Laurel And Hardy Torrent

Posted : admin On 1/25/2022
The belovedcomedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were in another finemess. But this time, it was no laughing matter. The prints of theclassic shorts and feature films they made for producer Hal Roach,including the 1932 Oscar-winning short “The Music Box” and the1937 feature Way Out West, were worn and torn and had been cutto shreds for commercials. Mere shadows of their former selves.
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Until now.
All images courtesy Randy Skretvedt
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Thanks to thepassion and largesse of a motion picture archivist and the work of theUCLA Film and Television Archive and the Library of Congress, theduo’s legion of fans can see a dozen shorts and two feature filmsthat have been photochemically restored from original 35mm nitrateelements and digitally cleaned for the DCP presentations at theAmerican Cinematheque’s “Laurel and Hardy: The Original OddCouple”series, which takes place May 6-8 at the Egyptian Theatrein Hollywood and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
Motion picturearchivist Jeff Joseph, whom Cinematheque audiences know from hisremarkable 3-D festivals at the Egyptian, has acquired a 10-yearlicense to the theatrical rights to the films the duo made for HalRoach, minus a few titles the producer had sold.
“My goal wasalways to put them in theaters again,” said Joseph, 62. “Everybodythinks I’m nuts for doing this because there is no money in it.”

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Laurel And Hardy Torrent
But he's beennuts about Laurel and Hardy ever since he was a young boy growing upin North Hollywood. Like most baby boomers, Joseph watched the geniusslapstick antics of Laurel’s thin, British man-child and Hardy’sportly snoot on children’s television programs.
“They made melaugh,” Joseph said. “I would wake up at five in the morning to seethem and I’d run home from school and watch them. I used to runmovies in my garage to the neighborhood kids. The first film I evercollected was Laurel and Hardy. When I got to be 11 or 12 years old,I bought an 8mm of ‘Big Business’ from Blackhawk.”
But never in amillion years did it occur to him that, some 50 years later, he wouldbe working on restoring Laurel and Hardy’s films.
A few years ago,Joseph wrote a substantial check to kick-start UCLA’s ambitiousplan to preserve these films, which were made in the late 1920sthrough the ’30s.
UCLA receivedthe Hal Roach nitrate elements in 2003 from then-owner Hallmark. (The Library ofCongress also restored titles appearing in the series, which camefrom a different depositor.)
“Thecollection included original camera negatives, sound track negatives,master positives, work prints and release prints on not only Laureland Hardy films but Our Gang, Charley Chase and Thelma Todd shortsand features like Topper and Of Mice and Men,” ScottMacQueen, UCLA’s head of preservation, said in an email interview.
The condition ofthe original nitrate negatives was less than ideal. “The Laurel andHardy films were popular worldwide and as a result, the originalnegatives were overprinted and incurred extensive wear and damage,”MacQueen noted. “New nitrate negatives were made in 1946 when FilmClassics initiated a major postwar reissue, mainly because theoriginals were so unserviceable.”

And for the nextfour decades, MacQueen said, “Copies that were seen came down fromthese murky, ugly reissue elements. The originals are rife with tornperforations, indifferently made replacement sections, picture slugsto keep the negative in sync with the sound track, tears, and oldrepairs.”
MacQueen wasasked to assess the material and develop a preservation plan in 2012.“The archive then decided to pursue a crowdsourcing campaign tofund the work, since Laurel and Hardy’s appeal has remained sostrong and widespread,” he said. “That campaign is ongoing.”
Besides Joseph’ssubstantial gift to launch the campaign, the UCLA archive hasreceived gifts from everyone from the Sons of the Desert tents(Laurel and Hardy fan clubs) to individuals around the world to theWinklevoss Foundation (the Winklevoss twins,Tyler and Cameron, of The Social Network fame).“Eachrestoration had its own little headaches and its own story,” Josephsaid.
Take “MidnightPatrol,” for example.
“Fate left usonly a 1933 picture master positive, but it was undamaged andorderly,” said MacQueen.
“So it was a straightforward matter ofmaking a duplicate negative. But the only extant sound was from a16mm print and had been so for decades. We located previouslyuntapped 35mm sound elements, which have more dynamic range, at theBritish [Film] Institute and worked from that.”
They also had tocombat instances of nitrate decomposition, “most of it due toacetate leaders that were cut on in the 1950s and have gone ‘vinegar’and infected the adjacent nitrate,” MacQueen said.
“The first 300feet of ‘De Bote en Bote’ was an utter loss. Here is a greatexample of the importance of the Library of Congress’ having made amaster 40 years ago that enabled reel one to be complete.”
“The MusicBox’s” original negative, missing a third reel (which wasdiscovered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and made available for thispreservation), “is the one Laurel and Hardy short where thenegative is nearly pristine,” MacQueen said. “Perhaps its AcademyAward status caused Roach to make prints off of duplicate negativesto protect the original.”
The sound trackis better now than when the film was released. “Roach,” saidJoseph, “saved some of their pre-records. In ‘The Music Box,’for example, Scott (MacQueen) went back and remixed the track. So the movie is soquiet now. You can hear the wind in the microphone when they’reoutside.”

