Film Review – Atoll K (1951)

Atoll K was the last movie the American and English comedy duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy featured in, produced in 1951 with an overdue timeline of twelve months, though the movie was supposed to be produced in twelve weeks. Atoll K is a British abbreviation of Air Travel Organizer’s License, which dominates the tone of the film from the abundant scenes of islands, harbours and boats.

This early classical Hollywood movie directed by Léo Joannon is one of those comedies where to watch the movie today requires a test of patience and a tolerance for cringing. As a comedy to watch in the 21st century, Atoll K is formulaically drenched in slapstick Don Quixote and Sancho Pancho humour and is poorly delivered by the lack of decisive directing and haphazard editing. The only consolation to Atoll K is that the acting was actually executed very well, despite the cast’s injuries and medical problems during filming, and surprisingly, the narrative and dialogue become more deliberate and at times, sophisticatedly humorous.

Atoll K revolves around Stan and Oliver who receive a large sum of money and an island from their dead uncle, though out of tax, administration fees and currency conversations, they are only left with an island. Suddenly, they are in Marseille to find their boat where they meet two more characters, a stateless refugee – Antoine, played by Max Elloy and an Italian Stowaway – Giovanni Copini, played by Adriano Rimoldi. Travelling through storms and thalassic drama they encounter nightclub singer – Chérie Lamour, played by Suzy Delar, who accompanies them out of her frustration with her engagement to fiancée, Lt. Jack Frazer, played by Luigi Tosi. On the island, they find highly valuable uranium and are forced to claim sovereignty to the island, where Oliver forms a haphazard government and a constitution, whilst sporting a bicorn, Napoleon fashion.

The beginning of the movie shows no promise to humour, unless the intended audience were a group of nose-picking children. The harbour scene shows some competence in directing as the camera shots depict the Italian stowaway slaloming through boards of wood carried up a ship. There is even some whimsical wit from the dialogue of the stateless refugee who states in an argument whilst being departed “you land monkeys without passports but not human beings.” The following scenes are filled with abrupt cuts, from a fast-forward shot to a vertigo 180 shot of the harbour in slapstick fashion.

Stan and Oliver exceptionally cement their credibility as comedians during the bed scene. Stan is in bed ready to sleep, Oliver in his grand portentous manner comes and cordially gets him to make room for their new friends, in the process Stan’s skinny frame rolls and falls out of the bed. Oliver with hands on his large frames proposes, “The fair thing to do is to take turns, while one sits up, the other sleeps, and when he wakes up, the other sleeps.” To which Stan replies nonchalantly folding himself to bed, “that’s a good idea, I sleep and when you wake up, I sleep again.”

Two-thirds into the film, Lt. Jack Frazer assimilates that there is highly valuable uranium on the island; the group is forced to choose a nation to give sovereignty of the island to. Oliver, still sporting the bicorn, Bonaparte fashion, proposes an election, wins the vote, becomes president; write a constitution including no taxes, no laws, no money, no passports, and no prisons. The film turns into a passive demi-satire on society at the end.

Atoll K is a useful film to understanding Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s work on screen and approach to comedy that the duo will have a biopic movie in retrospective of their struggles and careers, released end of December, directed by Jon S. Baird. Pedagogically functionally, maybe, Atoll K as a movie is a series of dilapidated images from sloppy presentation. Shame that a strong cast was working with an incompetent director, Léo Joannon. Half a star out of five.

Keanu Arcadio

Comedy | UK/USA, 1953 | U | BFI | Dir.Léo Joannon | Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair