Dir: Leo Joannon | Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy | Comedy Drama | 98′
ATOLL K marked the big screen comedy return of Laurel and Hardy in 1951. It was also their swan song. The much loved duo were lured back during a European stage tour to take a trip of another kind – this time involving a ramshackle voyage to the Pacific to save Stan’s island inheritance. The odyssey was actually filmed off the coast of the French Riviera and was an ambitious attempt to add a satirical twist to their well-known slapstick scenarios. It certainly showcases their versatility and inventive comedy talents. Atoll K (the French title) also comes as a welcome ‘Laurel and Hardy’ refresher in the wake of a new feature film: Stan & Ollie, that arrives in the New Year and stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.
After 1945 Laurel and Hardy had found new popularity with audiences deprived of their films who during the war years. The comedy duo had signed up with 20th Century Fox and MGM for a series of movies, but by the end of the 1940s their career had ground to a halt after a long association with producer Hal Roach. Atoll K (also known as Utopia and Robinson Crusoeland) was the result of a big budget French-Italian initiative, with the production to take place in France. But the project did not run smoothly, and filming took over a year – from Spring 1950 to the following April – instead of the projected 12 weeks. To make matters worse, there were artistic and communication issues between Laurel and the director, who could only speak French. Lancashire born Laurel was diabetic and suffered severe complications during shooting, further hampering the production. And with seven writers contributing to the script, it’s hardly surprising the storyline drifts rather, despite some great comedy moments revolving around the usual setbacks and mishaps during a voyage that’s stormy – both on and off the boat. Despite its flaws this buried treasure from archives provides solid gold entertainment. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2018