Lost Films versus Universal/Kirch - film by film

by sambdaFebruary 2012

This is a comparison of the Laurel and Hardy silent films as presented on the 21-DVD box set ("Kirch") from Universal (in the UK) versus "The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy" DVD set ("Lost") from Image Entertainment (formerly available in the US). The former restorations were carried out for the German Kirch Group, and supervised by Richard Bann. The latter were carried out by Michael Agee on behalf of Richard Feiner & Co.

As well as the UK 21-DVD box set, the Kirch Group copies also form the basis of other releases from Universal: in Spain, in the Benelux countries, and in France; and also the releases from Kinowelt in Germany. For the most part, the basic copies used are the same, although there are slight differences in bitrate and the amount of sharpening applied to the picture. Also some titles here and there seem to have had some digital cleanup applied for their Continental releases (see "Habeus Corpus" on Kinowelt for example).

This list is most concerned about the picture quality of each title, and the completeness of the copy used. There is a smaller issue for some people concerning whether the film's opening titles and gag cards are the originals or not, but I think only a purist would endure 20 minutes of a substandard print just to watch the correct titles at the beginning, so I haven't let this issue bother me too much. And, in some cases, nobody seems 100% sure of what the correct titles looked like in any case... Very generally, Kirch tends to remake the opening titles and gag cards (usually, but not always, in the style of the originals). Lost tends to use the originals, but often freeze-frames these; they also sometimes uses badly done fakes (the one on "Angora Love", for example, is laughable). Another issue for some people is the amount of zooming/cropping of the original picture.

For music, Lost tends to use a period soundtrack compiled from other films of the era. This is my personal preferred approach – however, some people have found that this can get repetitive when the same music is used over and over again. Kirch mostly uses Beau Hunks' tracks (i.e. modern re-recordings of the melodies used on the L&H talkies), although sometimes a ghastly pitch-unstable organ track is used instead.

Seven of the silents were originally released with custom music-and-effects (M&E) disks. The Lost set uses these in 6 cases; the UK set in only 2 (but see "We Faw Down", below).

These comparisons have been done properly by watching each DVD played (on decent equipment) in its native PAL (625-line/50Hz) or NTSC (525-line/60Hz) format – beware multi-region players available in the US which do appalling standards conversion on PAL material and thus make it worse-looking than it really is!

My "winning" copy in each case is the highlighted one in red (Universal) or blue (Lost). Your mileage may vary...

The Lucky Dog
The UK 21-disk set doesn't have this short, so I am looking at the copy on the German Kino release ("In der Fremdenlegion") in lieu of this. The print on Lost is a lot better quality than Kino. It does, however, have around 20 seconds missing from it (including the opening few shots) and, to my eyes, play a tad slow. Meanwhile, Kino plays much too fast and is missing the introductory caption: "So broke he couldn't buy the metal polish for a thumb tack. STANLEY LAUREL."


45 Minutes From Hollywood
Both copies good; Kirch is better by a small amount on picture quality alone. However, the quality of Kirch dives appallingly for the Laurel scenes (about 2 mins); these scenes are also differently edited. Kirch is also missing the delightful establishing sequence (duration: 23 seconds) of the Hollywood scenes, showing a shoot-out in the air being filmed, and including the famous shot of "dinosaurs roaming in the Hollywood hills" in the background. On the other hand, Lost does have a slight scratch/dropout problem on one of the tapes used to compile the DVD and seems to occasionally go into slow-motion when it feels like it! Lost wins overall.


Duck Soup
Both are similar in sharpness, but Lost seems a bit dark and murky to me; Kirch is a lot brighter. However, the Kirch copy as used on the UK Universal set has a strange semi-transparent "fold" pattern at the edge of the screen (found on some other shorts in this set too, but not present on e.g. the Kino version of this film). I don't want to mention the authenticity of gag cards in general, but the remade newspaper article in the Lost copy is hideous! Both Kirch and Lost's versions derive from a 35mm print, but a 9.5mm print also survives and contains 5 sequences which are unavailable on DVD: 1) Medium-shot of L&H on bench (a few frames only); 2) Stan (as Agnes) and couple at door (2-3 secs); 3) Ollie showing husband around (38 seconds); 4) "Agnes" panicking at having to run wife a bath (1 min 25 secs); 5) Altercation between the Colonel and his tenant (10 secs). The bathroom scene (only) was intact on the short-lived/unofficial 2010 Michael Agee reissue of the silents – the only DVD release of any of this extra material to date.


Slipping Wives
Kirch a bit sharper but both are rather contrasty. Lost is missing a gag card at about 20 mins in: "I thought you were tired of me, darling – And I engaged him to make you jealous."


