The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (2024)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Jun 07, 2024
  • Format: DVD
  • The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (1)

The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (2)



Release Date(s)

1934-1958 (June 5, 2012)


Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A

The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (3)

The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (4)


Sony recently announced The Three Stooges Blu-ray Collection, a 20-disc set featuring 100 of the classic two-reel comedies the Three Stooges, in varied permutations, made during 1934-57. That set streets July 23rd. But, as any true Stooge fan knows, the team actually made 190 shorts, meaning that nearly half are missing from this incomplete set.

However, back in 2012, Sony did release a DVD boxed set called The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection, which for the time lived up to its name, as it featured all 190 two-reel shorts, plus two obscure Stooge feature films, “solo” shorts featuring Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita, cartoons, and other material. Sony’s upcoming Blu-ray apparently includes this same material, plus additional, later feature films from the 1960s, a few of which are making their Blu-ray debuts.

I reviewed that set for DVD Talk a dozen years ago. Of the 2,856 reviews I wrote for that site, it was by far the most-viewed, around 70,000 times if I remember correctly. In light of Sony’s upcoming boxed set, to help buyers navigate what’s included and what’s missing, and because I want to preserve the original review, I thought it would make sense to reprint that original review in a slightly updated form:

Hello! Hello! Hello! Big Hello.

While it doesn’t include absolutely everything they did for Columbia Pictures, few will accuse Sony’s The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection of false advertising. Mostly a repackaging of previously released two-reel comedies but featuring significant and very rarely screened obscurities, this 20-disc set’s stats are staggering. Included are all 190 two-reel comedies Columbia released during 1934-1959, packaged in eight two-disc volumes (three discs for Volume Eight). Brand-new is a three-disc offering of “Rare Treasures from the Columbia Pictures Vault.” It includes two heretofore unreleased-to-DVD feature films, including their strangely obscure first starring vehicle. Also included are solo shorts starring or featuring Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita, as well as three cartoons featuring animated renderings of the trio—in all 3,867 minutes of material, or more than 64 hours’ worth of eye-poking lunacy. (Sony’s upcoming Blu-ray set is listed at a “mere” 29 hours long.)

Some of these previously unavailable shorts are quite hilarious, others are dreadful, but for many they’ll all be a revelation of sorts, hinting at the comedy gold mine Sony has been sitting on for decades yet which remains virtually unseen by anyone for more than half a century.

These shorts also help put the Stooges and their Columbia two-reelers into perspective. Watching these other, less familiar solo comedies it’s clear that department head Jules White pretty much expected all of his comics to fall into line with his particular brand of broad, sometimes violent slapstick rather than the other way around, regardless of each comedian’s unique talents and screen personas. Viewers may be surprised to see the same tried-and-true routines made famous by the Stooges performed by other Columbia comedy stars, sometimes word-for-word, gag-for-gag. The better Columbia shorts, such as most of the two-reelers made by Buster Keaton and Chase in the late-1930s/early-’40s played to their strengths (while also adapting to White’s style to some extent) but the majority of Columbia’s shorts are definitely on the same comedy wavelength.

This interchangeability undoubtedly saved money, making it easy for an Andy Clyde short to be remade with, say, Shemp in the lead, and then again a few years later with Joe Besser, with stock footage from the earlier films further cutting costs. But it also forced some talented comedians into material that really wasn’t suited to their particular screen persona.

The Stooges, on the other hand, were lucky. Even before joining Columbia Studios, their brand of slapstick meshed almost perfectly with White’s, and was even enhanced by his silent movie veteran’s experience, and Columbia’s sound effects department.

These shorts also make clear why it was so easy for Shemp to replace Curly, for Joe Besser to replace Shemp, and for Joe DeRita to replace Besser. For one thing, White was constantly experimenting, teaming Shemp with Andy Clyde and later Tom Kennedy, and Joe Besser with “Hawthorne” (as radio personality Jim Hawthorne was billed), to name three examples. Transitioning Shemp, Joe, and Joe into Curly’s “third Stooge” slot was quite natural when you realize that some of their solo shorts were already remakes of Three Stooges comedies, in which they essentially play Curly’s old part.

(And in all of these shorts, familiar supporting players like Vernon Dent and Christine McIntyre turn up again and again, often in juicier roles than the Stooges shorts usually afforded them. McIntyre especially comes off very well in many of these.)

Casual Stooge fan take note: the best of the two-reelers in this collection are unqualified masterpieces of film comedy, among the best short comedies ever made. This will come as a surprise to those who stubbornly insist the Three Stooges’ trademark lowbrow eye-pokes and head-slaps appeal only to audiences with I.Q.s not much higher than the Stooges themselves. In one sense the team was a victim of their own longevity. I’ve always felt that had all Three Stooges died in an airplane crash around 1937 “serious” cinema historians would unquestionably rank them in the pantheon of great film comedians: Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Bros. Instead, the Stooges, in their various incarnations, prolifically continued making movies and appearing in other media until about 1970, long after virtually all their contemporaries had retired or died out.

The team went through many peaks and valleys, usually but not exclusively tied to personnel changes over the years. Their famous two-reelers at Columbia were preceded by appearances in both shorts and feature films with Ted Healy leading the group, initially Moe Howard, Shemp Howard (Moe’s real-life older brother), and Larry Fine. Moe and Shemp’s kid brother Jerome “Curly” Howard replaced Shemp in 1932, and when Curly was incapacitated by a stroke in 1947, Shemp rejoined the team until his death in 1955. Joe Besser was the next “third stooge” for a couple of years, and finally “Curly-Joe” DeRita joined the team in the late-1950s, just as a new generation discovered them on television, for a series of feature films aimed primarily at kids.

Note: As many of the shorts in this set include a preponderance of stock footage from earlier films, the star ratings are based entirely on the new scenes and not the recycled footage.

Woman Haters (1934)
The team’s first Columbia short is an anomaly directed by Archie Gottler and written by his son Jerome, neither of whom did any other shorts with the Stooges. It’s closer in content and spirit to their earlier shorts with Ted Healy. Told entirely in verse, this “musical novelty” has the team joining a women’s anonymous fraternal organization, only Larry is set to get married and go off on his honeymoon that very night. Though more silly than funny, it’s a strangely endearing little film, due in no small part to the perky charm of top-billed Marjorie White, a fireball of Betty Boop/Thelma Todd-like energy who died too soon, in an automobile accident shortly after this was made. One of the Stooges’ best foils, silent comedy veteran Bud Jamison, makes his series debut; indeed, it’s Jamison, not Moe, who delivers the series’ first “eye-poke.” The real surprise for some will be the uncredited appearance of a rail-thin Walter Brennan as a train conductor, just two years away from his first Oscar-winning performance in Come and Get It.

Punch Drunks (1934)
Boxing promoter Moe finds a heavyweight champ in cafe waiter Curly, who goes bananas anytime he hears Larry play Pop Goes the Weasel on the violin. This is the only short in which the Stooges are credited as writers but this is overstated: they sat in on the development of most of their shorts, contributing gags and bits of business, and it’s seems likely that notoriously stingy studio head Harry Cohn balked at paying the team twice. In any case this is one of the team’s all-time best comedies. Among the highlights, Larry’s mad chase through the streets of Hollywood after his fiddle gets busted, and Arthur Housman (who spent the vast majority of his career playing comic drunks) as a frustrated ringside timekeeper.

Men in Black (1934)
The only Three Stooges short ever nominated for an Academy Award (it lost to La Cucaracha, remembered today only for its early 3-strip Technicolor photography) has the team running amuck in the “Los Arms Hospital.” It’s basically another transitional work, a throwback to a kind of anarchic style of comedy that had been popular in the late-1920s and early-’30s (best personified by the Marx Bros.), with wild sight gags and weird, surreal moments. Jeanie Roberts’ Gracie Allen-esque hiccupping nurse is pretty hard to take, but some of the material is priceless, particularly Larry’s demented behavior throughout. Around this time, Hal Roach and other producers were getting out of the short subjects business, and many veterans from the “Lot of Fun” turn up in these shorts, in this case Laurel & Hardy favorite Billy Gilbert as an insane patient.

Three Little Pigskins (1934)
Gangster/gamblers (including tough guy Walter Long, another Laurel & Hardy favorite) recruit Moe, Larry, and Curly as ringers for their private football game, a hilarious companion to the finale of the Marx Bros. similar Horse Feathers. This short is remembered for Lucille Ball’s supporting role as a gangster’s moll; she was just 23 at the time and her hair is platinum blonde.

Horses’ Collars (1935)
Weird but very funny short starts out as a contemporary private eye spoof, then abruptly shifts gears and becomes a Western parody! A la Punch Drunks, Curly goes ape-sh*t every time he sees a mouse, placated only when Moe and Larry stuff his face with cheese. (“Moe, Larry, the cheese! Moe, Larry, the cheese!”) Perennial comic cop and hotel dick Fred Kelsey appears unbilled as Detective Hyden Zeke, in a surreal bit that finds Curly with creepy eyes painted on his eyelids.
(**** ½)

Restless Knights (1935)
Moe, Larry, and Curly are, respectively, the Count of Fife, the Duke of Durham, and the Baron of Graymatter in this medieval spoof, which features Walter Brennan as the trio’s ancient father. Another early short made by hands not normally associated with the team, including silent director Charles Lamont, who later would helm a number of Abbott & Costello’s lesser features.

Pop Goes the Easel (1935)
The Stooges are mistaken for art students in this short, memorable for its clay-throwing finale; it’s also the first Columbia short to find the team as low-brow destructors of high-brow pretentiousness. One of the lesser shorts in this collection, though still quite funny. Moe and Larry’s daughters appear unbilled as the girls playing hopscotch.
(*** ½)

Uncivil Warriors (1935)
The Stooges go undercover as Union spies masquerading as Confederate officers in this hilarious Civil War comedy, one of their finest. Full of laughs and Curly’s wonderfully manic energy, and it includes a routine the team would frequently revive: the old pastries filled with feathers gag (literally!). Highlight: Curly’s attempt to tell a joke: “I got a better one for the Colonel. There were three men in three beds, they only had two blankets. How’d they keep warm? They turned on the heat! Nyuk nyuk nyuk!”

Pardon My Scotch (1935)
Watch Moe break his ribs! Heralding the end of Prohibition, this short finds the Stooges whipping up their own special brand of “scotch,” and later masquerading as Scottish whiskey-makers at an upscale party. The real fun, however, is the opening set piece, with the Stooges as inept carpenters. In one scene, Moe is standing on a table Curly saws in half, sending Moe crashing to the floor. The gag went wrong and Moe broke several ribs and suffered a concussion, but you’d never know it. In a remarkable bit of the-show-must-go-on dedication, Moe gets up, says his line, and manages to slap Curly before the take ends. In a bit of Yiddish humor, soon to vanish from the shorts, Larry toasts a whiskey distributor with Ver derharget! (“Drop dead!”)

Hoi Polloi (1935)
It’s Pygmalion, Stooge-style, as a professor tries to fashion three garbage men (guess who?) into “gentlemen.” Variations of this theme turned up again and again in the team’s comedies; this short was remade at least twice (as Half-Wits Holiday, Curly’s last, and as Pies and Guys with Joe Besser), while a big chunk of footage (a funny dancing lesson sequence) turned up in another Curly classic, In the Sweet Pie and Pie.

Three Little Beers (1935)
Another of the team’s all-time best, this great short sets brewery delivery men Moe, Larry, and Curly loose on a golf course where they create all manner of havoc. Moe fills the fairway with divots, Curly chops down a tree, and Larry, trying to pull a pesky root, ruins a green. The swell finish has them running from beer barrels when they roll off their truck, parked on a steep hill. (The neighborhood where this was filmed is still much the same, just north of Echo Park, on the other side of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.)

Ants in the Pantry (1936)
This was the first of seven Stooge shorts directed by “Preston Black,” actually Jack White, producer-director Jules White’s brother, and for my money the Stooges’ best director. All of his shorts with the team are distinctive and have strong comic pacing, and the humor is a bit wilder and anarchic. This one starts off with a great sight gag: Curly grabs a ladder leaning against a telephone pole and, perfectly timed, moments later a utility worker crashes to the ground. The trio play pest exterminators who, for want of business, also provide the pests. The humor here is atypical but uproariously funny nonetheless because the Stooges are so gleefully amoral: at an upscale house they unleash a veritable plague of rats, moths, and ants, literally tossing vermin on passersby.
(**** ½)

Movie Maniacs (1936)
The Stooges may “know nuthin’ about makin’ movies,” but as Moe says, “There’s a couple of thousand people in pictures now who know nothin’ about it. Three more won’t make any difference.” Alas, this short doesn’t live up to its potential, though film buffs will enjoy the references to Mutiny on the Bounty and the scene where Curly tries to emulate John Barrymore. Charlie Chaplin’s ex-wife Mildred Harris plays the put-upon leading lady.

Half Shot Shooters (1936)
Duped into reenlisting into the army, the Stooges become the charge of their sad*stic sergeant (the great Stanley Blystone) from their doughboy days. (“Where you born in this country?” asks the enlistment officer. “No,” Larry replies, “Milwaukee.”) The highlight is one of the team’s all-time funniest set pieces, where they blithely shoot off a big cannon destroying everything in sight. Curly highlight: an impromptu ditty about the big gun, “Oh the first shell went in there; it round and round, wo-o-ah... and it goes out there!”
(**** ½)

Disorder in the Court (1936)
Another great “Preston Black” two-reeler, with the Stooges as star witnesses in murder trial. Full of hilarious dialogue and wild sight gags, while Larry’s in fine form in one of the team’s most surreally funny moments: Larry grabs a wad of Curly’s chewing gum that’s landed on Moe’s nose, stomps on it and for no apparent reason lets out a strange victory cry. “You’re in a court, not in the woods, Tarzan!” admonishes Moe. Look for the Howard’s parents, who appear unbilled as members of the court audience. This is one of a handful of shorts that fell into public domain, but the presentation here is outstanding.

