Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Duck Soup (Laurel & Hardy 1927) (2019 restoration-in-progress in 4K of Lobster Films, BFI, Library of Congress)

Duck Soup (1927). Madeline Hurlock and Stan Laurel.

Duck Soup (Fred Guiol, Leo McCarey 1927). Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

US 1927.
regia/dir: Fred Guiol.
supv, regia/dir: Leo McCarey.
scen: da/based on the sketch “Home from the Honeymoon” di/by Arthur J. Jefferson.
did./titles: H. M. Walker.
cast: Stan Laurel (James Hives/Agnes), Oliver Hardy (Marmaduke Maltravers/il finto colonello/fake Colonel Blood), James A. Marcus (il colonello/Colonel Blood), William Austin (Lord Tarbotham), Madeline Hurlock (Lady Tarbotham), Bob Kortman (guardia forestale/Forest Ranger McFidget), William Courtright (il maggiordomo del colonello/Colonel Blood’s butler), Charlie Holmes (facchino/moving man), James A. Marcus (Colonel Buckshot).
prod: Hal Roach.
copia/copy: DCP, 21′, col. (da/from 35 mm nitr., imbibito/tinted); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    2019 restoration-in-progress in 4K of Lobster Films / BFI / Library of Congress.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick.
    Musical interpretation: John Sweeney, Frank Bockius
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

David Robinson (GCM): "Although released before the on-screen partnership was officially acknowledged, and without the couple’s familiar fraying-bourgeois air – Ollie sports a scrubby beard – the ultimate Stan-and-Ollie relationship is already firmly defined. Stan is dithery, timid, but ultimately the more resourceful; Ollie is dominating-going-on-bullying, confident, and generally badly mistaken."

"They learn with alarm that the Forest Rangers are rounding up vagrants to fight forest fires, and swiftly take refuge in a mansion whose owners are leaving on holiday. In their absence Oliver endeavours to rent  out the house, while Stan helpfully disguises himself as Agnes the housemaid. Things do not end well."

"Although they dominate the film, the nominal star was Madeline Hurlock (1897–1989), who set out as a serious actress, was recruited as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, and went on to be teamed, in turn by Sennett and by Roach, in two-reelers with comics like Harry Langdon and Billy Bevan. Here, as Lady Tarbotham, she maintains her poise against all odds."

"Though they enjoy the incomparable directorial guidance of Fred Guiol and Leo McCarey, Stan Laurel may well already have been exerting his influence on the concept of their films, since the story is adapted from a sketch by his father, Arthur J. Jefferson."

"The film was re-made with sound as Another Fine Mess in 1930. Leo McCarey re-used the title for his 1933 Marx Brothers film." David Robinson (GCM)

Ulrich Ruedel (GCM): "The restoration  Long lost, then rediscovered in a cropped, foreign-titled sound re-release and in 9.5 mm, “the first Laurel and Hardy film” has now been restored by Lobster Films close to its original form, following the rediscovery of a beautiful full-aperture tinted nitrate print at the BFI of what appears to be a British re-release, which is the main source for this new digitization-restoration. A censorship out-take preserved at the Library of Congress preserves the only two known American-English title cards for the film (“My gawd – she is raw!” – when Laurel believes to see naked Madeline Hurlock, who then calls out “Agnes!”), while its script has been published in Randy Skretvedt’s The Laurel & Hardy Movie Scripts: 20 Original Short Subject Screenplays (1926–1934) (2018). But in an ironic twist, British-English titles seem rather appropriate for a piece based on a music-hall classic to begin with. The Giornate is proud to present a new restoration of Duck Soup, made possible through the teamwork of Lobster Films, the BFI, and the Library of Congress." Ulrich Ruedel (GCM)

AA: Long believed missing, Duck Soup (1927) was found in 1974 as a cropped 9.5 mm re-release version with French intertitles replacing the originals (Wikipedia). I saw a dvd based on that version in 2010 in the wonderful complete four box set Kinowelt / Universal publication but failed to recognize the value of this excellent comedy then.

Seen now in the Lobster Films restoration Duck Soup is a revelation. The main credits announce:

Stan Laurel
Duck Soup

but although not planned as a film for the comedy team Laurel & Hardy it already becomes one. Everything fits together, the chemistry is there.

Laurel & Hardy films work on many levels. They can be received as broad farces, showcases for physical comedy. The slapstick is always present, often in quite brutal form. But also the sophisticated levels immediately click here.

We register the outlandish action: the bicycle chase downhill, Laurel posing as a coy maid asked to help Lady Tarbotham to bathe, robbing the big game hunter's mansion in front of his very eyes, the police arresting the duo to help quench a forest fire. With Laurel & Hardy as firefighters, we see a hommage to the first film comedy, L'Arroseur arrosé by the Lumière brothers.

