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‘Soldiers,’ Laurel and Hardy March Again--in Color

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the all-time great family entertainments, “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” a 1934 musical/fantasy starring comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, is finally coming to home video--on Oct. 1 at $19.95, with 16 minutes of restored footage. But there’s a catch.

It’s colorized.

Before all you purists gag, it should be noted that the color in this Goodtimes Home Video version is surprisingly good. It is rather soft, not the garish look that characterized many Technicolor films in the ‘30s.

Originally titled “Babes in Toyland” and based on the Victor Herbert operetta, the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” cassette presents the restored storybook opening of the film. Several musical sequences and some scenes featuring the villainous Bogyman also have been restored.

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To make the colorization more palatable to Laurel and Hardy fans, Goodtimes spokeswoman Lois Laurel--Stan’s daughter--maintains that her father would have approved of the color change.

“My father always said this movie should be in color,” she said. “This is a musical fantasy, with lots of costumes. It works better in color. The only reason it wasn’t filmed in color is because it was expensive to film in color in the ‘30s.”

In addition, she said: “This movie is for kids. Such a feature-length movie wouldn’t hold the interest of children if it was in black-and-white. It will do much better business in color.” Her husband, Laurel and Hardy expert Tony Hawes, noted that a color version of the film will be easier to sell to TV too. “If it’s in black-and-white,” he said, “it’s tougher to get programmed on TV. The studies show that people in general don’t like black-and-white. When they’re watching TV, the studies show they’ll flip right past black-and-white movies.

“TV exposure is important in generating new fans for Laurel and Hardy and keeping these movies in the public eye. If people like what they see in color, they may check out Laurel and Hardy’s black-and-white movies.”

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This isn’t the first colorized version of a Laurel and Hardy movie. “Way Out West,” on Hal Roach Video, was the first, followed by “Music Box” and “Helpmates.” The color on “West” and “Music Box” is passable but is inferior on “Helpmates.”

The purists can relax. For now, no further colorizations of Laurel and Hardy movies are planned.

There is more good news for Laurel and Hardy fans. With a few exceptions, such as “March of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Flying Deuces"--which is in the public domain--Laurel and Hardy movies, formerly on Hal Roach and Nostalgia Merchant, are now being repackaged and re-released by Video Treasures at $9.95 per tape. Ten cassettes have been released so far this year--five in April and five earlier this month.

Each tape runs 70 to 90 minutes. Some are made up of one feature, others are thematic compilations or collections of shorts. To entice fans, every volume is preceded by from five to 9 1/2 minutes of home movies--different selections for each cassette--from a private collection that has never been released publicly.

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Those out this month include “Swiss Miss” and “Sons of the Desert” plus three compilations: “Laurel and Hardy and the Family,” “Spooktacular” and “Stan Helps Ollie.”


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