Atoll K (1951) is a French/Italian co-production film--also known as Robinson Crusoeland in the United Kingdom and Utopia in the United States - which starred the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their final screen appearance. The film co-stars French singer/actress Suzy Delair and was directed by Léo Joannon, with uncredited co-direction by blacklisted U.S. director John Berry.
Stan learns that he is to receive an inheritance left by a wealthy uncle. Unfortunately, most of the inheritance is consumed by taxes and legal fees, and he is left with only a rickety but fully provisioned yacht and a private island in the Pacific Ocean. Stan and Ollie leave for the island, accompanied by Antoine, stateless refugee (Max Elloy) and Giovanni Copini, a stowaway (a malcontent Italian bricklayer) (Adriano Rimoldi).
On the voyage, the friendly Antoine acts as chef, but the food mysteriously disappears from Stan's plate because stowaway Giovanni is taking it. This leads Stan to blame Ollie and an argument ensues. The engine then fails, so Ollie removes parts in an attempt to fix it. He hands them to Stan, who puts them on the deck where they slide overboard. Ollie then realises that his efforts were in vain when he notices that the fuel gauge reads empty. Having lost the engine, they hoist the sail, revealing Giovanni hiding in it.
They encounter a storm and Stan battles with an inflating liferaft in the cabin while Ollie is at the helm. They are shipwrecked on a newly emerged desert island, which they dub "Crusoeland" after the book Robinson Crusoe that is on their yacht. They are soon joined by Chérie Lamour, a nightclub singer (Suzy Delair) who is fleeing her jealous fiancee Jack Frazer, a naval lieutenant (Luigi Tosi). The island is established as a new republic, with Hardy as president and Laurel as "the people." They write a constitution declaring their atoll will have no laws, no taxes, and no immigration controls.
All goes well until the singer's fiancee arrives to confirm the island is rich with uranium deposits. People from all over the world flock to "Atoll K" as it has been named, but soon the situation turns chaotic when a revolt seeks to overthrow and execute the island's original inhabitants. Before the execution, another storm strikes and floods the island. Laurel and Hardy are rescued and arrive at the island Laurel inherited, only to have their land and supplies impounded for failure to pay taxes.
Stan Laurel - Stan,
Oliver Hardy - Ollie,
Suzy Delair - Chérie Lamour,
Max Elloy - Antoine,
Paul Frees - Antoine (English-dubbed voice),
Suzet Maïs - Mrs. Dolan,
Adriano Rimoldi - Giovanni Copini,
Luigi Tosi - Lt. Jack Frazer,
Michael Dalmatoff - Alecto,
Claude May - Miss Pringle,
André Randall - Phineas Bramwell,
Robert Vattier - Yves Bonnefoy,
Vittorio Caprioli - Pietro Poltroni,
Lucien Callamand - Harbor official,
Olivier Hussenot - Monsieur Bonnet,
Guglielmo Barnabò - Giovanni's employer,
Philippe Richard - Manager of the Cacatoes Club,
Félix Oudart - Mayor and Registrar of Papeete,
Titys - Deputy to the Mayor,
Palmyre Levasseur - Wife of the Registrar,
Robert Murzeau - Captain Mike Dolan,
Henri Cote - Surveyor,
Charles Lémontier - Senior official,
Maurice Pierrat - French radio announcer,
Hans Werner - German radio announcer,
Jean Maxime - Sailor in the Café Crusoe,
Nicolas Amato - Rub-Out Raymond,
Guy Henri - Alecto's henchman,
Joé Davray - Alecto's henchman,
Roger Legris - Higgins,
Hubert Deschamps - Policeman on the island,
In the late 1940s, Laurel and Hardy were without film employment. Earlier in the decade, they ended their long association with producer Hal Roach and signed to make a series of films at both 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In post-World War II Europe, Laurel and Hardy were enjoying a new popularity with audiences that had been unable to see their movies during wartime. As a result of this, the pair received an offer from a French-Italian cinematic consortium to star in a film to be produced in France for $1.5 million, a large budget for the era.