A Pain in the Pullman (1936)
Somewhat unusual short has the Stooges more or less playing themselves, The Three Stooges, vaudevillians, whose act revolves around a trained monkey, ironically (in retrospect) named Joe. This is the one set aboard a train in which demanding, hammy actor James C. Morton (a wonderful, bald character comedian always good for a toupee gag) constantly demands service from “John-son!” (Bud Jamison), who keeps hitting his head on the ceiling of his berth. Features one of the series’ best gags, the kind of vaguely politically-incorrect joke that would never be done today: a very Jewish-looking booking agent picks up the phone, and in a thick Yiddish accent answers, “Goldstien, Goldberg, Goldblatt & O’Brien... O’Brien speaking!”
(**** ½)

False Alarms (1936)
The Three Stooges are firemen in this short but, being stooges, are more like the firemen in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Lots of great footage of Hollywood near Columbia’s studio at Sunset and Gower. There’s a funny, extended scene where the trio take their girlfriends for a joy ride in the fire chief’s (Stanley Blystone again) new car, with the expected disastrous results.

Whoops, I’m an Indian! (1936)
The Stooges play crooked gamblers in a frontier town, on the run after their scam is discovered. What follows are some great wilderness gags, including a side-splitting running gag with an impatient, never-satisfied Moe using increasingly bigger fish he catches as bait: “Go fetch your old man!” Moe growls. Bud Jamison is terrific as a French-Canadian trapper duped into “marrying” Indian squaw Curly.
(*** ½)

Slippery Silks (1936)
The stooges play woodworkers who inherit their uncle’s classy dress shop, but as Larry only knows how to design furniture, their new line of dresses all look like chests of drawers! (Larry’s designs are revealed after a straight-faced fashion show, an odd sequence that really seems designed to impress wealthy, sophisticated women, hardly the Stooges’ core audience.) Though not quite a pie fight, the cream puff-throwing finale is a highlight, clips from which Moe proudly ran as an example of the team’s comedy on an episode of The Mike Douglas Show in the 1970s. This final short features a different take of their closing theme.
(*** ½)

Grips, Grunts, and Groans (1937)
After Punch Drunks, in which Curly went wild every time he heard Pop Goes the Weasel, Columbia’s writers went back to the same well several times too many with variations of this gag, first to good effect in Horses’ Collars (1936), in which the sight of a mouse would set Curly off: “Moe! Larry! The cheese!” In this short, it’s Wild Hyacinth that makes Curly go wild, satiated only by the tickling of his feet. That’s a bit of a stretch even in Stoogeville, but this Preston Black (i.e., Jack White)-directed short has a great payoff, a climatic wrestling match that ends with Curly madly clubbing everyone in sight with the heavy iron match bell. Lots of great gags about alcoholism—alas, a subject no longer politically correct even in slapstick comedy.
(*** ½)

Dizzy Doctors (1937)
Before infomercials, you had jokers like the Stooges selling worthless cure-alls like “Brighto,” (“Brighto! Makes old bodies new! Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!”) One of numerous Great Depression-era shorts to find the unemployed (and unemployable) Stooges jumping head-first into a new line of work, this has them hawking their wares at the Los Arms Hospital (where they had been doctors themselves in Men in Black) like drug companies pushing their pricey product on administrators. The highlight has Moe taking over the hospital’s PR system:

Moe: “Hello, everybody, we just brought the moon over the mountain.”
Curly: “Hello, Ma. Hello, Pa. It wasn’t much of a fight. I stood like that. But not for long.” [Moe bonks Curly on the head]
Moe: “Quiet!” [Fruitily] “This broadcast comes to you through the courtesy of Brighto. And its six delicious flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla, Cranberry, Strawberry.”
Curly: “And raspberry.” [Moe whacks him] “Ow! It’s still raspberry!” [Moe whacks him again] “Ow!
Moe: Now keep quiet or I’ll sock you again.”
Larry: [Taking over microphone] “Buh-buh-buh-boo. Buh-buh-buh-boo. Buh-buh...” [Now Moe hits him!]
(**** ½)

3 Dumb Clucks (1937)
Gagman Clyde Bruckman, whose collaborators included Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel & Hardy, penned this unusual short which features Curly Howard in a dual role, playing his own father, a muttonchops-wearing Sugar Daddy. Pop Howard is about to marry gold-digger Daisy(-Waisy), played by Lucille Lund, who co-starred with Karloff and Lugosi in The Black Cat a few years before. A running gag has various characters repeatedly falling down an elevator shaft, a gag Curly didn’t find quite so funny when some idiot prop man left a big 2 x 4 in the shaft for Curly to rip his scalp open on. In the scene immediately before but presumably shot after, Curly clearly has a patched-up head he cheats away from the camera.

Back to the Woods (1937)
The Three Stooges, Puritans? “Shutteth up!” So says Moe near the beginning of this gem, the last directed by the much-underrated Preston Black/Jack White. Set, vaguely, in the 17th century at the time of the American Pilgrims—despite in-jokes anachronistically referencing everything from the WPA to Whopper the racehorse—the Stooges and their Brooklynese accents are banished from Britain and head for Plymouth Rock. Faced with starvation, they take their blunderbusses hunting, risking the ire of the local Indians, who’ve claimed the surrounding lands as their own.

Goofs and Saddles (1937)
Wild Bill Hiccup (Moe), Buffalo Bilious (Curly), and Just Plain Bill (Larry) are U.S. Cavalry scouts on the trail of cattle rustler Longhorn Pete (gravelly-voiced Stanley Blystone, a great foil of the Stooges’ early days). Superb short is arguably the best of the team’s innumerable Westerns comedies (despite the lowest slap-count of any of the shorts, according to Stooge experts), with an inspired chase near the end. I’ve got to admit, as a kid I really thought you could drop an ammunition belt into a hand-cranked meat grinder and get it to fire like a machine gun, and used to dream about getting my hands on one.

Cash and Carry (1937)
What do the Three Stooges and Citizen Kane have in common? Why, Sonny Bupp! (And actress Dorothy Comingore, but that’s another short.) In this unsung if awkwardly, atypically sentimental and topical short, the Stooges come to the aid of polio-stricken orphan Jimmy (Bupp) and his unnamed “Sis” (Harley Wood), victims of the Great Depression reduced to living in the local dump! Moe, Larry, and Curly buy a phony map to a treasure supposedly buried (“by Captain Kidd’s kid!”) in an abandoned house, conveniently located right next door to the United States Treasury. Bupp went on to play the not-so-lucky son of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, before moving to Detroit where he worked in the auto industry.* If that weren’t enough, the Stooges get to meet President Roosevelt at the conclusion of this fascinating brew of slapstick comedy and New Deal propaganda. Best moment: Curly’s indescribable expression of joy at what he thinks are fireworks (actually TNT).
(**** ½)

Playing the Ponies (1937)
The Stooges, proprietors of The Flounder Inn, trade in their restaurant for an allegedly prize-winning racehorse, Thunderbolt. The filly turns out to be a dud until Curly accidentally feeds it super-hot chili pepperinos, with a distant bucket of cool water at the finish line as an irresistible incentive. Good short has some funny business with Curly at the run-down restaurant, and introduces the surefire gag of customers thinking the cook is butchering dogs back in the kitchen.
(*** ½)

The Sitter-Downers (1937)
One of the Stooges’ best shorts of this period was this crude but funny reworking of Buster Keaton’s classic silent comedy One Week (1920). When prospective father-in-law James C. Morton refuses to let the Stooges marry daughters Florabell (June Gittelson), Corabell (Betty Mack), and Dorabell (Marcia Healy, ex-Stooge ringleader Ted’s sister), Moe, Larry, and Curly go on a sit-down strike in Morton’s house. When the three suitors’ protest gains nationwide attention in their favor, Morton finally gives in, and the Stooges are off to build a prefabricated house—a gift from their supporters. But, alas, Curly accidentally burned the plans and the end result is beguilingly Daliesque.
(**** ½)

Termites of 1938 (1938)
Not quite up to the level of the earlier Ants in the Pantry, the Stooges once again are pest exterminators, though here they’re mistaken for “college student escorts” to accompany a lonely old maid to a swanky party. A highlight has the Stooges at the dinner table—always good for a guffaw or two—prompting all the rich guests to follow their hoi polloi lead.

Wee Wee Monsieur (1938)
This okay short casting the Stooges as Parisian artists (!) joining the French Foreign Legion was one of many remade years later after Shemp Howard (Moe and Curly’s real-life brother) had replaced Curly in the “Third Stooge” slot; unlike virtually all the remakes, in this instance the Shemp version is actually funnier. The original suffers from a herky-jerky telling, much of which has the Stooges too far removed from their familiar milieu, though Vernon Dent is a delight as Arab Chieftain Simitz. One has to wonder what French-born cinematographer André Barlatier made of all this.

Tassels in the Air (1938)
Along with Preston Black/Jack White, during their first years at Columbia the Stooges benefited enormously from the contributions of Charley Chase, who helmed six of their shorts, each memorable in its own way. Chase, of course, was one of the great clowns of silent and early talkie comedy. His long association with Hal Roach had ended amicably when that studio phased out its short subject department and Chase wound up at Columbia as both a writer-director and star of his own series of shorts until his untimely death in 1940. Though Tassels in the Air weakly reworks the Curly-go-crazy gag that originated in Punch Drunks—this time, tassels make him go bananas—everything else about this comedy is just great. Ultra-prolific bit player/extra Bess Flowers (who appeared in more Best Picture winners than any other actress) is a nouveau riche housewife who mistakes janitor Moe for chichi interior designer OMay, unwisely inviting the trio to redecorate her home. Highlights include a beautifully paced table-painting scene (the Chase/Roach influence here is obvious) and a funny scene where Moe vainly tries to teach Curly Pig Latin:

Moe: “Boy, are you umb-day.”
Curly: [excited] “Oh, you mean I’m umb-day in pig language?”
Moe: “You’re umb-day in any language.”
(**** ½)

Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb (1938)
Strong comedy from director Del Lord has the Stooges wreaking havoc at the pricy Hotel Costa Plente, after Curly wins $50,000 in a radio contest. Their carefree destruction of priceless objet d’art is screamingly funny. Longtime comic foil James C. Morton (concurrently a regular in Laurel & Hardy’s comedies) is well-cast as the harried hotel manager. Highlight: Curly thinks he’s got the DTs when a pet monkey (scouting around on behalf of three gold-digging dames next door) starts jumping around in Larry’s pants.

Violent in the World for Curly (1938)
“B-A-bay, B-E-bee, B-I-bicky-bi, B-O bo, bicky-bi bo, B-U bu, bicky bi bo bu” and, er—I’ll give it to you hangnail: the Stooges are gas station attendants mistaken for stuffy Teutonic university professors and wind up teaching at Mildew U., a woman’s college. Watch Curly get roasted alive on a colossal spit! One of the team’s most popular shorts thanks to Swinging the Alphabet, the kind of novelty song rare in the Stooges’ two-reelers (Moe, Larry, and Curly-Joe DeRita recorded a new version in the ’60s), it’s also got another standout sequence, with Moe, Larry, and Curly cast as overzealous gas station attendants (“Super service!”) wreaking havoc on the professors and their car. Directed by Charley Chase, this short especially exemplifies his obvious Roach Studios-influenced touch: In the Roach manner, much of the film seems to have been improvised or expanded on location, rather than rigidly adhering to the script. Curly ad-libs like mad with an unruly air hose and in a giant puddle, while what was probably a lengthy scripted lunch sequence has been cut to almost nothing. A great short, its title is a spoof of Valiant in is the Word for Carrie, a 1936 Gladys George vehicle, though surreally apt even if you don’t know the connection!
(**** ½)

Three Missing Links (1938)
Former janitors at Super Terrific Productions, the Stooges are off to Darkest Africa to make a gorilla picture with starlet Mirabel Mirabel (Jane Hamilton) and harried director Herbert (Monte Collins). Once there, they run into witch doctor Ba Loni Sulami (former boxer John Lester Johnson) and Naba, a gorilla (enthusiastically played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan). Highlights include Curly’s incredible impression of a chicken with its head cut off, and an iconic scene where the sleeping Stooges have their feet licked by a playful lion. (The lion obviously still has its teeth but even if it didn’t, would you volunteer to have your toes licked by the beast?) Thanks to the miracle of DVD, you can now watch Moe take a face-full of black mud frame-by-frame!
(*** ½)

Mutts to You (1938)
Another unusual short courtesy director Charley Chase and collaborator screenwriter Al Giebler finds the Stooges, working as pet groomers, adopting what they think is an abandoned baby. Actually, a contrived series of circ*mstances resulted in the boy’s bickering parents (Bess Flowers and Lane Chandler) leaving the kid unwatched on their doorstep; they later believe their kid kidnapped. The centerpiece for this short is the trio’s elaborate automated dog-washer, an elaborate Rube Goldberg-type contraption. Not the funniest short in the world but agreeably unusual, and Stooge regulars Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison lend fine support as their landlord and neighborhood (Irish) cop, respectively.

