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post #1 of 1 Old 12-16-09, 05:28 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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3 Stooges Volume 1 DVD Review

The 3 Stooges are a "Guy Thing". It's rare for me to find females who like them and
most I encounter call them "violent", "sadistic" and "stupid".

I'm not surprised. The 3 Stooges didn't make 'chick flicks' in any way, shape
or form. And the general condemnation mentioned above is accurate although
I would add 'politically incorrect' to the mix which is why I find them very

Certainly one thing that makes their brand of violent slatstick unique is that
women are often the brunt of the abuse. While some comedians like Groucho
would insult women, you won't find too many slapping them in the face or
hitting them in the rear end with clay or pies much less smashing things on
their head. Everyone was abused in these shorts which is a 'democratic'
(small d) brand of slapstick. No sacred cows. They offended all groups.

What's also curious is that when you examine other comedy teams like Laurel
and Hardy objectively, you'll discover that they are just as violent as the Stooges
but somehow they do this type of humor in more 'charming' way. Laurel and
Hardy did a 'tit for tat' routine where each person would wait until the other
one was finished abusing them before responding. A very slow and gradual
build up. No one would accuse the Stooges of subtley or charm. Their violence
is quick and their pace rapid. Some of these shorts move so fast you forget that
in some cases there is no end or climax. The movie just stops after some chaos.
They have an improvisational feel to them.

Why are they still funny for so many men and young boys? I guess Moe Howard
summarized it correctly when he said they do 'deflation' humor. They poke fun
of the pompous, pretentious and all types of authority figures. Politicians, judges,
businessmen, cops, professors, scientists, Nazis and Communists were lampooned
over the decades.

They also make the viewer feel superior. No matter how badly you messed things up
when doing a job, you can't possibly screw it up as bad as the Stooges do when they
try to paint or wallpaper a room, cook a meal or fix the plumbing. They usually
demolish the area they work in.

Historically they were the longest running motion picture team.
They worked from 1930-1970 in both movies and television. They were primarily
known for their Columbia shorts but ended up in B Features in their old age and
finally doing live intros to a bad cartoon show.

There were actually four '3 Stooges' teams with the common members being Moe
Howard and Larry Fine. The third stooge was the variable. They started
as second bananas to an unlikeable comedian named Ted Healy at MGM. These
shorts featured Moe's brother, Shemp. Although some pictures were in early two
strip Technicolor, they weren't particularly funny. Healy basically slaps around the
other three who have little to do.

Shemp decided he'd rather be a character actor in feature films
(i.e. Abbott and Costello's "Buck Privates") so he left the team. Moe brought
in his other brother Jerry whom was re-named "Curley". They made some more
unsuccessful MGM movies and then moved to Columbia where they became stars.

From 1934-1948 this pairing really clicked with viewers and it's the most fondly
remembered group. Curley was certainly the wackiest and funniest of the three
and the best third Stooge. Like many comedians they developed funny hair styles.
Moe wore his in an Ish Kabibble (and later "Beatles") cut,
balding Larry let his side hair grow out like a clown and
Curley had a crew cut. Curley was an energetic lunatic who made bizarre sounds
when he was scared or running away from some danger (Woo woo woo woo),
sang to himself at times or rubbed his face in frustration attempting the simplest
task. Occasionally he would bite people or bark at them like canine. Moe became
the leader replacing Healy's role and kept the other two in line by slapping them
around, poking them in the eyes, punching them in the stomach, pulling them by
their nostrils or yanking out a chunk of Larry's hair. Larry Fine wasn't
a comedian by nature but a musician. He basically got in the
way of the other two but you sure miss him when he isn't in the shot.

The level of violence is always outlandish although no one suffered from any
permanent damage just like in a cartoon. Moe would put Curley's head in a
press and tighten it or saw Larry's head. He would grab both ears with an Ice
claw or hit heads with a sledge hammer. The sound effects were very
exagerated which was a great deal of the humor.

Like so many overweight comedians, the extreme slapstick took a toll on Curley's
health and he had a stroke in 1948, dying in 1952. He was replaced by the original
Stooge, Shemp, who continued with the team until he died of a heart attack in
1955. Shemp was funny but not as off the wall as Curley. His shorts also suffered
from repetition since so many were remakes of earlier movies. However, they
did make two 3-D shorts in the fifties which are memorable. Shemp was replaced for
a brief time by Joey Besser ("Stinky" in the Abbott and Costello Show) but Columbia
dropped their shorts program by the late fifties. Then Moe hired Joe De Rita
who shaved his head and was named, "Curly Joe", for a series of low budget features
like "Have Rocket, Will Travel" in the late fifties and early sixties finally ending their
career by doing live action intros to a cheap cartoon series as previously mentioned.
The Joe De Rita films are mediocre at best and the group was really too old to engage
in the type of humor they were known for. Larry suffered a stroke in 1970 which ended
the team.

