Review for The Flying Deuces
This might just be the most expensive complimentary review disc I’ve ever requested. I love Laurel and Hardy, and the temptation of watching one of their films on Blu-ray, in high definition was more than I could bear. I love the Hal Roach period of their careers, and I have a big concrete block sized boxset replete with 21 DVDs of those films, comprising shorts and longer films which get a fair amount of play in this house. You can bet I wish that those were Blu-ray discs, as even old, monochrome films can look spectacular in high definition, as I found out not too long ago when I reviewed the Metropolis Blu-ray. If Laurel and Hardy’s first high definition outing is half as good, I’m going to be scrabbling around for the pennies, saving up for the rest of their films when they too get a Blu-ray release.
The Flying Deuces sees Stan and Ollie enjoying a vacation in Paris, but all good things come to an end, as Stan reminds Ollie of their jobs at the fish market in Des Moines. Not for Ollie, as he’s fallen in love with the innkeeper’s daughter Georgette. He’s been wooing her, showering her with gifts and affection, and he’s certain that his affection is returned. He’s all set to ask Georgette to marry him, only it turns out that there’s another man. After a shock like that, suicide is the only course, and Ollie isn’t going without a friend.
On the bank of the shark-infested River Seine, Ollie is talked out of his rash action by a passing legionary, and unknown to Ollie, he is the other man, Georgette’s husband Francois. Francois tells him that it’s better to forget than to die, and there’s no better way to forget a girl by joining the Foreign Legion. Only the Foreign Legion isn’t ready for Stan and Ollie.
The Flying Deuces gets a standard 4:3 pillarboxed transfer at 1080p ratio. It’s not great. Reading up on the film, it appears that The Flying Deuces got into the public domain pretty early, and has seen several low quality releases over the decades. This release from Network has had the print restored by BBC Digital (remember that clip from this film that was used in a Matt Smith Doctor Who episode a couple of years back?), but it does leave the question begging, just how bad was the source material that was restored?
The image is stable, not particularly marred by scratches or dirt, but it may as well have been up-scaled from an SD source, with the image soft, of low resolution, low on detail, and suffering from contrast issues. Black crush is a particular problem; you won’t see any detail in Ollie’s suit at the start of the film. The print too suffers from some faded frames, and worst of all is some noise and smearing, especially on skin tones. Once or twice I did feel that I was watching a high definition source, with a certain degree of clarity in a couple of scenes, a smidge of extra detail, but this rarely happened.
You get the PCM 2.0 mono English track, with optional (rather small) subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the music comes across well, but age does afflict the audio too, with moments of hiss, and distortion during more strident, loud moments.
The disc boots to an animated menu, and apparently it’s a Region ABC disc.
The extras on this disc are few. Dick und Doof in der Fremdenlegion lasts 68:23, is presented in 1080p 4:3 pillarboxed with PCM 2.0 German audio. This is the German version of The Flying Deuces. During the Hal Roach days, Laurel and Hardy would film each movie multiple times in different languages, speaking their lines phonetically. That was the old fashioned way. Here it’s actually the same film, but dubbed by German actors. What are different are the title sequences.
You also get a pretty extensive Image Gallery with promotional art and production stills presented as a slideshow.
My bank account has probably dodged a bullet here. From what I’ve read about The Flying Deuces and how it has fared in public domain, this Blu-ray is probably as good as it has looked on home media. But it’s still only as good as a DVD should look, and quite frankly, some of those Hal Roach shorts I have on DVD look better when scaled up to my flat panel display. Laurel and Hardy will have to look a lot better in HD if I’m going to start double-dipping.
As for the film itself, The Flying Deuces is one of the first films that the duo made outside of the Hal Roach studios, this time for RKO Radio Pictures in 1939, and it’s a loose remake of a Hal Roach short from 1931 called Beau Chumps. Beau Chumps was about 20 minutes shorter, and 20 times funnier. That too has the duo joining the Foreign Legion to forget, but it’s much better with the comedy set pieces, and the jokes, and it’s faster paced too.
For me, Laurel and Hardy’s output began to decline outside Hal Roach; they’d struggle to sustain longer features, and by the time they were making movies like Jitterbugs, The Big Noise, and The Bullfighters, they’d often feel like guest stars in their own movies. There would be a greater reliance on special effects, a leading man and leading lady to provide romance, and a break for a musical number from another guest star.
The Flying Deuces isn’t quite that bad, but it does suffer from an overlong run-time, which doesn’t really sustain the comedy. You get comic moments in this film, moments that evoke the belly laughs that I expect from Laurel and Hardy, the opening sequence in Paris is one example, and the infinite laundry sequence another, but it’s diluted by the run-time. The characters of Francois and Georgette are also superfluous to the comedy. They don’t have much of a story arc themselves, and are really just there to motivate the boys to join the Foreign Legion. It’s worth noting that all that Francois and Georgette do in this film was accomplished to much more comedic effect by a simple photograph in Beau Chumps.
Finally we get the special effects, which really should only be used in small doses for a Laurel and Hardy picture. The horse at the end is funny, mildly so (the chimp at the end of Dirty Work was funnier), but the lengthy sequence in the plane quickly gets tedious, and while the actual stunt flying is visually impressive, when they switch to model work it just looks poor.
The Flying Deuces isn’t a great Laurel and Hardy movie, but it has enough in the way of the old magic, the inspired set pieces, enough in the way of the classic tit-for-tat interaction between Stan and Ollie to make me laugh hard enough for it to hurt. It’s just that those moments are stretched out by the longer run-time in this film, and of the two, I’d rather watch Beau Chumps, which told the story better. This Blu-ray might just be the best that The Flying Deuces has been presented on home video, but it’s just not good enough for Blu-ray.