Flat Foot Stooges (1938)
By far Charley Chase’s oddest Three Stooges short: a major plot point hinges on a gunpowder-eating duck—whose very existence in the film goes completely unexplained—laying an explosive egg that drops to the ground, causing a three-alarm fire! In this follow-up to the superior False Alarms (1936), the Stooges are fireman for a station still using horse-drawn fire engines. The short seems to be Chase’s tribute to the early slapstick silent comedies featuring the Keystone Cops; there’s some frenetic business near the end that’s straight out of Mack Sennett, and Keystone players Chester Conklin and Heinie Conklin (no relation) have sizeable roles, especially the former as the walrus-mustached fire chief. Watching this again was a strange experience. I don’t think I had since it in at least 30 years yet remembered certain lines and sight gags like I had seen it yesterday. Weird.

Three Little Sew and Sews (1939)
The funniest thing about this short is its (deliberately) hilarious special effects, a miniature of a submarine madly flailing about like a salmon swimming upstream. How the Stooges find themselves aboard this runaway sub with a pair of saboteurs (Phyllis Barry and Harry Semels) is the story of this two-reel delight. It’s basically a U.S. Navy comedy but obviously its setting was changed to a fictional country so as not to offend the real Navy, this being released just prior to the outbreak of World War II. The Stooges don’t make it out of this one alive. Abbott & Costello’s In the Navy (1941) suspiciously borrows several very specific plot points.

We Want Our Mummy (1939)
Filmed between Universal’s original 1932 The Mummy and its second-cycle horror entries with Lon Chaney, Jr. during the 1940s, this is about the only Stooge horror spoof to venture, however tenuously, into the realm of another studio’s monster domain. Curiously, at the same time Columbia’s screenplays during this period seemed to be trying to fashion the Stooges after Fox’s Ritz Brothers, then in vogue with kids and teenagers. This and the next short have a slightly forced zaniness that was common in the (mostly unfunny) Ritz Brothers movies, but which doesn’t really work for the Stooges. Curly gets another solo bit: “swimming” in a mirage of cool water amidst the hot desert sand. One incredible scene has Curly falling on top a mummy (the remains of Queen Hotsietotsie, as it turns out), promptly turning the ancient corpse into a pile of dust and withered bandages—“He exploded!”
(*** ½)

A Ducking They Did Go (1939)
“To the hunt! To the hunt! To the hunt-hunt-hunt!” This terrific short’s early scenes were shot right outside the Columbia lot on Gower Avenue—you can even see the old “Hollywoodland” sign in the background. Moe, Larry, and Curly are salesmen for a crooked racket selling memberships to a duck hunting club. Michael Moore could have saved himself the trouble of making Bowling for Columbine and just re-released A Ducking They Did Go as a cautionary tale of crazy idiots with guns. Classic bit has the trio in a sinking rowboat, into which Larry fires his shotgun “to let the water out!”

Yes, We Have No Bonanza (1939)
An okay Western comedy, this time with the Stooges playing singing waiters at crooked bank robber Maxey’s (Dick Curtis) saloon. The short opens with the stooges and three ingénues (Jean Carmen, Lola Jensen, and Suzanne Kaaren, the latter Mrs. Sidney Blackmer and “Gail Tempest” from Disorder in the Court) singing perhaps the worst rendition of “Red River Valley” in screen history. The Stooges quit their jobs to go gold prospecting, and in an incredible coincidence, accidentally dig up Maxey’s stolen loot. Set in that Never-Never Land of the Hollywood West where horse-drawn carriages and Ford sedans roamed the prairie.
(*** ½)

Saved by the Belle (1939)
Latin stereotypes abound in this South of the Border spoof of Central American revolutions, the last Stooge short directed by Charley Chase. Salesmen unable to move their stifling winter attire, they switch to selling butt cushions in earthquake-ridden Valeska, but get caught up in the revolution after befriending Senorita Rita (Carmen LaRoux), girlfriend of Singapore Joe, revolutionary leader (LeRoy Mason).

Calling All Curs (1939)
Funny if overworked short (How many times has this been released to DVD? Five?) is like a veterinarian Men in Black, the Stooges zany doctors at a pet hospital. When socialite Mrs. Bedford’s (Isabelle LaMal)’s beloved standard poodle Garçon is dognapped, it’s up to Moe, Larry, and Curly to rescue the prized pooch. Watch Curly pluck Moe’s eyebrows like the petals of a daisy (“She loves me! She loves me not!”) and a mutt’s amazing spying powers (How did they get that tail to bend in the shape of a question mark?)
(*** ½)

Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise (1939)
Once again homeless and hungry tramps, the Stooges are offered a meal by grandmotherly Widow Jenkins (Eva McKenzie), whose oil-rich land is being swindled away by a trio of crooks. Be sure to freeze-frame the shot of Moe getting zapped in the eye by a blast of oily goop at a water pump; his surprised and appalled reaction is very real. Several unbilled actors in this went onto bigger and better things: One of the crooks is played by prolific B-Western stars James Craig, soon featured in The Devil and Daniel Webster (and later to star in Venus Flytrap, one of Ed Wood’s more outrageous obscurities) while one of the Stooges’ girlfriends, April Jenkins, is played by Linda Winters, who as Dorothy Comingore would star opposite Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.
(*** ½)

Three Sappy People (1939)
Rich folk sure are stupid: they constantly mistake the uneducated, lowbrow Stooges for highly educated doctors, Ivy League students and European professors. In this short J. Rumsford Rumford (Don Beddoe) mistakes the trio for Drs. Ziller, Zeller, and Zoller, eccentric psychiatrists he hires to treat his uncontrollable free-spirit wife (Lorna Gray, reportedly still attending conventions at the age of 90!), who in an early scene makes a splashy entrance at a party in her honor by driving her car right into the living room. It’s funny if standard stuff with the usual dinner table antics and climatic pastry fight, but a great way to cap off this collection. Notice the quick cutaway after a pastry (probably thrown by Moe) hits Gray squarely in the mouth; it really got tightly lodged in there, requiring some fast-thinking emergency treatment!
(*** ½)

You Nazty Spy! (1940)
“There’s no money in peace!” declare three greedy capitalists, “We must find someone stupid enough to do what we tell him!” Sound familiar? Paper-hanger Moe Howard is tapped as the new dictator of Moronika in this atypically topical political satire with the Stooges as stand-ins for Hitler (Moe, who in makeup and costume bears an uncanny resemblance), Mussolini (Curly) and Josef Goebbels (Larry). Released nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s acclaimed The Great Dictator but put into production after Chaplin’s film started shooting, You Nazty Spy! was riding that film’s publicity, clearly. Nevertheless, while there had been anti-Fascist films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy before this, the Stooges were the first in Hollywood to lampoon Hitler directly, in a film released just after the start of World War II in Europe, but when America was still clinging to an isolationist stance. A real throwback to the team’s style of comedy from its Ted Healy days, even now it’s unsettling to hear Moe crack wise about book burnings and concentration camps. And no wonder it was both Moe and Larry’s all-time favorite short—imagine, uneducated Jewish Vaudevillians given the opportunity to thumb their noses so publicly at the world’s most notorious anti-Semite, at a time when such public criticism was unheard of.

Rockin’ Thru the Rockies (1940)
Funny but routine short finds the Stooges as 19th century trail-drivers—Curly wears a skunk-skin cap—guiding three young starlets and their overbearing, hatchet-faced chaperone (Kathryn Sheldon) westward toward San Francisco. Not to be confused with their unaccountably obscure 1945 feature film of the same name, Rockin’ in the Rockies has some good laughs (the highlight: an ice fishing sequence) but it’s not distinctive. One of Nell’s Belles is Linda Winters, who less than six months later as Dorothy Comingore was starring opposite Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. Her one line in the film, “Moe, let’s get out of here!” is a long way from “I can’t do this to you? Oh yes I can!”

A Plumbing We Will Go (1940)
“Up to the basem*nt!” A nominee for the Stooges’ all-time best short, this one’s brilliant: Mistaken for plumbers, Moe, Larry, Curly systematically proceed to trash a wealthy judge’s home. Moe virtually destroys the basem*nt, Larry makes like a prairie dog tunneling under the front lawn, looking for a shut-off valve (“I’ll find this thing or else!”), while Curly, madly connecting pipes in a leaky bathroom, inadvertently traps himself in a maze of metal. His expressions of frustration, confusion, and panic are priceless. Also worth noting are the short’s funny sound effects (squeaking pipes, etc.) and the brilliant comic turn by African-American comedian Dudley Dickerson (“This house has sho’ gone crazy!”) as the bewildered cook; isn’t it about time we forgave actors like Dickerson and the great Mantan Moreland and recognize their comic genius? Also in the film is an early (though not the earliest by far) gag about commercial television, touted as a “television receiver” where, as prolific character actress Bess Flowers explains it, “You not only hear the broadcast, you actually see it on this screen.” Thanks to the Stooges, a show about Niagara Falls takes on 3-D attributes as well.

Nutty But Nice (1940)
Pretty dreadful, meandering short casts the Stooges as singing comic waiters, billed as “hilarious hash slingers” hired by two doctors (Vernon Dent and John Tyrrell) to cheer up a little girl hospitalized for depression after her father is kidnapped. Inexplicably, the Stooges clown around dressed as little girls and, rare for the team during this period, are totally unfunny! Later scenes team the Stooges with Moe’s real-life next-door neighbor, character actor Ned Glass (Sgt. Bilko, Julia, Charade), who also appeared in some of Buster Keaton’s Columbia shorts during this time, and can even be glimpsed as the lead (but uncredited) stormtrooper in You Nazty Spy!
(** ½)

How High Is Up? (1940)
This short opens with several funny gags: a bee flying in and out of Curly’s mouth while he’s snoozing, the sound-asleep Stooges washed down city streets, bed and all, when a fire hydrant breaks. Later the trio winds up working as riveters—for the princely sum of a dollar an hour—at a construction site, on the 97th floor. The Stooges’ world is unusually nasty in this one, more akin to Laurel & Hardy’s universe, with abusive cops and threatening bosses (“Any more stalling and I’ll throw you off the building!”) Look for Bruce Bennett as one of the construction workers. The former movie Tarzan was reduced to pitiful bit parts like this one for several years before making an incredible career comeback; by 1948 he was back on top in a memorable role in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a half-century before his death last year at the age of 101!

From Nurse to Worse (1940)
The Three Stooges commit insurance fraud in this short, egged on by a crooked insurance salesman friend (Lynton Brent). Curly pretends to be insane (not much of a stretch) but instead of certifying him, Dr. D. Lerious (Vernon Dent) wants to operate: a “cerebrum decapitation” no less! Kudos here to the virtually unknown bit player Johnny Kascier, as the hospital orderly taking spectacular pratfalls worthy of Keaton in a running (and falling!) gag. Least-quoted Stooge line, Moe to Larry: “Shoot the money to me, honey!”

No Census, No Feeling (1940)
It’s 1940 and “We’re working for the census!” says Moe. “You mean Will Hays?” Curly asks. (Inside joke: Hays headed Hollywood’s Production Code.) The team then drives everyone nuts asking questions like, “Are you married or happy?” They then turn up at a typical high society bridge party where Curly, mixing a batch of fruit punch, accidentally adds that favorite ingredient of slapstick comedians and cartoon directors everywhere: powdered alum, resulting in a mass puckering-up of lips. The whole thing ends with the Stooges surveying football players from USC right in the middle of a game. The quarterback? You guessed it: Bruce Bennett.
(*** ½)

Cookoo Cavaliers (1940)
As in the classic Laurel & Hardy short Towed in a Hole, the Stooges come up with the bright idea to “eliminate the middle-man” by catching and selling their own fish, but after a month no one’s buying. “And you nearly talked us into buying ice,” Larry chastises Curly, “just to put on the fish!” Moving on, the trio thinks they’ve gone into the saloon business but actually have purchased a salon in the sleepy village of Cucaracha, Mexico. When four women turn up wanting their hair bleached, Larry is undeterred: “I soar a guy paint a car with a spray gun once!” Usually the Stooges bonk each other around but in this unusually sad*stic short the women take the brunt of the abuse. Dorothy Appleby, the pint-sized, apple-cheeked brunette who did shorts with Keaton, Andy Clyde, and Charley Chase as well as the Stooges, really takes a beating in this one. When Moe and Larry give her a “mud pack” (actually quick-drying cement, which Moe later breaks off with a sledge hammer), Appleby really seems to suffocating, squirming uncomfortably. And what ever happened to the dog doused with hair removal?
(**** ½)

Boobs in Arms (1940)
Them Stooges never got any credit. First they beat Chaplin to the punch with their own Hitler spoof, and in Boobs in Arms they scooped Abbott & Costello with a basic training comedy almost identical, structure-wise, to Buck Privates and released it one month earlier. “See the world, or what’s left of it!” promise recruiting posters (they should use that slogan today!). The training sequence with an exasperated Richard Fiske as their drill sergeant (the role played in Buck Privates by Nat Pendleton) is about as funny as the same sequence in Abbott & Costello’s film. “Everything happens to me!” Fiske says several times in the film. Ironically, he was right: the poor guy really was drafted soon thereafter, and killed in action in LeCroix, France, shortly after D-Day.

