LAUREL & HARDY: THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MOVIES (The Ultimate Edition) by RANDY SKRETVEDT (2016, Bonaventure Press, 630pp) *****
Blurb: Randy Skretvedt’s seminal LAUREL & HARDY: THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MOVIES is generally acknowledged as the gold standard in writing about the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Since the book’s original release in 1987, it has been updated several times through the early 1990s. But over the last 15 years, author Skretvedt has been compiling an Ultimate Edition of his master work, with nearly 50% more text and quadruple the number of photos of previous editions. And to mark its release, Bonaventure Press is producing a single limited print run of 2,000 copies of this special edition, as an oversized 8.5 by 11 hardcover, with heavy glossy paper and all the trimmings of a top-quality art book, to help show off its 1,000 rare photographs and greatly expanded text.
To say this book is the most detailed work on the films of Laurel & Hardy would be an understatement. Skretvedt’s knowledge of his subject is second to none. He acknowledges many other scholars of the comedy duo’s work, but none has come close to this level of research and presentation. As the blurb states this is a much expanded version of a book originally published thirty years ago. Skretvedt covers L&H’s film career in meticulous detail through reference to source studio documentation, scripts and Stan’s notes as well as interviews with cast and crew. The author also provides his own analysis on every one of their films as a team from the silent shorts throught to the talkies and their feature films. It’s a story that demonstrates how Hal Roach studios created an environment in which the team could work without interference enabling them to capitalise on their ideas. This is contrasted with their later films, in the 1940s, at Fox and MGM, where studios protocol acted as a straight-jacket restricting the duo’s effectiveness.
The book itself is a weighty hardback of 630 glossy pages. Many of the photos are rare and often serve to show scenes deleted from the final product or link into the private lives of Stan and Ollie – both of whom had more than their fair share of marital problems. It is a beautiful presentation and a must for L&H enthusiasts and fans of cinema in general.