Léo Joannon (director)
BFI Film (studio)
03 December 2018 (released)
31 December 2018
One supposes there must be someone out there who does not like Laurel and Hardy movies, hitherto, this reviewer has yet to meet such a person. Was any comedy duo ever so universally loved as 'the boys' Stan and Ollie (as still referred to by their ever increasing legion of fans)?
It really does say something that in this day and age of technophobia gone mad that Ollie who died as long ago as 1957 and Stan in 1965 still continue to attract fans born years after their respective passing. They will never be eclipsed; thus proving that a certain kind of humor will always be funny. Practically every aficionado of the boys' work will know something about this feature film - sadly their last made in 1951. Nevertheless it is true to say that quite a few of us still haven't actually got around to seeing it; mainly for two reasons: bad reviews and the fact that at that time L & H were not in the best physical condition. Stan Laurel had a number of health issues and was thinner than ever while Oliver Hardy’s weight had expanded even more (he lived for only six more years). Up until now it has not always been possible to see this film in its entirety and there have been patchy pirate versions around for ages. At last we have a 'proper' version or as near as damn it. Despite the initial lukewarm reviews ATOLL K (also known as UTOPIA) is not really that bad at all. Alright, it is a French/Spanish co-production that was beset with problems from the start and the die-hard fans still cherished fond memories of the boys at the zenith of their career in the 30’s (when their work was directed in Hollywood by the likes of James Parrott). But all in all ATOLL K is still worth a look - it is ‘the boys’ after all - albeit a little older but they weren't finished quite yet and even toured Britain that year to crowds untold. Here we have Stan going to London (of course, accompanied by Ollie) to claim an inheritance; unfortunately after tax and legal fees he has been left with next to no money (surprise! surprise!). Instead he’s left with only a yacht and an atoll (a small island or coral reef) in the Pacific. And so the boys set sail, with them aboard is Italian bricklayer and stowaway Giovanni Copini (Adriano Rimoldi) and stateless refugee Antoine (Max Elloy). It goes without saying that this situation leaves plenty of scope for a number of gags when they are attempting to eat their supper with heads turning and food going suddenly missing. Fortunately one of stowaways is a top-notch chef. Within no time they are all set up on their atoll and things are looking good. In a subplot they are later ‘joined’ (by default) by nightclub singer Chérie Lamour (Suzy Delair) after she had an argument with her jealous fiancé, naval lieutenant Jack Frazer (Luigi Tosi) and fled from him. Now our islanders live out almost a 'hippy' idea of Utopia - no bosses, no one telling them what to do, no laws and above all, no taxes! If this sounds too good to be true than well, it is!
As it so happens, lieutenant Jack Frazer arrives with his crew to confirm to his bosses that the island boasts uranium deposits (never mind Chérie Lamour and a tax-free haven). Soon people the world over begin to hear about this 'Utopia' and arrive by the cartload… soon spelling the end of this man-made paradise when some of the new arrivals plan to overthrow the islanders (speak Laurel & Hardy) and set up new rules. But a nasty storm and an almighty flood put an end to all and once again our hapless boys are left with nothing except… another fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into!
By this time Laurel and Hardy were well beyond seasoned pros and knew it was all about comic timing. Really they didn’t need any director to bring out the best in them (not that this film is) and in the case of Léo Joannon it was even worse due to a language problem between the French director and ‘his’ American stars – hence the un-credited co-direction by blacklisted US director John Berry. Perhaps not the greatest swansong for Laurel & Hardy but certainly worth a look! In addition, this Dual Format edition boasts an interesting plethora of bonus features, including some very rare and early Laurel and Hardy solo comedies.