What happens when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s long-lost 1927 short subject, “Hats Off,” the Holy Grail of comedy aficionados around the world, is discovered in a Cuban film archive? Follow an international group of film scholars and historians in this work of fiction as they gather at an annual silent movie festival in Pordenone, Italy, for an eagerly anticipated screening—and attempt to avert certain disaster when a major problem arises.
There’s a lot at stake here. After all, as every lover of Laurel and Hardy knows, “Hats Off” was the blueprint for the team’s Oscar-winning short, “The Music Box.” The comedians moved a washing machine up the steps to a hilltop home in the earlier film, a crated piano in the latter, but the resemblance between the two films shot five years apart at the same location is striking, based on the available evidence.
The bonus story, “Charley Chase Meets Calvin Coolidge,” takes us to the Hal Roach Studios in the glory days of 1924. Chase, the popular comedian perhaps best known for his cameo appearance in Laurel and Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert,” is in production on his latest film short when the President—who is up for election that fall—arrives for a studio visit.
Chase and Coolidge have a mutual friend in Will Rogers, who has his own ideas about the surprise the comedian has cooked up in tandem with director Leo McCarey. Studio boss Hal Roach, teenaged actress Martha Sleeper and title writer Beanie Walker also make appearances in this work of fiction.
“Mary Pickford Meets George Bernard Shaw,” the bonus story included in the first edition of “Hats Off to Pordenone,” is currently available under its own title.