So Long Mr. Chumps (1941)
My favorite Stooge title (a play, of course, on the popular MGM film Goodbye, Mr. Chips) casts Moe, Larry, and Curly as street cleaners, and the opening sequence with them trying to sweep up a city park is a gem. The serpentine plot has them hired to find an “honest man” with executive abilities, then segues into a prison spoof with boys making little rocks out of big ones. Though it’s all over the map there are plenty of funny gags (and violent ones: watch Moe dislocate Curly’s jaw!) in this Felix Adler-scripted two-reeler, including a rare fade-out with the Stooges stepping out-of-character; Moe and Larry look taken aback by what seems like an ad-lib from Curly.
(*** ½)

Dutiful but Dumb (1941)
Click, Clack and Cluck (guess who) are paparazzi assigned by Whack illustrated magazine (“If it’s a good picture, it’s out of Whack!”) to shoot a newly-eloped movie star. When that ends in disaster (“I’m positive about the negative,” Curly says, “But I’m a little negative about the positive!”) their beleaguered editor (Vernon Dent) ships them off to Vulgaria, where taking pictures is a capital offense. Okay short has two outstanding Curly set pieces: a variation of the old live oyster-in-the-soup gag, a surefire bit dating back to the silent days; and a hilariously performed sequence with Curly hiding inside a radio, trying to fake a broadcast. Look for perennial house dick/Irish cop Fred Kelsey cast against type as a Vulgarian colonel.
(*** ½)

All the World’s a Stooge (1941)
Weird short about a husband (Emory Parnell) fed-up with his eccentric wife’s (Lelah Tyler) plans to take in a refugee “from the war-torn fields of, well, somewhere.” The husband then concocts a bizarre plan: he hires the 40-ish Stooges to pretend to be elementary school-age children (with Larry improbably dressed as a little girl). This being a two-reel comedy, everyone unhesitatingly accepts these middle-aged men with Brooklyn accents as European children. After the anti-fascist You Nazty Spy!, this short is confusingly anti-philanthropic (or something) though early scenes with the Stooges as window washers mistaken for dentists (at the offices of I. Yankum) are pretty funny. When Moe mistakenly yanks out a patient’s bridge Larry remarks, “You’ve stripped his gears!”
(** ½)

I’ll Never Heil Again (1941)
This follow-up to You Nazty Spy!, released five months before Pearl Harbor, revisits Moronica (spelled here with a “C”) with more explicit references to Nazis and their allies and with Cy Schindell taking over the Mussolini role, allowing Curly to play Hermann Göring, er, Field Marshal Herring. “The characters in this picture are fictitious,” insist the opening titles, “Anyone resembling them is better off dead.” Spaniard Duncan Renaldo, future Cisco Kid, plays the Japanese representative, who snaps away taking pictures, even while fighting Moe. (I had assumed the stereotype about Japanese shutterbugs originated after World War II.) There’s a Stalin stand-in (Don Barclay) too, but the Soviet Union had joined the Allies by the time this was released (Oops!), and Jack “Tiny” Lipson, former King Vultan in Flash Gordon, is the Bay of Rum. I especially liked this exchange involving an astrologer, actually a spy:

Princess Gilda (spy): “I am your new soothsayer, the seeress.”
Minister of Propaganda (Larry): “Your father must be Roebuck.”
Princess Gilda: “No, for I was raised by Montgomery.”
Field Marshal Herring: “Oh, you’re Montgomery’s ward!”

An Ache in Every Stake (1941)
Though overly familiar (it’s one of those shorts reissued a gajillion times) this is one of the all-time greats. It was writer Lloyd French’s only Stooge script; prior to this he had been an assistant director and later credited director on numerous Laurel & Hardy comedies, including Big Business and Busy Bodies. Obviously, here he borrows the basic premise of Laurel & Hardy’s much-loved The Music Box, with the Stooges trying to deliver a big block of ice up a long flight of steps, just as Laurel & Hardy did with an upright piano a decade before. Though many assume they were shot on the same set of steps, in fact they were filmed a few miles apart (there’s no intersection at the bottom of the Music Box steps), though both are in the Silverlake area east of Hollywood. (The Ache in Every Stake steps are at 2257-58 Fair Oak Terrace.) Highlights include Curly “shaving” some ice and stuffing a turkey.

In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941)
The Stooges threw a lot of pies in their career, but this is probably their best all-around pie-fighting short, one of their very best overall. When three high society girls, Tiska (Dorothy Appleby), Taska (Mary Ainslee) and Baska (Ethelreda Leopold) stand to lose their inheritance unless they marry, lawyer Diggin (Richard Fiske, in his last appearance with the team) persuades them to marry the Stooges, on death row after wrongly being pegged as the Mushroom Murder Gang. Ah, but the trio escape the hangman’s noose when they’re pardoned by the governor and the girls are stuck. Literal gallows humor abounds: “It’s a g-r-r-reat day for a hanging!” enthuses a radio announcer, giving a “jerk-by-jerk” account. Beyond the great gooey finish, there’s a wonderful scene with Curly (well, his double) trying to scale a hand-made triple bunk bed. Ominous sign of things to come: This is one of the first Stooge shorts to feature an entire sequence lifted from an earlier two-reeler, in this case stock footage of a dance lesson scene from Hoi Polloi (1935).
(**** ½)

Some More of Samoa (1941)
Moe, Larry, and Curly are tree surgeons examining a cranky old man’s rare persimmon tree (Curly: “I don’t like the sound of its bark!”). Moe determines the tree needs a mate, and the three are off to the island of Rhum Boogie (not Samoa) in search of the rare plant. Meandering short has lots of good gags: Curly grows to gigantic proportions after accidentally being injected with Vitamin PDQ, and later he tries to retrieve a baby tree from an alligator’s mouth (note that the beast’s jaws are tied shut before the real alligator is replaced by a hilariously fake rubber reptile). A few politically incorrect jokes—the Stooges imitate radio’s Amos & Andy—may have prevented its release up to now.
(*** ½)

Loco Boy Makes Good (1942)
Immortal Dialogue Department: Customer to waiter Larry, “Do you have pâté de foie gras?” “I’ll see if the band can play it,” replies Larry, bemused. Refreshingly different Stooge short actually has a kind of story and something like production values. The Stooges decide to help a little old lady, the proprietress of a hotel badly in need of repairs and facing foreclosure. In the hotel’s improbably vast nightclub, the Kokonuts’ Grove, the trio whips up a comedy act to bring in the customers and to impress columnist Waldo Twitchell (John Tyrrell). (One of the fun things about watching these shorts as an adult is that you can enjoy all the references you missed as a kid.) The audience doesn’t think much of the Stooges’ song She Was Bred in Old Kentucky but She’s Just a Crumb Up Here, but then all hell breaks loose and everyone has a wild time, especially after Curly unleashes a swarm of white mice on the dance floor. Note Curly’s suggestion that the old lady see “a single feature,” implying that double-bills usually weren’t accompanied by two-reel comedies. The first Stooge short released after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was just the ticket for audiences looking for a little escape from the 24-7 war coverage. The magician’s coat gag dates back at Harold Lloyd’s Movie Crazy (1932); reportedly Lloyd sued for plagiarism and won.

Cactus Makes Perfect (1942)
Curly invents a Gold Collar Button retriever that an inventors’ associations labels “incomprehensible and utterly impractical.” “Oh boy!” exclaims Curly, delighted, who’s not even offended that his name was misspelled J-E-R-K. A-la Cash and Carry (with many of the same gags), the boys buy a phony map and start digging for gold, only to stumble upon a real mine. Comedian and gag writer Monte (Monty) Collins, in drag, co-stars as Ma Howard; he actually gives a pretty good performance, amusingly incorporating personality traits of both Moe and Curly. Also noteworthy for its hilariously painful bit where Moe shaves Curly with a straight razor, right down to the nose hairs.

What’s the Matador? (1942)
In keeping with the nation’s beefed-up Good Neighbor Policy, the Stooges are sent packing to Mexico (Wait a minute—is that such a neighborly thing to do?), to perform their comic bullfighting act (“We hope you like them too many!” says the announcer. So much for not pissing off Mexico.) There they befriend a young woman (Suzanne Kaaren, the Brooklyn-born wife of Sidney Blackmer) with an insanely jealous husband, Jose (Philadelphia-born Harry Burns). This is about the first short where one can see the earliest signs of Curly’s pre-stroke personality change. It’s very subtle, and while he’s still quite funny, not the tragically addled comedian dragged through those last few shorts in 1946-47, one can see little changes in his screen persona, and about here he begins to age dramatically, with lines suddenly etched deep in his face.

Matri-Phony (1942)
One of just two Stooge shorts directed by Harry Edwards, and it’s easy to see why. This bland comedy with an “Ancient Erysipelas” setting has bad staging (the last shot inexplicably has extras walking straight into a wall), weird jump cuts and even out-of-focus shots. A real hodgepodge of historical inaccuracy, Matri-Phony has the Stooges working as stonecutters Mohicus, Larrycus, and Curlycue at Ye Olde Pottery and Stone Works (“the biggest chiselers in town!”). They get caught up in Emperor Octopus Grabus’s (Vernon Dent, sans mustache) plans to marry “the fairest redhead of them all.” Curly’s slow decline is demonstrated in a scene where he tries to eat a live crab (with snapping claws), a variation of the oyster-in-the-soup gag from the previous year. It’s reasonably funny, but Curly’s timing is just a tad off and the two scenes make quite a contrast.

Three Smart Saps (1942)
Master gagman Clyde Bruckman wrote this short, an odd one which has the Stooges infiltrating a jail taken over by mobsters who’ve imprisoned the warden (the trio’s future father-in-law) and turned it into a kind of luxury hotel. For the second time in 17 months, the Stooges have to find a way to break into jail. In this short Curly’s voice continues to mutate into something far removed from the Curly of the 1930s, but physically he’s still in fine form: here he dances the Rumba and, like Oliver Hardy, is impressively light on his feet for someone so overweight. Also noteworthy: Curly imitates Jimmy Durante while Larry gets blotto.
(** ½)

Even as IOU (1942)
Damon Runyon adaptations were quite popular at this time, and this Runyonesque story finds the team winning $500 on a longshot, “Bearded Lady,” only to turn around and blow their wad on what they think is talking horse, Seabasket, actually grifter Stanley Blystone throwing his voice. A syrupy subplot with the boys coming to the rescue of a dispossessed single mother (Ruth Skinner) and her little daughter is completely forgotten midway through and in the end Curly even steals the pathetic girl’s piggybank! I guess they’re still homeless out there somewhere. A colt is born at the end of this short, but who’s the mother? Most assume it’s Seabasket but others insist it’s Curly (!) who gives birth to the tiny Equidae!
(** ½)

Sock-a-Bye Baby (1942)
The last short in this collection is both new to DVD and a pretty good one, basically Three Men and a Baby Stooge-style, and memorable for its chase finish with the team hiding in a car disguised as a large tent. The despondent wife (Julie Gibson, the real-life wife of Abbott & Costello director Charlie Barton) of a motorcycle cop (Clarence Straight) abandons her baby, Little Jimmy Collins (actually a girl, Joyce Gardner) in a basket on the Stooges doorstep. Moe makes a mammoth diaper out of a tablecloth, and they feed the poor toddler all kinds of inappropriate food: artichokes, pig’s feet, and pickled herring, among other things. Released at the height of the war, the short has its share of awkwardly inserted propaganda: a frustrated Curly says, “[Spits] on the Japanese!” while Moe accuses an onion of being a Nazi.
(*** ½)

They Stooge to Conga (1943)
The most infamously violent of Three Stooges shorts, this Del Lord-helmed two-reeler offers several startling moments, none more gleefully sad*stic as when Curly, scaling an electrical pole, within a few seconds manages to puncture the top of Moe’s head, an eye, and an ear with a climbing spike, all with cringe-inducing “ker-CHUNK” sound effects. The Stooges play handymen (“our speshalty”) asked to repair the doorbell of a home that’s actually a nest of enemy spies led by Nazi Vernon Dent and including a Japanese complete with buck teeth, co*ke bottle glasses and a penchant for mono-syllabic “So”s. The short begins as an electrician’s take on APlumbing We Will Go (1940) and even features Dudley Dickerson all but reprising his bug-eyed cook from that short. Funny stuff, and Curly is still near the peak of his game. Moe and Curly get into a tug-of-war with some wiring and Curly and Larry end up pulling Moe through a wall. The short later devolves into typical if wild wartime propaganda, with the trio taking remote control command of hapless Nazi sub U-29, played by a bathtub-worthy model making like a spawning salmon. Look for Lloyd Bridges in an uncredited bit.

Dizzy Detectives (1943)
Entertaining genre spoof begins with three minutes of stock footage from Pardon My Scotch, including the painful shot of Moe crashing to the floor and breaking several ribs for real. Later, the Stooges join the police force and report to the commissioner, played by Bud Jamison in a late career role. An ape-man, actually a gorilla (Ray “Crash” Corrigan in his familiar gorilla skin) is terrorizing the city. The circus chimp (“a real chimineypanzee!” exclaims Curly) has been trained by corrupt government official Dill (John Tyrrell) for a burglary racket. Curly makes the case for stricter gun control laws in this one.

Spook Louder (1943)
Who threw those pies?! I was surprised to learn my classic comedy historian pal Ted Okuda regards this as “their worst picture in some time.” I find it gloriously silly, a genre spoof told in flashback by loopy Professor J. Ogden Dinklefeather (Lew Kelly). The Stooges play traveling salesmen who, after accidentally dousing customer Symona Boniface with water, quit that line of work to become caretakers for eccentric inventor Graves (Ted Lorch), who lives in a creepy house overrun with stuffed and mounted animals. Graves and his butler (Charles Middleton) leave for Washington, so Graves can demonstrate his new death ray (“It will destroy millions!”). Foreign spies, led by Stanley Blystone, break into the house dressed in Halloween costumes. You’d think Middleton and Lorch would have played the other’s role; Middleton famously was Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1936), in which Lorch appeared as Ming’s High Priest. I rather like the irreverent, nonsensical tone of this Clyde Bruckman-penned short. When the Stooges hear the mysterious sounds of a piano in another room, Curly notes, “Rachmaninoff’s Prelude, and believe me, it’s a hard piece!” Further, Curly’s nervous and frightened expressions are quite hilarious. Joe the Monkey has a cameo appearance.
(*** ½)

Back from the Front (1943)
Wartime propaganda with merchant marine Stooges infiltrating a Nazi cruiser after their ship is sunk. Aboard is an all-star cast of Stooge nemeses, and three of the least convincing Nazi sailors you’ll ever find: Bud Jamison, Vernon Dent, and Stanley Blystone. Opens with one of those awkward scenes where the trio bid farewell to their sweethearts, Columbia starlets clearly uncomfortable having Moe, Larry, and Curly for onscreen lovers and recipients of dialogue like, “We forgot our duffel, bags.” Moe gets seasick, pukes in a bucket (off-screen) but apparently misses; he then reaches for a mop to swab up the mess.