Love 'Em And Weep
Kirch is quite a bit better (sharper) and has more detail in highlights. Lost is also missing 3 sequences: 1) 40 seconds with Stan in the car talking to the old lady, and the start of the Pink Pup scene which follows; 2) 6 seconds in the Pink Pup shortly thereafter; and, 3) a brief shot of the telephone ringing. The Kirch copy dives in quality for the material near these sequences, but at least it seems complete.


Why Girls Love Sailors
Lost copy is better; Kirch is blurry. However, Lost has around 15 seconds missing when Ollie bursts into the cabin. Kirch is earlier missing a reaction shot of the ship's crew lasting a second or so.


With Love And Hisses
Lost print is miles better than Kirch – one of the most marked differences between the two sets of silents.


Sugar Daddies
Both are battered prints. Kirch wins as it is quite a bit less smudgy (but Lost is cleaner). Kirch also includes 10 seconds of the scene with Noah Young with a gun that are missing from Lost. However, Kirch is missing the introductory gag card: "The story of a millionaire oil man who was married and didn't know it – This will give you a rough idea of what oil men are like."


Sailors, Beware!
Not a lot of difference; Lost seems to be a bit less grainy, without losing detail, but the speed seems way off at times. However, Lost is missing 2 sequences: 1) A 2-second shot of the "baby" counting money during the dice game at 12'57; and 2) A whole round of the dice game is missing at 13'21, lasting 9 secs. The English and French versions on Lost seem to use the same basic copy (apart from the titles, obviously).


Now I'll Tell One
This was only made available on DVD very briefly on one of semi-professional "The Larger World Of Laurel And Hardy" disks before being pulled just days later, presumably due to copyright reasons. Fan copies in circulation are very poor indeed – it is not clear if these reflect the picture quality of the best-available material.


The Second Hundred Years
Lost is better and the tunnelling sequence is tinted, as apparently was the original (opinions differ as to whether any L&Hs were originally tinted). However, Lost is missing a very brief medium-shot of the two painters at 32'17. Meanwhile, Kirch is missing the opening pair of gag cards: "Will Rogers says – 'Being in jail has one big disadvantage –," and, "A man doesn't have to worry about wearing his tuxedo'." Also missing from Kirch is the establishing long-shot of the cell block. The subsequent gag card describing Stan (Little Goofy) is present in Kirch, but it is missing the pair of cards describing Ollie ("BIG GOOFY – Convicted on purely circumstantial evidence –," and, "They caught him with both hands in the cash register.")


Call Of The Cuckoo
Kirch is sharper. Lost has 2 gag cards missing: 1) At 9'10, "You wanted a more lively house – you've got it!" and 2) At 13'20, "You entertain the tribes, Momma – I go upstairs an' take a bath."


Do Detectives Think?
Both are very similar in this case. Perhaps Kirch is slightly sharper? There are, however, 2 missing gag cards in Kirch: 1) "Midnight – the detectives were shaking so loud it sounded like their cutout was open," (just before they walk to the mansion), and 2) "Where have we seen that face before?" (looking at the picture of Noah in the newspaper). There is also, apparently, a few seconds of footage missing from both copies: When Stan and Ollie first arrive, Viola Richard leaving the living-room to see what the commotion is at the front door.


Putting Pants On Philip
Both copies are similar sharpness-wise, but Lost is cleaner and better graded. However, Lost is missing 3 segments: 1) At around 8'10 in, it is missing 12 secs of Ollie rescuing Philip from the crowd; 2) In the tailor's shop, one of the attempts to take Philip's inside-leg measurement (lasting about 31 secs) is missing; 3) A short shot of a man raising his hat to Philip on the bus (at 15'46 in Kirch). There is also some difference in editing when the ladies faint after Philip's kilt blows up.


The Battle Of The Century
Lost is a bit sharper than Kirch for the boxing scene, but Lost's pie-fight scene is a bit soft and Kirch wins there! Having said that, Lost alone reinserts the gag cards into the pie fight. Lost also has an extra reaction shot of Stan when Ollie gets the first pie in his face. Lost's attempt at reconstructing the missing portions is better as they use the script and more photos; however, some of the script portions are unreadable as they are off the bottom of the screen. Draw.


Leave 'Em Laughing
Lost is much better and is tinted sepia and blue as was, apparently, the original release.


Flying Elephants
Lost is mostly made up of a much superior copy (but has occasional moments which are as poor as Kirch). Lost has a burnt-in logo in corner which some people will find annoying. Kirch is missing a gag card at 9'33: "Forget it – I just cancelled my life insurance policy."