The production of Atoll K was riddled with many problems that caused the production to be extended abnormally. Ida Laurel, Stan Laurel's widow, told biographer John McCabe, "I'm hardly likely to forget the date we left for France and the date we returned - April 1, 1950, and April 1, 1951. But there was no April Fooling about that terrible year. That bloody picture was supposed to take twelve weeks to make, and it took twelve months."
From the beginning, there were disagreements on the film's screenplay. Laurel was unhappy with the storyline envisioned by French director Léo Joannon and insisted on bringing Alfred Goulding and Monty Collins to aid in the screenplay's creation (neither man received on-screen credit). There were also considerable problems in communications, since neither Laurel nor Hardy spoke French and Joannon spoke very little English.
During the production, the two comedy stars encountered serious problems. Laurel's pre-existing diabetes was aggravated and he developed colitis, dysentery and a prostate ulcer while on the French locations for the film. He eventually required hospitalization, and his widow would later fault the quality of the French medical care, claiming that at one point, she had to substitute for an absent nurse by changing her husband's bandages. Laurel's weight dropped to 114 pounds, and for most of the production he could only work in 20 or 30-minute spurts.
Hardy, however, saw his already hefty frame expand to 330 pounds while in France, and he required medical care for cardiac fibrillation and the flu. Adding to the medical problems was Italian actor Adriano Rimoldi, who played the stowaway, when he fell from a docked yacht and required a month's recuperation away from the production.
When they were able to work, Laurel and Hardy saw their relationship with Joannon fray dramatically. Ida Laurel would later claim Joannon was an incompetent who spent three days filming a lake because, as she said, "it was the most photogenic lake he'd ever seen." In the middle of the production, US film director John Berry was quietly brought in to work with the comedy team. Berry's US career had been ruined by the Hollywood blacklist and he sought to start over in France. However, his participation was kept secret out of the fear that the film would not get a US theatrical release if it became known that a blacklisted director was at its helm. Berry's contribution was not publicly acknowledged until 1967, when film historian William K. Everson cited the uncredited director's input in his book The Films of Laurel and Hardy. While Berry never publicly acknowledged his work on Atoll K, the film's leading lady Suzy Delair confirmed his role during an interview with historian Norbert Aping.
The theatrical release of Atoll K was erratic. There was no one definitive version of the film but, rather, four different edits available: the 93-minute French version called Atoll K, a 97-minute Italian version called Atollo K, an 82-minute English version called Robinson Crusoeland in the United Kingdom (Utopia in the USA) and a 98-minute English version viewed only at British premieres in September 1951.
In the countries where the various versions played, critical reaction was overwhelmingly poor. The French newspaper Journal du Dimanche complained: "What in hell lured Laurel and Hardy onto this atoll? Unfortunately, this adventure adds nothing to their fame." Italian critic Paolo Locori, writing for the magazine Hollywood, stated: "Stan and Ollie's presence is not enough to lift the movie from its mediocrity." The British Kinematograph Weekly stated the film was "bogged down in a welter of obvious slapstick." When Utopia ultimately played in Los Angeles in early 1955 as a double feature with Blackboard Jungle, the Los Angeles Times critic said: "The film gets off with some welcome chuckles but grows progressively worse."
Over the years, the prints of three of the four versions have degraded. No U.S. copyright was filed for Utopia and the version lapsed into the public domain, resulting in duplicated prints of poor quality used for distribution. Until recently, the only known print of the original 98-minute English version was in private hands and this version has never been released on video. However, on January 1, 2012, the French/German TV station ARTE aired a restored 100-minute English version of the film, claiming an international television premiere. The restored copy is based on a copy rediscovered in 2010 in the United States. It was released to DVD by Fun Factory Films on January 3, 2013.
Truncated 85/88-minute prints available in Italy on VHS and DVD is all that remains of the Italian version. The original French Atoll K remains intact, but the film has not been made available for public viewing since a VHS video release in 1996. On October 10, 2012, the French version of the film was released by Gaumont à la demande on DVD.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license