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  Utopia Living On An Island
Year: 1951
Director: Leo Joannon
Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair, Max Elloy, Adriano Rimaldi, Robert Murzeau, Luigi Tosi
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: The eccentric, rich uncle of Stan (Stan Laurel) has recently passed away, leaving him a small fortune, so he travels to London with his friend Olllie (Oliver Hardy) as advisor to claim his inheritance. When they get there, the three lawyers taking care of the will, one each from Britain, France and Italy, are going to hand over the money in cash, but they must first take their fees, which halve the money, and then remove more for taxes, leaving a paltry sum. Stan and Ollie brighten up a little, however, when they learn that's not all that has been left to them - they now own a sailing boat and an island in the South Seas, so it's off to the docks to pick up the boat and head off to their tropical paradise. It's not going to be as simple as that, as they soon find out...

The last film of Laurel and Hardy is generally regarded as a sorry affair, and it's true that it never shows them at their best. They hadn't made a film together for about five years by this point, and this was to be far from a swan song. It wasn't an American film, but a co-production between France and Italy where the team were still popular, and was known in its longer version as Atoll K. The briefer, English language version was known under a variety of titles, including this one, and featured the French and Italian actors dubbed while Laurel and Hardy spoke in their familiar voices. They were both getting on in years, and neither were in the best of health at the time this was made, meaning Ollie looks bloated and Stan looks frail and skeletal, despite their performances sadly reminding you of their better days.

When they get to the docks, they plan to set sail right away, but there's a problem: they don't know how to start the boat. They strike up a conversation with a nearby captain, who says he will send a mechanic over to help, but who he actually sends over is Antoine (Max Elloy), a man without a homeland who is desperate for some country to claim him. Antoine accidentally hits the start button, the boat lurches forward and they're off on course to the island. All the way through the film there are opportunities for the celebrated duo to indulge in their customary slapstick and verbal routines, but these have lost their novelty, and the material is laboriously written. Nevertheless, they throw themselves into the comedy with gusto, and the scene where their dinner is continually stolen introduces the other main character, Giovanni the stowaway (Adriano Rimaldi).

The four men get along eventually, and are brought together by a fierce storm which sees them shipwrecked, not on the inherited isle but on a mass of land that erupts from the sea during a volcanic disturbance. With the boat out of order, they settle down to make the most of their new home, and in an unlikely sequence plant seeds (where did they get them?) and create lush greenery, complete with palm trees, and build a house to stay in (again, from what?). The film apparently strains for a fable-like quality that it doesn't achieve, and soon the four castaways, who are inspired by Robinson Crusoe, are joined by another, a singer named Cherie (Suzy Delair) who has left her fiancé because he wanted her to give up her act once married.

It's endearing that Stan and Ollie put so much energy into a substandard production like Utopia, but seeing these by now elderly looking men falling over or being hit on the head isn't all that funny, and tends to make you wince. The island, now named Crusoeland, receives more visitors when uranium is discovered there, and the film turns into a political parable about the need for democracy rather than anarchy when a constitution is drawn up that calls for no laws (or taxes), which may be appropriate for a French or Italian comedy but doesn't fit with a Laurel and Hardy film, especially as it ends with them being chased by a bloodthirsty mob determined to hang them. The kindest thing you can say about this endeavour is that the team don't embarrass themselves, but it raises few laughs and doesn't even award them a happy ending. It would have been nice to see them go out on a high, but curiosity value is the most appeal that Utopia possesses. Music by Paul Misraki.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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