Laurel was the star of his own series of comedy two-reelers before he teamed with Oliver Hardy. Perhaps it is better that way. “The Stan Laurel Collection” is a two-disc collection of 16 short films starring Laurel as a solo act. They are among the least amusing comedy films ever made.
Laurel never achieved any degree of audience popularity as a single performer and the films in this collection offer ample evidence why he failed. His on-screen persona was surprisingly obnoxious and belligerent, and it was not uncommon for him to push and shove, jump on fat men’s stomachs, throw dynamite into rooms and act in a boorish manner. Laurel also had the unfortunate happy of looking straight into the camera and mugging with silly grins and grimaces.
The feral nature of his character was further hampered by the grueling films he churned out. Some like “Roughest Africa” brought out the worst of that distant era, complete with racist stereotyping of African natives and shocking displays of animal cruelty. Others like “The Soilers” and “Dr. Pyckle & Mr. Hyde” attempted to parody popular films of the day, but were weighed down with lethargic comedy routines which inevitably devolved into puerile slapstick. Some like “Oranges and Lemons” had nothing to offer but lame violence with people getting smacked endlessly with ladders, boxes, tomatoes and fists.
Silent film fanatics may find interest in this round-up of rarely seen shorts. But anyone else who stumbles over them will know immediately why they are rarely seen.