Another Fine Mess – Atoll K (Blu-Ray Review)

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With renewed interest in the works of Laurel & Hardy an inevitable outcome from the forthcoming release of biopic Stan & Ollie, the BFI have capitalised on this early with a special edition HD release of the duo’s final feature film, the divisive Atoll K. Previously only available in a rather unsatisfactory edited format, the film is now available in full-length form, and sporting a gorgeous 2K restoration makeover to boot. It looks divine! But those wanting a pure, hilarious fix of Laurel and Hardy brilliance will no doubt feel shortchanged, HD or no HD.

A strange international co-production featuring the pair alongside a cast of French and Italian actors, Atoll K is unlike any of the duo’s more famous films from the 20’s and 30’s. A diluted Laurel and Hardy adventure that sees the pair sharing a fair amount of their screen time with a set of unengaging, unfunny characters, the central plot sees the twosome inheriting a private island, where, after a series of mostly unfortunate events, they establish a new republic with no laws and no taxes. Cue hilarity as a number of the island’s citizens then attempt to overthrow Stan and Ollie.

We say cue hilarity, because the film is in desperate need of more of it. It’s not altogether a failure, but it lacks the finesse and the confidence of the duo’s previous films for Hal Roach Studios, with many of the gags lacking the desired punch. Much of the shooting from director Léo Joannon fails to make the most of the better jokes and routines, whilst the plot itself is derailed by a sudden shift change midway through, wherein it turns its focus to Suzy Delair’s bland nightclub singer.

The production is also let down by unorthodox shooting methods, not least the casting of French and Italian speaking actors, who are so awkwardly dubbed it’s distracting to watch. You can practically see the two leads struggling to react to every non-english line – they just about mange to convince, but there’s no escaping how awkward and stilted every scene seems, with little chemistry capable between Stan, Ollie and the other characters when both sets of actors are speaking entirely different tongues. At the very least though, the two stars have lost none of their excellent comedic timing or penchant for slapstick, despite the difficult shoot, as is made clear through a number of key sequences that at least elicit some chuckles.

This packed Blu-Ray release is a treasure trove for Laurel and Hardy fans – included are a selection of short solo films featuring the two comedians prior to their partnership, ranging from 1914 through to 1927; newsreel footage of the pair from their UK tour promotion; 16mm amateur films documenting their visits to Britain in the 30’s and 40’s; original cinematic trailers and an 80-minute audio archive interview with Stan Laurel from 1957. Also included is a fascinating video essay from archivist and enthusiast Chris Seguin about the duo’s latter days, as well as a selection of informative commentaries from author & historian Glenn Mitchell.

Not an essential purchase for even the most devoted of Laurel and Hardy fans, Atoll K lacks much of the charm and hilarity of the duo’s greatest hits. The Blu-Ray’s special features more then make-up for the film’s shortcomings and offer further incentive to buy, but anyone desperate to see Stan and Ollie in their prime should look elsewhere then here.

Atoll K is now available to buy in Dual Format Edition from BFI Store.