Three Little Twirps (1943)
Gee, I hadn’t seen this one in something like 40 years! The Stooges are paperhangers, and of course manage to destroy every piece of paper they’re supposed to be hanging, which puts them in hot water with their boss, circus ringleader Herman (Stanley Blystone). The trio then turns to scalping tickets to the Big Top right there on the midway, only to be arrested by cop Bud Jamison. But Herman offers them a job in lieu of the slammer—as human targets for “the untamed Sultan of Abadaba” (Duke York). Fine contributes another one of his great Larryisms when Moe is on the receiving in of a face-full of broom bristles: “Beat it, grandpa! We ain’t got time for any kibitzers!” Highlights include Curly and Larry dressed like a horse in a Vaudeville act and their encounter with silent clown Chester Conklin (wearing trademark walrus mustache), and a strange seduction scene between Curly and Effie, the Bearded Lady.

Higher Than a Kite (1943)
Routine short begs wartime censorship questions. Moe, Larry, and Curly join the RAF hoping to become flyers but instead are assigned to the decidedly American-flavored motor pool where they completely destroy the colonel’s car. (This premise turns up in numerous other shorts.) The car makes like Herbie the Love Bug and attacks Curly, while Moe gets his head caught in a piece of pipe, putting him at the mercy of Larry and Curly’s ineptitude. (Viewers get a dentist’s-eye-view of Moe’s bridgework here.) They hide in a bomb that’s dropped behind German lines for the usual propaganda-filled climax. The RAF setting may have been a concession to wartime censors, who perhaps didn’t want the Stooges representing the US Army Air Force’s finest. The ending is also strange, featuring as it does an English bulldog identified as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. And just how did it get behind German lines? Another bomb? See Duke York as Kelly, a rare sizable, non-monster role for the Stooges.
(** ½)

“I Can Hardly Wait” (1943)
Early signs of Curly’s decline via a series of small strokes are on display in this oddly-structured short. The first segment spoofs wartime rationing (lost on us kids, this segment was often cut for TV syndication), with the trio settling down to enjoy a meal of real ham and eggs—I guess they’re not Orthodox—after a long day at the defense plant. “If the Japs ever knew how many planes we turned out today,” says Moe, “their yellow jaundice would turn green!” Gears shift and the two-reeler becomes a quasi-remake of Laurel & Hardy’s Leave ’Em Laughing (1928), with Curly suffering from a bad toothache. Then, weirdly, he dreams about Moe and Larry’s efforts to painlessly extract it and, later, being dragged to Y. Tug and A. Yank, Dentists (D.D.S., Ph.D., C.O.D., F.O.B., and P.D.Q.). Curly’s not at his best—his pupils lack their usual wild-eyed luster—and his moans of agony are painful instead of funny.
(** ½)

Dizzy Pilots (1943)
The last genuinely excellent Curly short, Dizzy Pilots has a set-up similar to Higher Than a Kite though executed infinitely better. Again with the war censorship: the Stooges play the Wrong Brothers, inventors of a new type of aircraft (the Buzzard) but are on the verge of being drafted into the army if it doesn’t fly. But this is not the U.S. Army, it seems. Instead, the short takes place in the Republic of Cannabeer (P.U.), apparently to avoid offending the US Army Air Force. Regardless, this is one funny short, with Moe falling (twice!) into a tub of “quick-drying melted rubber” and transformed into a human Hindenburg by Larry and Curly. When Moe admonishes Curly with, “Don’t saw the wings! You saw the garage,” Curly responds, “I see the garage but I do not saw it. You are speaking incorrectly. You are moidering the King’s English. Etcetera. See? Saw!” Priceless.

Phony Express (1943)
Weaker than usual Western spoof (in which the Pony Express figures not at all) has the Stooges, wanted for vagrancy, positioned by frustrated town officials as crack-shot marshals, sending outlaw-plagued Peaceful Gulch into a panic. The film opens with a very nice trick shot of the trio hiding behind a tree. Of unusual interest to silent comedy fans, “Snub” Pollard appears as Sheriff Hogwaller, Chester Conklin runs the saloon, and the whole show was co-written by silent clown Monte Collins, who as an actor appeared in some of the team’s best shorts. Curly wears a suspiciously thick bandage behind his right ear.

A Gem of a Jam (1943)
Clearly running out of steam as 1943 drew to a close (1943 being their most prolific year), this limp horror spoof is pretty uneventful, though it does offer African-American comic actor Dudley Dickerson a welcome, extended role as a night watchman sharing a couple of funny scenes with Curly. The Stooges are inept janitors cleaning a doctor’s office when crooks on the lam burst in demanding the doctor extract a wayward slug from their boss’s (John Tyrrell) wounded arm. Later, hiding out in a storage area, Curly falls into a trough filled with fast-drying plaster, which of course leads to him being mistaken for a ghost, albeit a pretty stiff and immobile one. Best line: “They picked him clean!”
(** ½)

Crash Goes the Hash (1944)
Pretty good if derivative later-Curly has the Stooges, actually dry cleaners (“We dye for you!”), mistaken for ace reporters by Starr Press editor Fuller Bull (Vernon Dent, looking unusually trim and fit). Promising a $100 bonus, he assigns them the impossible task of photographing Prince Shaam of Ubeedarn (Dick Curtis), who plans on marrying frumpy socialite Mrs. Van Bustle (Symona Boniface—Who else?). They work undercover, with Moe masquerading as a cook and Larry and Curly as butlers-for-hire. “Such levity!” admonishes their boss (Bud Jamison), “You remind me of the Three Stooges.” (A rare in-joke for these shorts.) This was Jamison’s last appearance in a Three Stooges short; he died later in 1944 at 49. Note Curly’s equally rare use of his normal voice while confiding to Larry. Best line: Curly to Mrs. Van Bustle, “Hey! I just gave you the boid!” Featuring that favorite shtick of DVD boxed set reviewers, the ol’ live parrot in the cooked turkey routine.
(*** ½)

Busy Buddies (1944)
“Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?” The trio operates the Jive Café, but owe Fred Kelsey back payments on some pies and reluctantly take on a second job hanging posters (again). One of them advertises a cow-milking contest paying $100 to the winner. Moe orders Curly to “get some practice” milking a bull, and later K.O. Bossy (Curly) is the hit of the county fair after Moe and Larry, in a cow suit and armed with a mock udder, make Curly look like an ace milker. But fame, as they say, is fleeting, and their ruse is soon discovered. Not bad.

The Yoke’s On Me (1944)
The most blatantly racist of Three Stooges shorts, this was pulled from syndication for many years, and with good reason. The Stooges try to join the army but are declared 4-F, much to the disappointment of their parents (Robert and Eva McKenzie, who were married in real life). To aid the war effort Moe, Larry, and Curly become farmers, buying a run-down farm strangely bereft of livestock, and so improbably they decide to carve some pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns. (They’re worth more than uncarved pumpkins.) Elsewhere, news spreads that a bunch of “Japs” has escaped from a relocation camp. If that weren’t enough, an ostrich has also escaped from a nearby circus. The ostrich gobbles down some blasting powder and, well, you can see where this one’s going. The problem here is that those “rat Japs” aren’t enemy spies but specifically Japanese-Americans. Today the imprisonment of resolutely loyal American immigrants and American-born Japanese-Americans is acknowledged as one of this country’s great injustices, but in this short they’re depicted as subhuman monsters. The Asian extras playing them have even been fitted with buckteeth! Yikes! Curly battles a hilariously unreal goose and has this exchange with his pals:

Curly: (Spotting a gander) “A pelican!”
Moe: “That’s no pelican, that’s a gander.”
Curly: “Mahatma gander?”
(** ½)

Idle Roomers (1944)
The Stooges are bellhops at the Hotel Snazzy-Plaza where front desk manager Eddie Laughton orders them to look after voluptuous new guest Christine McIntyre (in her series debut). The woman, as it turns out, has a jealous husband in Vernon Dent, a Vaudevillian planning to introduce Lupe the Wolf Man (Duke York) into the act. She’s horrified but he reassures her that Lupe is completely harmless: “Except when he hears music. Then he goes insane.” What are the odds Lupe’s going to hear some music before this short is over? York gives a spirited performance as Lupe who, incidentally, is also a hunchback. Some reviewers point to Curly’s waning strength here, but to me he seems more energetic here than most of his shorts from this period. Highlights include Curly trying to carry 18 suitcases and a steamer trunk on his back, and Curly and Duke’s “Mirror” routine. Near the end the Stooges try to escape Lupe’s clutches by ducking into an elevator, but Lupe grabs the hand of the floor indicator above the elevator doors, forcing it back to his floor. When I first saw this short as a child, that scene convinced me one could really control elevators that way.
(*** ½)

Gents Without Cents (1944)
A real anomaly, this short is a complete original; they made nothing else like it, before or after. Moe, Larry, and Curly play Vaudevillians teamed with Lindsay (Bourquin), Laverne (Thompson), and Betty (Phares), to acrobatic dancing what the Andrew Sisters were to Boogie-Woogie, for several USO style sketches and songs for the Noazark Shipbuilding Company’s defense workers. This is the short where the trio performs Slowly I Turned (aka Niagara Falls). Once a staple of Vaudeville, the routine is remembered today for its appearance in this short, as well as variations performed (several times) by Abbott & Costello, including in their 1944 release Lost in a Harem. The Lost in a Harem version is actually much better; in the Stooge short they make the mistake of doing the punch line several times before the set-up, though its reprise, with Moe and Larry and the three girls creeping up on Curly in their Model A Ford, is surreally funny. Supposedly much of the film’s footage was intended for the 1943 feature Good Luck, Mr. Yates (which does have a shipbuilding yards setting) and when the Stooges’ scenes were dropped this footage was salvaged by Jules White and re-integrated here. No classic, but a welcome change of pace from the usual slapstick. “Goslow!”

No Dough Boys (1944)
The Stooges are dressed and made-up as Japanese soldiers for a photo shoot (Larry wears buckteeth) and, forgetting their appearance decide to take their lunch break at a nearby diner, terrifying the owner, who’s just read a newspaper headline about three “Japs” on the loose (“Nips Bold Attack Fatal” reads the headline). In a wild coincidence, they escape into an alley, activate a hidden door, and find themselves in the home of Nazi spy Vernon Dent—who just happens to be expecting the three Japanese soldiers: Naki, Saki, and Waki. German von Dent immediately recognizes the trio as non-Asian but plays along anyway, hoping to get information from these “spies.” He introduces them to Celia Zweiback (Christine McIntyre), Amelia Schwarzbrot (Kelly Flint), and Stella Pumpernickel (Judy Malcolm). Trying to keep up the ruse, the Stooges perform a variation of their wrestling shtick from Restless Knights (1935). “Me no top man!” There’s an awful lot of smoking in this short, by virtually everyone in the cast, including Curly, who smokes his thumb just like Stan Laurel did in Way Out West. Not very good, partly because it’s disconcerting to see the Stooges spend the entire two reels in “Jap” make-up and wardrobe.
(** ½)

Three Pests in a Mess (1945)
Pretty funny two-reeler opens with Curly mistaken by grifter Christine McIntyre (of the Cheatum Investment Co.) as the lucky winner of a $100,000 sweepstakes. In fact, Curly was just referring to the trio’s latest invention, an elaborate fly-catching device. During the melee Moe’s face gets covered with black ink, prompting Larry’s indignant, “What’s the idea, porter?!” For reasons too complicated to explain, Curly inadvertently shoots a mannequin that the Stooges mistake for a dead body. “Hurry up!” says Larry, “He’s getting stiff!” What follows is a reworking of shorts like Laurel & Hardy’s Habeas Corpus (1928), with the three trying to ditch the “body” at the Ever Rest Pet Cemetery. There, owners Philip Black (Vernon Dent) and his associates, investigating, coincidentally happen to be decked out in spooky costumes for a masquerade party. Snub Pollard also appears. The ultra-cheap cemetery sets look like something left over from a high school play.