One of theteam’s best features, 1933’s Sons of the Desert, is“currently on the operating table thanks to a grant from the FilmFoundation and will be the most difficult restoration to date,”MacQueen said.
“Only six ofthe seven reels of camera negative exist, and those six are lackingperhaps 50% of the original negative, with mediocre replacementsinserted in 1972. There is a clean but grainy master positive from1933, which the archive will use to compensate where required. But weare attempting to upgrade as much of the film as possible from thecamera negative.”
The sound iscoming from a new fine-grain Canadian track negative, MacQueen said,“then being digitally cleaned as it is rife with audio problemsendemic to 1933: recorded in frequency, hums, erratic mix levels,noisy bloops, clicks and pops.”
UCLA is doingphotochemical restoration, MacQueen explained, because “analog,photochemical protection is essential. Not only does it generatehigh-quality 35mm prints, which look superb and have a very differentcognition from digital displays, but the new polyester masters andnegatives ensure that these subjects will be around for 500 years.”
Joseph isscanning the films digitally and cleaning them up even further forthe DCPs. UCLA’s team was able to pull the original title sequencesfrom saved work prints of the films, and Joseph is restoring the MGMlion to its former glory.
“The MGM lionswere terrible,” Joseph said. “It’s like, why do they look sobad? I got one of the negatives from ‘Come Clean’ from 1931. It’san original negative and the MGM lion is date-coded to 1930 and itlooks terrible — meaning it looked terrible from day one.'
So he replacedthe shabby dupe lion with a majestic one, which makes Leo look likethe King of the Jungle he should be.
But the UCLAarchive and Joseph have a long way to go until all of the films havebeen restored and preserved.
“Of the roughly 40 sound Roach shorts, the archive has restored sixand four are currently in process,” MacQueen said.“That’s 10% of the shorts. Of the 13 Roach features, two havebeen restored by UCLA — Way Out West and De Bote en Bote, the Spanish version of Pardon Us — with a third, Sons ofthe Desert, currently in progress.”
Yet there are 25sound shorts and 11 features that still need to be restored. “Themost critical roadblock to the archive’s completing its Laurel andHardy initiative is the old one — money,” MacQueen said. “Weencourage all lovers of Laurel and Hardy to search their hearts forbenefaction and their sofa cushions for loose change.” If you do find loose change, you can learn more about contributing to the restoration project here.
The Cinemathequefestival kicks off Friday, May 6, at the Egyptian Theatre inHollywood with four shorts, three of which have been preserved by UCLA,including “The Music Box,” 'Helpmates' and 1932’s “County Hospital,” aswell as the 1939 feature Flying Deuces. (The latter title,which is in the public domain, was restored by Joseph.). Billy Gilbert, who appears in three of tonight's shorts will be remembered by his niece Judy Cooper and great nephew Bryan Cooper, who will share stories prior to the film program.
Shorts andfeatures preserved by UCLA screening Saturday afternoon May 7 and Sunday, evening May 8 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica include 1933’s “TheMidnight Patrol” and the classic Way Out West. On tap forSaturday evening is a 35mm print of 1933’s The Devil’sBrother (an archival 35mm print) and 1935’s BonnieScotland.

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Author RandySkretvedt will sign his book, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behindthe Movies, before the programs. Books will be sold in the lobby prior to the film screenings when doors open.
For the fullschedule, click here. To see the series trailer click here.
Click here for side-by-side restoration comparisons of Me and My Pal and Their First Mistake.

*Please note that we will be screening a new mini-series of restored Laurel & Hardy films at both the Egyptian and Aero Theatres from Friday, March 30th to Sunday, April 1st. Join us for three days of hilarity from this legendary comedy duo with new restorations of shorts including “Brats,” “Hog Wild,” and “The Chimp,” as well as what might be Stan and Ollie’s best feature, SONS OF THE DESERT. More info here.*

- by Susan King

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Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in Classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.
Follow her on Twitter: @mymackie

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared together in 35 silent films, of which 33 were produced by the Hal Roach Studios between the years 1926 and 1929. They were not an established team with a vaudeville background, in the manner of most comedy teams of the day. Rather, they were film actors who just happened to appear in several films together. When they found themselves both employed on the Roach lot in 1926, they (along with James Finlayson, Charlie Chase and Edna Marion) were part of Roach's 'All Stars,' a stable of comedy regulars who appeared in a variety of roles in dozens of two-reel comedies. Director Leo McCarey is the man most often credited with noticing the chemistry that always resulted when Laurel and Hardy shared the screen, and as being the main inspiration behind their permanent teaming.
The film history of Laurel and Hardy, therefore, begins with several films in which they co-starred, but were neither a team nor their familiar 'Stan and Ollie' characters. We offer comments on most of them, and provide a running history of the team's evolution in the film synopses
. - JL, JB

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