The Finishing Touch
Lost is generally quite a bit clearer and less dirty, but quality dives lower than Kirch for brief sections (e.g. 1'41 to 2'22). However, Lost seems to play too slowly at times. Kirch is missing 7 of the gag cards from the second half (i.e. most of them!) Lost wins.


From Soup To Nuts
Lost is way superior – cleaner, sharper and better graded. Kirch is missing the opening gag card: "Newly Rich – Mrs. Culpepper was an idol to the snobs – And a pain in the neck to everybody else."


You're Darn Tootin
Kirch is quite a bit better (if a little over-zealously sharpened!) but quality worsens for the first part of the shin-kicking sequence near end. The shots of the cop in this sequence are also slightly differently edited in each version.'


Their Purple Moment
Kirch quite a bit sharper. Lost is missing a shot, lasting 3 seconds, of the soldiers leaving the dance floor at 11'00.


Should Married Men Go Home?
Lost a bit cleaner; Kirch a bit sharper, but I'm not sure there's much extra detail there. Kirch is missing 6 gag titles (the ones done in the thinner font on Lost) and around 13 secs of the routine with Stan breaking the blind. Kirch also appears to have the sequence with the group walking on the course, with Stan collecting the golf balls, in the wrong place. Hence, Lost wins.


Early To Bed
Neither is great. With a bit of DVNR, Kirch would have certainly won. As it is, it's a toss-up between grainy-but-sharper (Kirch) or cleaner-but-softer (Lost). Personally, I go for Kirch. Lost also has a gag card missing at 9'40: "You've worn me pink – I'm going to bed."


Two Tars
Kirch is a little bit sharper, but where Lost loses out (as with some of their other titles) is that the copy is a bit murky – the movie is set on a bright summer's day!


Habeas Corpus
Kirch much better quality (even though some bits – e.g. 2'01 to 2'33 – seem to come from a lesser-quality source). Lost print has a logo in corner throughout and is a worse print. Lost is also missing 2 gag cards: 1) At 7'45 ("You go in and dig – I'll stay here and protect you!"), and 2) At 20'15 ("Where's the remainders?") However, Lost does have the original M&E disk track; Kirch doesn't. Kirch is also missing the 2nd gag card ("That the human brain has a level surface – In some instances practically flat.") Kirch for me, on balance, but à chacun son gout.


We Faw Down
Kirch is better quality, but both have a slight double-image/defocus thing going on. The German Kino release only (not the UK Universal) of this has the original M&E disk track, so that is ultimately the version of choice.


Liberty
A common finding – Kirch is sharper but has more dirt; Lost is cleaner but softer. Lost seems to have had rather too much noise-reduction applied, leading to smearing on motion and other artefacts. Both Kirch and Lost have the original M&E disk track. Lost has around 20 seconds on the skyscraper missing at around 9'30 (the reel-change point?) I go for Kirch.


Wrong Again
Lost print is much better. Both have the original M&E disk sound (though the copy of the sound on Lost is better too). It is reported that both have one gag card missing: "Time out – while I think," as Ollie tries to work out how to get Blue Boy onto the piano.


That's My Wife
Kirch quite a bit sharper but has 2 gag cards and about 4 seconds of footage missing (starting 3'49): "I'm going to set you up in a fine new home," and: "If you are happily married." Both have original M&E disk soundtrack.


Big Business
Kirch better. There seems to be a slight editing difference between the two versions where the tree gets stuck in Jimmy Finlayson's door. Also, out of interest, there is a difference in one of the gag cards (9'11 in Lost; 8'45 in Kirch) – Lost has "Give me the patrol wagon!" but Kirch has "Give me the ambulance corps!"


Double Whoopee
(both Lost's silent and "new talkie version"). Lost print is very clean but also quite soft. Kirch is sharper but grainier. Which is best is probably down to personal preference, but I would go for Kirch. However, Kirch is missing a gag card at 9'06: "I've been robbed!" As an aside, at 11'41 Lost has the gag card: "Give the boy his quarter!" whereas Kirch has, "Give the boy his money."


Bacon Grabbers
Both versions are substandard (given the quality of other films made around the same time). Kirch slightly better picture-wise (from the look of the two copies, it's clear they are close relatives), but Lost has the original M&E disk sound. Thus more or less a draw, but if you twist my arm... Kirch.


Angora Love
Lost draws material from (at least) two sources: mostly very good, if a little smeary (too heavy on the DVNR) but, in any case, far better than Kirch). But the original M&E disk track only on Lost makes this one of the most obvious winners. Damage at the end of the Kirch copy seems to have led to the loss of a few seconds of footage and a gag card: "Won't her husband be surprised?"

 
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