Booby Dupes (1945)
The screenplay is credited to director Del Lord, but ol’ Del surely must have seen Laurel & Hardy’s classic Towed in a Hole (1932), for this remake even quotes from that short’s dialogue nearly line-for-line. The Stooges are fish peddlers until Curly suggests if they caught their own fish they wouldn’t have to pay for it and it’d be clear profit. They buy a rickety boat and, going further than Laurel & Hardy did back in ’32, actually get their boat in the water. A funny fishing sequence ensues and, later, their boat in distress and trying to signal a passing plane, they grab a paint-stained rag that looks like a Japanese Rising Sun flag. Big mistake. “Hey!” Moe yells, “It’s the Stooges!” Curly’s condition varies; he’s in top form at the beginning and end of the short, but in what plays like a shoehorned vignette involving Curly stealing navy Capt. Vernon Dent’s uniform and flirting with his dame (Rebel Randall), he’s off his game.
(*** ½)

Idiots Deluxe (1945)
Moe’s nerves are shot. “Quit stomping around!” he bellows at a passing cat. And no wonder: roommates Larry and Curly’s “The Original Two-Man Quartet” are constantly practicing with their noisy instruments. On trial for assaulting Larry and Curly (This is new?), Moe tells judge Vernon Dent his tale of woe. Again taking the lead from Laurel & Hardy (this time their 1934 two-reeler Them Thar Hills), Curly and Larry take Moe to the country for what’s supposed to be a peaceful hunting trip. “I just saw a sign that said, ’Fine for Hunting!’” reassures Larry. Instead, the Stooges get mixed up with a wandering, hungry bear, though clearly not too wild as its collar is visible in several shots. The uncredited bear is a wonder, however, in one scene consuming an entire jar of honey with its impressively long and agile tongue. Curly checked himself into the hospital shortly after filming this short, where he was found to be suffering from hypertension and retinal hemorrhage. Perhaps for this reason, the lion’s share of the comedy falls to Moe, particularly during the courtroom scenes. This was the first short to feature the Greco-Roman mask of the muse Thalia in the upper left-hand corner of the opening credits, which actually kind of creeped me out watching these as a kid.

If a Body Meets a Body (1945)
By far the most blatant steal from the Laurel & Hardy canon was this remake of The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930), which goes so far as to cast perennial flatfoot Fred Kelsey in the same role saying the same lines. Gilbert Pratt, a former Hal Roach employee, is credited with the story on the remake, but not at all on the original. Regardless, in every way this haunted house/murder mystery comedy is vastly inferior to the Laurel & Hardy version, in part because Curly’s health takes a real nosedive: he suffered a (second? third?) stroke shortly before this was made, and his performance is downright painful to watch. His speech is notably slurred (“Let’s try lighta candle an look unner bed”) and much of his dialogue very clearly had to be redubbed during postproduction, a rarity for these things. The best thing about this short is Al Thompson’s impressively credible performance as the corpse of millionaire Bob O. Link.
(* ½)

Micro-Phonies (1945)
Generally regarded as Curly’s last hurrah (though he’d rally one last time for at least parts of Three Little Pirates), Micro-Phonies is well regarded by Stooge fans. At 35mm Stooge festivals audiences would applaud madly when its title card appeared, but I find it fair at best. Curly is still way off his game, though he’s in better shape than the previous short and almost all that would follow. The Stooges are handymen at radio station KGBY. They overhear socialite soprano Alice Van Doren (Christine McIntyre) auditioning with Voices of Spring under the pseudonym “Miss Andrews” because of her position in society and its anti-showbiz attitudes. Soon after Curly lip-syncs to Alice’s recording, in drag, impressing wealthy Mrs. Bixby (Symona Boniface). She hires “Señorita Cucaracha” to sing at her dinner party, a formal affair also attended by Alice as well as a pompous, jealous Italian baritone (Gino Corrado, Citizen Kane). Most of this short is below average, but Curly’s inspired drag performance certainly compensates.

Beer Barrel Polecats (1946)
Curly’s decline and the sharp contrast his performances had become even when compared to shorts produced just a few years before is painfully clear in Beer Barrel Polecats. Looking notably thinner (Curly, Moe, and Larry are about the same weight in this) and inexpressive throughout, his face almost like a mask, Curly was in such sorry shape—his slurred dialogue includes the line, “Hey Moe, za beerza boyin!”—director Jules White resorted to an extensive use of stock footage for about half of this short’s running time. Unable to buy beer (this being the end of the war) the trio decides to make beer at home for themselves, with disastrous results. After being arrested for trying to sell beer to a cop (a la Laurel & Hardy’s Pardon Us), the rest of the short consists mostly of stock footage from In the Sweet Pie and Pie and So Long Mr. Chumps (both 1941), until brief new footage finds them released from prison—in 1986! The mad jumble of disconnected footage makes little sense.

A Bird in the Head (1946)
When gorilla suit actor Art Miles is funnier than Curly, you know you’re in trouble. Professor Panzer (Vernon Dent) wants to transplant Curly’s brain into the hand of his pet gorilla, Igor. Though standard haunted house-type hijinks, Dent’s wild-eyed, maniacal scientist is very funny, while Art Miles’s Igor, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Curly, gets some bona fide laughs on his own. Tex Avery animated the cartoon cuckoo clock that appears in the X-ray of Curly’s head, reportedly. Former sound man Edward Bernds made his directorial debut with this short, later recalling the ailing comedian’s state while trying to direct an agonizing (wall) paper-hanging scene. After helming numerous Stooge shorts Bernds graduated (?) to Monogram’s Bowery Boys features and later he made numerous cut-rate sci-fi films like Queen of Outer Space and Return of the Fly before returning to direct a couple of Joe De Rita-era Stooge features.

Uncivil War Birds (1946)
Curly’s performance in A Bird in the Head was pretty tepid; here the opposite is true: he’s a bit livelier but the short is dreadful, maybe the worst of the Curlys. Its title is similar to Uncivil Warriors (1935), a two-reeler this reviewer would rank among the Top Five of their 190 shorts. What’s more, this is actually a remake of a Columbia two-reeler starring Buster Keaton, Mooching Through Georgia (1939). Though that short hardly ranks alongside The General it’s fairly funny, and infinitely better than this. Heck, Ned Glass is funnier in that short than anything in Uncivil War Birds. Probably because the Stooges appear briefly in blackface (with Curly as an Aunt Jemima-type) this short was at one time harder to see than most.

Three Troubledoers (1946)
Like A Bird in the Head, this is another halfway decent short with a poor Curly performance, an otherwise funny spoof of B-Westerns, written by their one-time director, Preston Black/Jack White. Badlands Blackie (Dick Curtis, who resembles director/actor John Huston) threatens to kill the local blacksmith unless his daughter, Nell (Christine McIntyre) agrees to marry him. Curly, meanwhile, is mistaken for a crack shot and appointed sheriff. Stooge Injury Department: Stagehands had to pry Moe’s eyes open to scoop gobs of black soot from underneath his eyelids after a bazooka gun gag went awry.

Monkey Businessmen (1946)
Just as A Bird in the Head benefited from the support of Vernon Dent and Art Miles, this short—and Curly’s painful performance—is helped by a great supporting cast: Stooge regulars Kenneth MacDonald and Cy Schindell, comedy veterans Fred Kelsey and Snub Pollard, and sexy Jean Willes. Pencil-mustached, velvety-voiced MacDonald, in this his first Stooge short, specialized in ruthless criminal types and would become a familiar player of the Shemp era. (Ironically, MacDonald later found fame as part of the rotating roster of judges on Perry Mason.) In this short, crook MacDonald runs a sanitarium, where he fleeces patients like the Three Stooges. Curly’s in such bad shape Moe can be seen nudging him at one point, cueing him to deliver a line a dialogue. When Moe and Larry beat up Curly at the end, his cries of agony are painful instead of funny.

Three Loan Wolves (1946)
Especially weak short told in flashback, about the origins of the Stooges’ “son,” little Egbert (Jackie Jackson, later one of Ma & Pa Kettle’s brood). Larry dominates the action in this, his most prominent part since the team’s debut Columbia short, Woman Haters in 1934. Likely Larry’s part was intended for Curly, who is lethargic throughout. Gangster Butch McGee (Harold “Tiny” Brauer) expects a payoff but the Stooges aren’t budging. Look for Shemp’s notorious stand-in/imitator Joe Palma as one of Butch’s henchmen. In shorts like these Curly attempts something like a reworked screen persona; the falsetto voice is back, but instead of being manic and gleefully stupid, here he’s dull-witted and infantile, more like gregarious Our Gang kid Joe Cobb.

G.I. Wanna Home (1946)
Referencing the housing shortage that was also the subject of Columbia’s The More the Merrier (1943), George Stevens’s famous comedy, the Stooges wanna get married (to Judy Malcolm, Ethelreda Leopold, and Doris Houck) but have no threshold to carry their new brides over. At first they turn an empty lot into a faux household, mowing the carpet, etc. Later on they end up in a tiny apartment, which becomes an excuse to rework—badly—the climbing-the-three-storey-bunk bed gag from In the Sweet Pie and Pie. The film also features another comedy standby: the live-parrot-in-the-roasted-turkey gag. Curly is in sorry shape here, and his speech more slurred than ever—talking about the “haunted” turkey: “Evry time I pudda craka takesit away!” He does a potato-shaving gag similar to an ice-shaving bit from An Ache in Every Stake (1941), but his timing here is slow and imprecise.

Rhythm and Weep (1946)
One of the interesting things about this period of Stoogedom is the occasional experimentation with the format. Whereas the Stooges made a preponderance of the kind of standard genre comedies all teams did, during this period they dabbled with topical storylines (as in G.I. Wanna Home) and musical-revue type shorts. This one is quite like the similarly offbeat Gents without Cents (1944), with the Stooges teaming up with three women dancers curiously not played by the dancers from that film. (They are played here by Ruth Godfrey, Gloria Patrice, and Nita Bieber, the latter a Dorothy Appleby-type; Godfrey was the daughter-in-law of director Jules White.) Bizarrely, they meet when all six decide to commit suicide by jumping off a tall building; on the skyscraper’s rooftop they flirt with one another as well as death (Curly eats a pie first, “So I can digest right!”) before being “discovered” by lunatic investor Jack Norton. The company’s “Stooge Follies” consist of a drag ballet act, some dancing by the girls, and an army/medical examination skit with double-entendres that somehow made it past the censors. (Moe, agitated: “This guy won’t let me take his clothes off!” The blackout gag hints at transvestism.) Other atypical gags abound: Larry breaks the “fourth wall” when, embraced by one of the girls, he turns to the camera saying, “This I like! And I get paid for it, too!” Overall, a fun and novel short, featuring Curly with much longer hair—a veritable buzz cut—than any of his starring shorts and probably his last-ever first class “Woo-woo-woo!”

Three Little Pirates (1946)
Featuring the trio’s signature “Maharaja” routine—“Maha?” “Aha! Razbanyi siati benefuchi...”—the general consensus about this short is correct: though his speech remains slurred at times, Curly clearly was rallying back. Physically he’s the most active he’d been in at least a dozen or so shorts (though in one scene, where the Stooges fall through a jail cell wall, Moe and Larry perform part of the gag while Curly remains absent, replaced by a stunt double); he even manages a couple of well-timed, very funny pratfalls. Though he still struggles with some of the dialogue—another familiar line, when Curly chooses burning at the stake over decapitation “because a hot steak is better than a cold chop”—is pretty mush-mouthed, he nevertheless does the tongue-twisting “Maharaja” routine to perfection. (And is superior to Joe DeRita’s later take on the same material, in The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze. Almost thirty years later, Moe performed the routine, quite amusingly, on The Mike Douglas Show with Soupy Sales.) The story, such as it is, casts the Stooges as garbage scow sailors trying to rescue beautiful Rita (Christine McIntyre) from Dead Man’s Island. Even more bizarrely than usual, the story makes no attempt to hide its obvious anachronisms: it’s set in 1672 but the Stooges are initially seen in modern dress, and the island has all the modern conveniences, including electricity!

Half-Wits Holiday (1947)
Curly’s last starring short is a remake of Hoi-Polloi (1935), but with a spectacular pie fight finish. It features one of the most justly famous exchanges in film comedy history: Moe, seeing a pie about to become unstuck from the ceiling, is nervously making small talk with socialite Mrs. Smythe-Smythe (Symona Boniface):

Mrs. Smythe-Smythe: “Why young man, you act as though the Sword of Damocles were hanging above you.”
Moe: “Lady, you must be psychic!”


Although Curly indirectly gets the gooey melee started—he steals the pie which Moe angrily snatches away, the one that ends up sticking to the ceiling—his career-ending stroke precluded his participation for the Big Finish. Like Three Little Pirates, outwardly Curly’s in better shape overall, though director Jules White mostly shoves him to the sidelines, and in some scenes the joke is Curly’s stoic lack of a reaction, clearly a way to get around having to rely on him for physical bits or memorized lines. Still, there’s one last little flash of the once-great comedian: an etiquette-training dinner with imaginary food (his reaction to a tube of lipstick is priceless), and there’s a nice bit—possibly ad-libbed—where after a frustrated Vernon Dent pulls out some of his hair, Curly gleefully tries the little tuft on his own bald scalp.
(*** ½)

Fright Night (1947)
Curly’s sudden incapacitation threw a monkey wrench into Columbia’s short subjects schedule. Their next intended short, Pardon My Terror, was rewritten for Gus Schilling (who played the head waiter in Citizen Kane) and Richard Lane, who had scored opposite Laurel & Hardy in the recent Fox feature The Bullfighters; it began production four days after Curly’s stroke. Meanwhile, Moe and Curly’s older brother Shemp replaced him for this funny boxing world comedy, his last-minute casting made obvious in the opening titles, where a too-big photograph of Shemp’s head has replaced Curly’s. Though for years the Curly and Shemp (and for that matter, Joe Besser) shorts were jumbled together for television broadcasts and 35mm retrospectives, it’s still a bit jarring to see Shemp in Curly’s place after 97 consecutive shorts with Curly. (I was also surprised to see that, while the Stooges were singularly short themselves, all about 5’1” or thereabouts, Shemp has several inches over both Moe and Larry. The DVDs are also so clear that one also notices the dense concentration of freckles on Shemp’s features, particularly his pale hands.)

Shemp transitions back effortlessly to the Stooge fold, helped no doubt by the fact that he had recently co-starred with Billy Gilbert and “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom in a quasi-stooge feature for Monogram, Trouble Chasers (1945), and was already familiar with Columbia’s short subject department having appeared in nine comedies for them prior to replacing Curly. This short also benefits from the fine support of Dick Wessel (Dick Tracy vs. Cueball) as the Stooges’ fighter.