But already the real treasures of the comedy are in nuances of the characters. Laurel and Hardy are veritable bums here, not yet dressed in identical black suits and bowlers. Instead, Hardy is in rags, his clothes severely torn. In no way that affects his dignity. He is already the pompous, assured, magnificent man in charge, no matter how desperate the situation.

Madeline Hurlock is excellent, a perfect leading lady, one of the duo's best, blithely oblivious to Stan Laurel's blatant cross-dressing.


AA Facebook capsule:

A Laurel & Hardy revelation was a high point at Le Giornate. I had seen their "pre-duo" comedy Duck Soup (1927) before in 2010 when it was included in the huge L&H multi-box set dvd release. But this new Lobster Films restoration makes a difference. L&H were not yet even billed as a comedy team, but in front of our eyes they transform into one. It's chemistry of the most spellbinding kind. Subtle touches and gestures start to form. Appearances are misleading: Laurel was the brains of the duo. But Hardy was the greater actor. Here he does not yet wear a dark suit and bowler hat, but even in rags his dignity is unfaltering.

A previous preservation of Duck Soup (1927) was released in Finland in the giant Laurel & Hardy series of four box sets (Kinowelt / Universal) on 24 March 2010 on the disc L&H and the Law (disc 12, box 3). Please do click on the image to enlarge it.


Duck Soup (1927 film)
For the 1933 Marx brothers film, see Duck Soup (1933 film).
Directed by    Fred Guiol
Produced by    Hal Roach
Written by    H. M. Walker
Arthur J. Jefferson (play)
Starring    Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Edited by    Richard C. Currier
Distributed by    Pathé Exchange Inc.
Release date    March 13, 1927
Running time    20 minutes
Country            United States
Language    Silent film
English intertitles

Duck Soup is a silent comedy short film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy prior to their official billing as the duo Laurel and Hardy. The team appeared in a total of 107 films between 1921 and 1951.


Fleeing a group of forest rangers, who are rounding up tramps to serve as firefighters, Laurel and Hardy take refuge in a mansion. The owner has gone on vacation and the servants are away, so Hardy pretends to be the owner and offers to rent the house to an English couple. Hardy gets Laurel to pose as the maid.

Unfortunately, the owner returns and tells the would-be renters that he owns the house. Laurel and Hardy then flee again and are caught by the rangers and forced to fight wildfires.

Production background

Duck Soup was considered a lost film for nearly fifty years, until a print was discovered in 1974. It was previously thought by film scholars that the comedians barely shared any scenes, if any, but in fact they appear as a team throughout the entire picture, albeit rather primitively, dressed in tramp costuming, with Hardy sporting an unshaven chin and top hat. In the next few films, Laurel and Hardy were together as separate performers and not working as a double act, before their potential as a team was used again, notably in Do Detectives Think? (1927), another Hal Roach two-reeler.

The film was directed by Fred Guiol. However, the more important contribution was by the films' supervising director, Leo McCarey, who probably more than anyone else at Roach saw the greatest possibilities for Laurel and Hardy as a comedy team. McCarey later used the same title for the classic Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup, which he directed for Paramount Pictures in 1933. The sketch on which the film was based was written by Stan Laurel's father, Arthur J. Jefferson.

Duck Soup was remade as Another Fine Mess (1930).

The print found in the 1974 was cropped 9.5 mm re-release with French intertitles replacing the originals. However since then a pristine quality full aperture 35mm nitrate print has been located at the BFI National Archive, which appears to be from a British re-release. The film is currently being restored by Lobster Films and will initially be shown at film festivals.


    Stan Laurel as James Hives / Agnes
    Oliver Hardy as Marmaduke Maltravers / fake Colonel Blood
    James A. Marcus as Colonel Blood
    William Austin as Lord Tarbotham
    Madeline Hurlock as Lady Tarbotham
    Bob Kortman as Forest Ranger McFidget
    William Courtright as Colonel Blood's butler
    Stuart Holmes


Okuda, Ted; Neibaur, James L. (2012). Stan Without Ollie: The Stan Laurel Solo Films, 1917–1927. McFarland. p. 184. ISBN 9780786447817. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
Skretvedt, Randy (23 September 2019). "Randy Skretvedt with Steve Massa". Facebook.

Further reading

Bann, Richard W. (2014). "Another Fine Mess: Laurel & Hardy's Legacy". UCLA Film & Television Archive. Los Angeles, CA, USA: UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
Bann, Richard W. (2011). "Film Preservation—Another Fine Mess: "Why Don't You Do Something To Help Me?"". Laurel & Hardy, the Official Website. laurel-and-hardy.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2015.


Robin Cook said...

DUCK SOUP had already been restored by C-W films--Restoration, before Lobster films attempted it. Please see the Facebook page, "C-W films Restoration. Better Presentation Releases"

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Robin Cook, thank you, this is interesting to know! I had seen the film before in the Kinowelt box set but realized its true value only in the Pordenone screening in this restoration in progress! Antti