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March Of The Wooden Soldiers
Eureka Video/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 77 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
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Loosely based upon a 1903 operetta entitled Babes in Toyland, and originally released under that title, March of the Wooden Soldiers tells the story of how Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee try to help Mrs Peep pay off her mortgage to the mean-spirited Barnaby. If the mortgage isn't paid, then Mrs Peep and her many children will be evicted from their shoe, kicked out onto the street.

Stannie and Ollie work for the Toymaker of Toyland, and they hope to be able to borrow money from him to pay Barnaby, but due to a mix-up with a toy order they have made 100 six-foot soldiers, instead of 600 one-foot soldiers, and the Toymaker sends them on their way. With no money to pay Barnaby, things look grim for the Peep family.

Fortunately for the Peeps, Stannie and Ollie outwit Barnaby, and see him banished from Toyland, but only for him to return (like all good villains do!) with an army of Bogeymen!

The film departs from the original operetta, keeping only a few of the original songs, and adding many characters from fairy-tale and nursery rhyme, as well as an imaginative story. The story itself was the cause of some dispute, as both Stan Laurel and the producer, Hal Roach, had differing opinions on what should be used. This held up production of the film for several months and raised tensions to the point that rumours abounded that Laurel and Hardy had parted company. Fortunately, this was not the case, and no evidence of the strife can be seen in the final film - which, incidentally, contained the story as Laurel wanted it.

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Contract

Presented in its original black and white (a colourised version was created) in a slightly modified aspect ratio (1.33:1 as opposed to its original 1.37:1) picture quality is pretty good for a film that is coming up to its 70th birthday. The biggest problems we have here do relate to the age of the material, as film artifacts abound: specs of dust, flickering intensity of brightness, and weak black levels. These things shouldn't be unexpected in a film this old, and not everything will attract the budget for a full digital remastering.

The audio content fairs much the same as the video, with a noticeable level of hiss in the mono soundtrack - again not to be unexpected. Strangely, the soundtrack seems to have been placed only in the right channel, rather than two channel mono as you might expect. Even with the receiver set to Dolby Pro-Logic, there was more activity from the right hand speaker than the center, and none noticeable from the left.

Extras included on the disc are a one-page-each biography for Stan and Oliver, and one of Stan Laurel's early silent films Hustling for Health, running at just on 15 minutes. Video quality on this full-frame presentation also suffers from the age of the source. The only items of note with regards to the short film are that the title cards being a little too far to the left of screen, and the existence of a brief moment about six minutes in where the bottom half of the picture becomes heavily pixellated.

All in all, not too bad an effort for a film that is almost 70 years old. Here's hoping we see the rest of the work of this comic duo make it to DVD.


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  •   And I quote...
    "One of Laurel and Hardy's most loved films brought to DVD... not too bad an effort for a film that's almost 70 years old."
    - Andrew MacLennan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-515
    • TV:
          Philips 29PT6361
    • Receiver:
          Denon AVR-2700
    • Speakers:
          Aaron ATS-5
    • Centre Speaker:
          Aaron CC-240
    • Surrounds:
          Aaron SS-120
    • Subwoofer:
          Aaron SUB-240
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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