(Weird Observation Department: The Shemp Years might also be termed the Warehouse Full of Crates Years. For a while there it seemed like every Shemp short found time for a big chase in a labyrinthine maze of wooden crates in some lonely warehouse, cargo hold, or baggage car.)

Out West (1947)
A funny Western spoof co-written by Clyde Bruckman, this short features Christine McIntyre playing yet another Nell, this time fretting about her kidnapped boyfriend, The Arizona Kid (played by the great Jock Mahoney, a hell of a guy) kidnapped by the villainous Doc Barker (Jack Norman). Shemp is out west for his health, recovering from an enlarged vein in his leg, which his doctor (Vernon Dent) obligingly sketches. When Shemp boasts about “the biggest vein you ever saw” and shows Barker the sketch, he thinks Shemp’s talking about buried gold, leading to some very funny dialogue, with “Doc” promising Shemp, “If it’s near the surface we’ll use 20 men with pick axes and shovels!” Gravelly-voiced Stanley Blystone has a memorable scene as the Cavalry officer who swears, “Son, never in the history of motion pictures has the U.S. Cavalry been late!”

Hold That Lion (1947)
Almost as good as the team’s classic 1936 short A Pain in the Pullman, this fine comedy finds Moe, Larry, and Shemp on the trail of crook Ichabod Slipp (Kenneth MacDonald), with much of the action similarly set aboard a train. Memorable moments: African-American comedian Dudley Dickerson as a porter menaced by an escaped lion—“Help! Help! I’m losing my mind!”—Shemp sparring with I. Slipp, and an uncredited cameo appearance by Curly Howard, with a full head of hair, as a sleeping passenger, in the only short ever to feature Moe, Shemp, and Curly together.
(**** ½)

Brideless Groom (1947)
Now in the public domain, this and the next short, Sing a Song of Six Pants are, along with the Curly two-reeler Disorder in the Court, among the most widely circulated Stooge comedies. This one’s a gem, one of Shemp’s Top Five, and like Hold That Lion it features one funny scene after another, with three or four big laughs in its 16 ½-minute running time. Clyde Bruckman reworks the classic Buster Keaton feature Seven Chances (1925), which he co-wrote, with Shemp set to inherit a fortune if he can find a bride and marry her within 24 hours. This short features a terrific scene with Moe and Shemp trapped in a telephone booth, tangled in wires, including a great cutaway to a Shemp that frightens a prospective bride. Homely Dee Green is a delight as voice teacher Shemp’s untalented pupil, as is Christine McIntyre as a neighbor who mistakes Shemp for someone else (“Cousin Basil!”) then socks him in the kisser when she realizes her mistake (breaking Shemp’s nose for real in the process). But stealing the show is Emil Sitka as the doddering justice of the peace, who delivers the immortal line, “Hold hands, you lovebirds!” (And immortal it is: Sitka had it carved onto his tombstone.)

Sing a Song of Six Pants (1947)
Good short casts the Stooges as tailors who can’t spell—the names on the store window are “Lary [sic!], Moe & Shemp.” Worried that their tailoring equipment is about to be repossessed by the Skin and Flint Finance Corporation (it received billions in the recent bailout, no doubt) Moe, Larry, and Shemp are inspired by a radio announcement (delivered off-camera by director Jules White) to capture fugitive bank robber “Slippery Fingers” Hargan (Harold “Tiny” Brauer). A testament to Shemp’s talent is a brief but hilarious scene with him sitting quietly reading the funny papers (Sunday comics), unable to contain his unabashed amusem*nt. Funny!

All Gummed Up (1947)
Entering the realm of fantasy, this short casts the team as drugstore pharmacists who invent a fountain of youth drug—all because their crotchety old landlord, Amos Flint (Emil Sitka)—“My lumbago!”—threatens to evict them. After turning the clock back on Flint’s old wife (Christine McIntyre) they transform him into a bearded child, or a midget, or something. (One special effect shot of Sitka is very good.) In what plays like an afterthought, McIntyre bakes a marshmallow jumbo layer cake, but Shemp accidentally decorates it with bubblegum, hence the short’s title. Good sight gags abound: Larry pulling a lit candle out of his mouth, blowing it out and eating it (how’d they do that?) and Shemp blowing bubbles from inside (not behind) his ears. A cutaway to gag with Symona Boniface reveals one of the most fake backdrops in movie history.

Shivering Sherlocks (1948)
The last Stooge short directed by long-timer Del Lord is a fun noir thriller cum haunted house comedy, with the trio first going to work for Christine McIntyre’s Elite Café, and later pay a visit to her old homestead, used as a hideout by armored car robber “Lefty” Loomis (Kenneth MacDonald—who else?). Ah, but this time ol’ Kenneth’s got a mutated hunchback in his employ, Angel, played by Stooge monster specialist Duke York, who’s genuinely demented-looking in this. The first-half of this strong two-reeler oddly has Moe at the center of the old live-Oyster-in-the-soup gag, with the bossy stooge even making like Curly during the routine. Shemp suggests what might have been in a brief reaction shot, where his expression of terror at the carnivorous clam is priceless.

Pardon My Clutch (1948)
Matt McHugh, character actor Frank McHugh’s apparently untalented brother, inexplicably is prominently featured in this short as Claude, a pal of the Stooges. Shemp is bedridden with what turns out to be nothing more than a bad toothache, and there’s some very strained comedy in the first reel as Claude, Moe and Larry try and cure him. Things improve when the Stooges decide to go on a little vacation, and Claude sells them his ancient “Columbus,” a lemon of a car dating back to the 1920s at least. (I have no idea what this car actually is. Anybody out there know?) As with Laurel & Hardy’s Perfect Day, the rest of the short follows the Stooges and their wives simply trying to drive off (the Columbia Ranch), but multiple disasters keep delaying their getaway. Maybe everyone knew this was a lemon, too: it’s the shortest of the team’s 190 shorts.

Squareheads of the Round Table (1948)
Atypically lavish-looking short thanks to some standing sets leftover from Columbia’s now-forgotten Robin Hood swashbuckler The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946). It’s almost a musical with the Stooges cast as medieval troubadours, and Sergei Hasenecz helpfully notes “this is one of the funniest spoofs of the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor ever done.” Besides familiar faces like Vernon Dent, Christine McIntyre, and (the great) Jock Mahoney, this film marks the Stooge debut of Phil Van Zandt (usually cast as foreign villains), who like Gus Schilling had appeared in Citizen Kane. (Van Zandt played Mr. Rawlston, the newsreel producer who tells reporter Thompson that Rosebud “Will probably turn out to be a very simple thing.”) Once again, there’s lots of funny dialogue—Guard: “The king commands your presence!” Shemp, indignant: “We ain’t got any presents—the stores are all closed!” Later, when the trio, disguised as knights, decides to entertain the king (Dent) with an anachronistic soft-shoe version of Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home, Moe turns to a radio for musical accompaniment. “Are you crazy?” asks Larry, “this is ancient times!” Moe’s reply: “This is an ancient radio.” And so it is.

Fiddlers Three (1948)
The head of Columbia’s short subject department, director Jules White, reportedly didn’t get along with producer Hugh McCollum and new director/partner Edward Bernds; this short may offer some clues. Both this and Squareheads use the same second-hand castle sets and tell virtually identical stories with identical casts (once again, Vernon Dent is the king, Phil Van Zandt the villain, etc.), but where the McCollum/Bernds Squareheads is funny and inspired, White’s Fiddlers Three is labored and silly. It doesn’t help that the rescue-the-princess climax is a reworking of Restless Knights, with the same gags much funnier the first time around. Still, Dent makes a fine Old King Cole (of Coleslaw-vania) and the Stooges amusingly appear, albeit briefly, as Jack Sprat (Shemp), Little Miss Muffet (Larry), and Simple Simon (Moe).

The Hot Scots (1948)
The last of the “castle set” shorts, this one cashes in on renewed American interest in Scotland following the success of Brigadoon on Broadway. McMoe, McLarry, and McShemp are working as greens men for Scotland Yard, later masquerading as Scottish (!) detectives guarding the valuables at Glenheather Castle, where Lorna Doone (Christine McIntyre) and MacPherson, the butler (comedy veteran Theodore Lorch, who died before this was released), are conspiring against the Earl (Herb Evans). Okay haunted castle gags ensue, slapstick later reprised for The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962). McIntyre, introducing herself: “Perhaps you heard of it, ’tis Lorna Doone.” Shemp: “Hi Lorna, how ya doin’?”

Heavenly Daze (1948)
Wrongly assumed to be PD and briefly released to DVD by another label, this top-flight short opens with Shemp having died and gone to heaven, where his Uncle Mortimer (Moe, decked out like his namesake, Moses) sends Shemp back down to earth to reform no-goodniks Moe and Larry. After rescuing Shemp’s estate money from the greedy clutches of attorney I. Fleecem (Vernon Dent), Moe and Larry use the dough to finance a swindle, courting rich investors Symona Boniface and Victor Travers with their fountain pen that will write under whipped cream. When the pen flies through the air like a spear, impaling Larry in the forehead, the gag went wrong and Larry’s look of agony is genuine. (After his “stroke of luck,” Larry enjoyed telling the tale to visitors at the Motion Picture Country Home.) There are lots of funny gags including Shemp running into a rain cloud, played by a piece of painted cardboard, but the best laugh is perhaps unintentional: Moe and Larry failing to notice that a nearby bed is engulfed in flames, spewing smoke, and that their friend Shemp is on fire!

I’m a Monkey’s Uncle (1948)
“Any similarity between the characters in this picture and real monkeys is definitely unfair to the monkeys.” The Stooges enter a realm later monopolized by The Flintstones in this amusing prehistoric farce. Moe, Larry, and Shemp are cavemen preparing for a date with cavegirls Aggie (Virginia Hunter), Maggie (Nancy Saunders), and Baggie (Dee Green, with blacked-out teeth). Funny scenes include Larry’s extreme aversion to cool water, and Shemp being tickled while churning butter. Featuring one of the first mentions of UFOs in a motion picture: Shemp, referring to Aggie: “Yowsa! She’s a flying saucer!”
(*** ½)

Mummy’s Dummies (1948)
Not a remake of We Want Our Mummy, but rather a story set in ancient Egypt, where the Stooges play used chariot salesmen. Sentenced to death for their dishonesty by King Rootentootin (Vernon Dent, playing the title character from We Want Our Mummy, though in that short Rootentootin was a midget), the trio are made royal chamberlains after curing the king’s toothache. Later, oily Phil Van Zandt is up to his old tricks, stealing tax funds. Best laugh in this atypical but weak short is a throwaway gag suggesting Vernon Dent’s king is a dirty old man.

Crime on Their Hands (1948)
Very noirish crime comedy has Stooges playing would-be reporters (“Stop the presses!”) on the trail of Dapper Malone (Kenneth MacDonald at his most villainous), who with moll Bea (Christine McIntyre) and henchman Muscles (Cy Schindell) have stolen the Punjab Diamond. When Shemp accidentally swallows the gem, Dapper unhesitatingly wants to cut Shemp open like a fish. A fey monster gorilla (Ray Corrigan?) comes to the rescue: “I helped!” it tells police. Tragic Stooge regular Schindell, whose tropical ulcer in Guadalcanal as a marine during World War II had evolved into terminal cancer, makes his final film appearance.
(*** ½)

The Ghost Talks (1949)
The team’s 113th short subject is one of their strangest, a “bottle show” (the entire short takes place within a few adjoining rooms) with Moe (Howard), Larry (Fine), and Shemp (Howard) cast as movers assigned to transport items from Smorgasbord Castle. However, an empty suit of armor, inhabited by the ghost of Peeping Tom, is reluctant to leave, eventually telling the trio about his chance sighting of Lady Godiva (who, alas, turns up wearing a contemporary swimsuit and is played with inexplicable boredom by Nancy Saunders). Written by Felix Adler, it’s schizophrenic even by Stooge standards; the Stooges are alternately terrified by, friendly to, and grouchy toward the suit of armor, which is equipped with a slot machine-like payout dispenser. Phil Arnold, a short, bald comic actor (whose shirt is ruined by Shemp in Six a Song of Six Pants) provides Peeping Tom’s voice, though in a flashback scene the role is essayed by some anonymous bit player. There’s some funny haunted house gags—watch Larry nearly decapitate Moe!—and Shemp has a funny scene scaring himself in a mirror, but all told this plays like a feeble attempt to cash in on Abbott & Costello’s recent horror-comedies successes—the Stooges even wear the same kind of moving company uniforms A&C did in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Who Done It? (1949)
A Shemp classic, this short casts the Stooges as detectives charged with protecting eccentric millionaire Mr. Goodrich (Emil Sitka) from the Phantom Gang, whose members include the old geezer’s own niece (Christine McIntyre, clearly enjoying the femme fatale part) and wild-haired goon Nikko (Duke York, in another genuinely unsettling characterization). A fine Bernds-McCollum production, this features the classic switcheroo routine with Shemp and Christine, each aware that one of two glasses on the table before them is poisoned. The show climaxes with a hilarious free-for-all fight with the lights (mostly) turned off. The great Dudley Dickerson appears as a janitor at the beginning.
(**** ½)

