Its 1957. Laurel and Hardy haven’t filmed together in many years, after Stan got fired for questioning how much he was being paid. But they’re now broke and are have got the band back together for a tour of small theatres in Britain and Ireland.
They are met with a lot of love and affection – as well as incredulity that they are still going – but audiences are initially small and no one wants them to play any of the new stuff. They have become one of those novelty bands on the nostalgia circuit who are valued more for the memories they evoke than anything else.
In the film the bigger theatres are now being filled by the likes of Norman Wisdom, although Post-Suez british theatre was also witnessing the debut of Look Back in Anger, and Waiting for Godot had opened in English just 2 years earlier. It wasn’t necessarily the best place for a couple of actors who can no longer gat a film deal messing around.
Rather than tackling this (and there’s no reason why it should) this film concentrates on the deteriorating health of the ageing actors. Ollie in particular is nursing a bad knee which makes it difficult to go on.
What should Stan do? Should he return the slight that Ollie made to him all those years ago and find a new partner? (what do you think? Its not that sort of film, and besides which we’ve already seen the trailer). Nonetheless we do see the regrets and tensions between two characters who clearly loved each other while having quite different priorities (Stan is the creative one always rewriting scripts while Ollie pops down to the bookies as quickly as he can)
Meanwhile they are shadowed by their equally odd couple wives – the former “script girl” who copes with her insecurities by ordering everyone around and the imperious ex-dancer with a thick rooshian accent. As someone says, you get 2 double acts for the price as one.
It isn’t a particularly subtle film, and it applies fairly broad brush strokes, but it is somehow moving and – in a similar but then again entirely different way to last year’s film about Nico – shows that the fading years of a big star can be way more interesting than the days of glory.