The Stooges shorts have been available in many Columbia compilations in the past
but the quality was poor. Grainy, dusty and scratchy copies were used for
the transfers. They didn't look as good as the 16mm prints I used to watch back
in the sixties on the "Office Joe Bolton Show" that featured the series. I recall a
backlash against them in the seventies and many of the movies were heavily cut
and censored for later TV broadcasts. So much violence was removed they later played
them intact in popular Midnight Shows in cinemas along with uncensored "Our
Gang" shorts.

Finally Columbia went back to the 35mm fine grain masters (a first generation fine
grain print derived from the original nitrate negatives) and released the entire output
of the team in a series of box sets. The quality of the ones I've seen are the best
they've ever looked. No dust, dirt or scratches and excellent contrast and black
levels. Of course there's a slight grain to the image (especially in the stock footage
or repeated scenes) but that's to be expected. These were very cheaply made
shorts using left over sets from other features. So for Stooges fans I highly recommend
this series. Don't bother with the earlier DVDs of the team. None of them are up to

Volume #1 contains the first 19 films from 1934-1936. Although I've seen all 190
shorts many times over the decades, it's very interesting to see them in chronological
order. It took some time to fine tune the act so that it really worked for audiences
or male viewers in any event. Their first Columbia short is pretty awful. It's called
"Woman Haters" and is basically a mini-musical sung in rhyme. Not a good start but
the next short, "Punch Drunks", is much funnier although they still aren't a team yet.
Moe and Larry play fight promoters who hire Curley as their ringer. "Men in Black" follows
and was their only film to be nominated for an Academy Award for comedy. It has the
famous, "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard", schtick but isn't one of their best.
They still aren't really playing off one another yet and just create havoc in a hospital.
Jumping ahead a few shorts, "Pop Goes the Easel", has them really working together and
is one of their funniest and nastiest. Being chased by a cop, they disguise themselves as
art students and end up in a disgusting clay fight. When a lump of clay hits Curley on the
head it looks like dog excretion. Very gross.

It's interesting to note that their theme music ("Mocking Bird") doesn't appear until "Pardon
my Scotch". Before that they used stock music for the credits. Later they replaced their
theme with a variation of "Three Blind Mice". Unlike other teams they rarely had background
music for their movies. However, one exception is in my opinion their funniest short, "Hoi
Palloi". It incorporates all of their routines and schtick in the old Pygmallian premise of
two millionaires making a bet about 'environment vs. heridity' and trying to turn the Stooges
into gentlemen. It was re-made as the hit comedy, "Trading Places", in the eighties.
Back in the seventies, Columbia sold Super 8 Sound prints of some of their shorts and I
had a copy of this one which I used to screen for people as the definitive Stooges movie.
This short contains a lot of background music which does enhance the humor although it
wasn't utilized for most of their output. Another later short that is one of thier funniest is
"False Alarms" where they portray inept firemen.

Like all movies, they are a reflection of the era they were made in. You can actually track
the Depression in these box sets. In some of the 1934 entries they are homeless and looking
for work. In the later shorts they have jobs although they are completely incompetent in
their tasks. By the forties they end up working in defence industries and in the post-war
era are in middle class professions. You can follow our economic history in their movies.

So there you have it. An excellent collection of early shorts by a classic comedy team
that wasn't taken seriously at the time (at least compared to the Marx Brothers or Laurel
and Hardy) but has grown in prestige over the decades as one of the funniest groups in
cinema history. Curley isn't charming or childlike as Harpo and Lou Costello were. The team
as a whole isn't other worldly like Chaplin, Keaton and Harry Langdon. They are crazy, sadistic
and outrageous and if you like that type of humor, no one did it better.

As a footnote I thought I'd mention that the 3 Stooges were the only comedy team to appear in all three
major processes. They did two 3-D movies ("Spooks", "Pardon my Backfire") one CinemaScope
picture ("Snow White and Three Stooges") and were even in 70mm Cinerama (their cameo
in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World").

Like many comedians, they used stage names for the credits. Their real ones were
Moses Horwitz (Moe Howard), Jerome Horwitz (Curley Howard), Samual Horwitz (Shemp Howard),
Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine) and Joseph Wardell (Curley Joe De Rita). Joe Besser was the
only Stooge to use his real name because he had already been established with
it before joining the team. Moe's niece worked for me on "Space Avenger" back
in 1988. Of course she knew him as "Uncle Moe".

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 12-16-09 at 10:19 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


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