Hokus Pokus (1949)
Though the Jules White-directed two-reelers were notably lacking in story, occasionally his writers (in this case, the prolific Felix Adler) hit upon some great gags. This is the classic short where paperhangers Moe, Larry, and Shemp are hypnotized by the great—if criminally irresponsible—Svengarlic (David Bond), and made to dance on the flagpole high up alongside a tall building. When Svengarlic is knocked out cold by a distracted bicyclist “the boys” are on their own. Moe’s real-life neighbor, Ned Glass, appears uncredited as Svengarlic’s manager. A subplot in which a scheming blonde, Mary (Mary Ainslee), commits insurance fraud by pretending to be confined to a wheelchair, totally confused innumerable Stooge fans: in the 1956 remake, Flagpole Jitters, Mary really is paraplegic! “You are now in Sing Sing!” “I am now in Sing Sing.”
(**** ½)

Fuelin’ Around (1949)
This terrific, all-star Stooge short has the team working as carpet-layers at the home of rocket scientist Professor Sneed (Emil Sitka), who lives with his young daughter (Christine McIntyre, who was actually three years older than Sitka!). Larry is mistaken for Sneed by Anemian spies (not Armenian, as Wikipedia claims!), a thinly-coded Communist country, and the Stooges are kidnapped. Under threat of death Larry has to come up with a new rocket fuel. Six actors get title card credit: McIntyre, Sitka, Vernon Dent, Philip Van Zandt, Andre Pola, and Jock Mahoney (as Jacques O’Mahoney). This is one of those mini-movie-type shorts discussed above. It’s got a great story, funny gags, makes good use of a picturesque backlot street, and has a terrific chase finish.
(**** ½)

Malice in the Palace (1949) The last of the Three Stooges shorts in the public domain, Malice in the Palace has turned up in myriad 99¢ DVD compilations, but it never looked as good as it does here. This Jules White-Felix Adler gem has the Stooges running a restaurant somewhere in the Middle East, where their efforts to feed two threatening customers, Hassan Ben Sober (Vernon Dent) and Gin-a-Rummy (George J. Lewis) results in many classic gags. Moe, Shemp, and the two tough customers become convinced Larry is feeding them freshly-slaughtered cat and dog. (The scene includes the disquieting, Daliesque gag of a wiener affectionately licking Shemp with its “tongue.”) The Stooges eventually are persuaded to try and retrieve the lost diamond of Rootentooten, stolen by the Emir of Schmow (Johnny Kascier). (The Schmow must live near Moronica, as the same map last seen in 1941’s I’ll Never Heil Again is consulted.)

Classic exchange:
Moe: (To Hassan Ben Sober) “You mean to tell me you’re only a doorman?”
Shemp: “Well there’s the door, man!” (Kicks Hassan in the butt)

Vagabond Loafers (1949)
A reworking of the classic Curly short A Plumbing We Will Go (1940), Vagabond Loafers, from the Bernds-McCollum team (and adapted by frequent collaborator Elwood Ullman), is the first of innumerable remakes of old Curly shorts, though few are as well done as this. It’s an utterly fascinating short: classic Curly scenes are redone gag-for-gag with Shemp, whose screen persona doesn’t match the material as well, while enough new material is integrated so that Stooge fans won’t at all feel cheated. This may also be the first Stooge short in which an actor has been brought back to match new scenes with older stock footage scenes he filmed years before. In this case, hilarious footage from the 1940 short of Dudley Dickerson as a cook besieged by the havoc wreaked by the Stooges’ crazy mixed-up plumbing is matched with new scenes of Dickerson, now nine years older and about 30 pounds heavier, putting in a brief appearance near the end. It’s positively bizarre; the new Dickerson footage is welcome but unnecessary; a butler also in the short could have delivered the same two lines—maybe the Stooges (or Bernds, or McCollum) simply wanted to give the underrated comedian some work. Emil Sitka continues to show his great versatility as wealthy Mr. Norfleet, whose priceless Van Brocklin is stolen by Kenneth MacDonald and Christine McIntyre in the subplot, which also features character actress Symona Boniface in her final Stooge appearance.
(*** ½)

Dunked in the Deep (1949)
Allegedly suggested by the “Pumpkin Papers,” microfilm hidden by Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers in a hollowed-out pumpkin, this short has the Stooges unwittingly assisting friendly neighbor Mr. Borscht (Gene Roth, made-up to resemble Stalin), actually a spy himself, get his stash of watermelons out of the country. The four wind up in the hold of a cargo ship bound for the Old Country. South Dakota-born Roth specialized in shady German types in cheap ’40s films but was even better playing shady Russian types in Three Stooges comedies. He even has the best line, growling at the Stooges, in possession of the microfilm: “Give me that fil-lum!” Highlight: Moe thinks Shemp has puked all over him, in a nauseatingly funny gag that somehow made it past the censors. And that sure sounds like Moe’s voice on the radio at the beginning of the picture.

Punchy Cowpunchers (1949)
Yet another example of how superior the Bernds/McCollum shorts were to the concurrently-made Jules White-directed ones. Punchy Cowpunchers is a B-Western spoof along the lines of the late-period Curly short The Three Troubledoers (1946). What’s interesting about this short is how far it deviates from the usual Stooge two-reeler, all in service to the comedy. Rare among the Stooge’s Columbia two-reelers it’s got a musical score and it plays more like an ensemble comedy. Co-stars Christine McIntyre (as Sweetheart Nell), Dick Wessel (Cavalry Sergeant Mullins) and Emil Sitka (as Captain Daley) all get to be funny on their own, separate from the Stooges, especially McIntyre, as a damsel in obviously less distress than usual. But the short really belongs to Jock Mahoney (here billed as Jacques O’Mahoney) as terminally clumsy cowboy hero Elmer—possibly a direct, unflattering spoof of much-disliked Columbia B-Western star Allan “Rocky” Lane, whom Mahoney strongly resembles. (Or not: As Tom Weaver helpfully points out, Lane at this time was under contract at Republic, not Columbia! Thanks, Tom.) Mahoney is hilarious (“I keep forgettin’ ma gee-tar”) and does several acrobatic pratfalls worthy of Buster Keaton. Note the padding that falls out of villain Kenneth MacDonald’s hat after he gets clunked on the head by Larry.

Hugs and Mugs (1950)
Back to Jules White, and another especially lame short, this one casting the Stooges as furniture reupholsters. The clumsy script has three beautiful jailbirds (Christine McIntyre, Nanette Bordeaux, and Kathleen O’Malley) trying to retrieve a $50,000 pearl necklace purchased but presumed worthless by the Stooges. More silly than funny, the short has virtually no story, just a lot of labored tit-for-tat gags, with the three ladies more often than not on the receiving end. Not memorable.

Dopey Dicks (1950)
For the umpteenth time, the Stooges are would-be detectives in haunted house-type surroundings. In this one, they’re janitors cleaning the office of Sam Shovel, Private Eye, when a mysterious blonde (Christine McIntyre), mistaking Shemp for Shovel, pleads for his help just before she’s kidnapped. The rest of the short is a reworking of A Bird in the Head, this time with Philip Van Zandt in the mad scientist role, and Stanley Price as his butler, with the very unbutlerly name of Ralph. Instead of the usual gorilla, Van Zandt is trying to perfect a robot army, and one of his headless creations wanders around the room listlessly. It’s not very good, though both Van Zandt and Price give impressively monomaniacal performances, and the bizarre horror ending is offbeat.

Love at First Bite (1950)
No vampire comedy here; rather, this short opens with nearly a full reel of non-stop eye-poking and head-banging by the trio before the story finally gets underway. In flashbacks Moe, Larry, and Shemp each recall meeting their respective fiancées while serving in Europe. Larry falls for an Italian waitress (Marie Monteil), Moe goes gaga over a pigtailed soprano (Christine McIntyre, in her sixth appearance out of the last eight shorts) in Vienna, while Shemp is enamored of a French girl (Yvette Reynard) in Paris.

Somewhat out of character, the celebratory Stooges—the girls’ ship is due later that day—get dead drunk on 100 proof “Old Panther,” get into a fight and pass out, but not before Moe and Larry think they’ve killed Shemp in the melee. Larry suggest they put best-pal Shemp’s “feet in cement and dump him in the river.” Nice guy, that Larry. Footnote: Moe has a bookie named Joe in this.

Self Made Maids (1950)
Another oddity, this short opens with a title card noting: “All parts in this picture are played by The Three Stooges.” The Stooges are artists who fall in love with three women whose portraits they paint: Moella (played by Moe), Larraine (Larry), and Shempetta (Shemp). Moe also plays the girls’ father, and all three play their infant children at the end. Moe is understandably doubled in some shots—for instance in scenes where the girls’ father chases the Stooges around the girls’ house, but oddly one role isn’t played by Moe, Larry, or Shemp: for no good reason one shot in a hotel lobby features an unidentified extra seated and reading a newspaper. Why this one person was added to the otherwise all-Stooge cast is a mystery. In drag, the Stooges make singularly ugly women, with Moe and Larry looking especially alarming. (Shemp, by contrast, in drag sort of resembles Nancy Walker, a comparative improvement.) Split-screen optical effects put six Stooges together in a few shots.

Three Hams on Rye (1950)
Herky-jerky short with “the boys” working as stagehands with bit parts in Emil Sitka’s Broadway show, The Bride Wore Spurs. Sitka’s producer is worried an influential newspaper critic (Ned Glass, uncredited) may try to sneak in to review and subsequently pan the show, and orders the Stooges to keep an eye out backstage. This is followed by a strange series of gags with the Stooges in disguise (Larry’s getup is like something out of Charles Addams). Shemp notes a door cautioning “Dangerous—Keep Out” which he reads as “Danga-roos kipper-ra” and, naturally, opens it, only to receive a sock in the jaw. This strange but unsatisfying effort ends with a reworking of the feather-filled cake scene from the classic Uncivil Warriors (1935), performed here as an onstage Civil War melodrama gone wrong.

Studio Stoops (1950)
At B.O. Pictures the Stooges are exterminators mistaken for studio publicity men—Why not simply cast them as publicity men? Because the Stooges are always being mistaken for something they’re not—and ordered to dream up some publicity for new starlet Dolly Devore. They have her go missing, but she turns out to really have been kidnapped by oily Dandy Dawson (Kenneth MacDonald), but nobody—including policeman Vernon Dent—will believe them. Reporter: “I’m Brown from the Sun.” Shemp: “Oh, that’s too bad. Are you peeling?” Strong short has many fine gags, climaxing with Shemp hanging for dear life from a tenth-floor window, an extending telephone his only lifeline.

Slaphappy Sleuths (1950)
Fuller Grime (Gene Roth), general manager of the Onion Oil Co. (I.M. Greedy, President; the company motto is “In Onion, There Is Strength”) hires dumb-looking but allegedly intelligent investigators Larry, Moe, and Shemp to work undercover at one of their gas stations, hoping to nab the couple behind a series of robberies. When Grime asks Shemp if he’s good, Shemp replies, “Am I? You see this heel? [pointing to his shoe] I ran that down!” Lots of good verbal and sight gags in this Jules White-Felix Adler offering, with Emil Sitka as a hapless customer—the Stooges put popcorn into his car radiator—and later the trio follow a trail of leaked oil straight to the thieves’ apartment (“How’d they get the car in there?” Shemp wonders). A change of pace, casting wise: the crooks are played by gravelly-voiced Stanley Blystone and Nanette Bordeaux—apparently Kenneth MacDonald and Christine McIntyre were on vacation that week.
(*** ½)

A Snitch in Time (1950)
Notably violent short has the Stooges proprietors of Ye Olde Furniture Shoppe (“Antiques Made While U Waite”). Among the painful gags: after one of Moe’s eyes is glued shut, Shemp and Larry use pliers, a screwdriver, and a hammer to try and open it, and when his hands later get stuck to a board, Larry briefly tries to free Moe by sawing his hands off at the wrists! They eventually deliver some furniture to the home of boarding house landlady Miss Scudder (prolific Jean Willes) but some bad guys, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s Henry Kulky, threaten to steal her family heirlooms.

Three Arabian Nuts (1951)
Back at that ubiquitous, all-purpose warehouse full of crates, where the Stooges are delivering priceless China and other antiquities to Mr. Bradley (Vernon Dent). Of course, the Stooges are totally incompetent, breaking and/or losing practically everything before the short is over; apparently this takes place in the back rooms of the Los Feliz Post Office. Unbeknownst to all, Bradley’s booty includes a magic lamp with a pair of Arabian thugs (Phil Van Zandt and Dick Curtis) hot on its trail, but Shemp finds the “syrup pitcher” first, unleashing the “genius” (Wesley Bly) as he calls him. For a change, the Stooges wind up healthy, wealthy, and dumb at the fade-out.

Baby Sitters Jitters (1951)
Funny short opens with the Stooges seemingly tossing infants around perilously; Shemp slips and falls on top of one, crushing it—“Oh!” he says, “I’m afraid to look.” But, surprise-surprise, they’re just dolls—no Michael Jackson baby-dangling controversy here. The Stooges become babysitters in order to meet their rent with grouchy landlady Mrs. Crump (Margie Liszt); note how when she and Moe stick out their tongues at one another, they accidentally collide and nearly French kiss. They go to work for Joan Lloyd (Lynn Davis), whose own toddler is first seen in his crib with a pistol in his tiny hands, the barrel lodged in his mouth. “I must have dropped it in the crib,” Joan says, unconcerned. Eventually the irresponsible Stooges grow tired of “the little brat” (as they call him) and fall asleep, and Joan’s estranged husband (Varan the Unbelievable’s Myron Healey) makes off with the kid. Lots of great verbal gags* with semi-literate Shemp’s attempt to make “consummated soup” being the highlight.

“Don’t Throw That Knife” (1951)
Love that title! Derivative short opens with a note stating, “Any resemblance between the Three Stooges and regular human beings, whether living or dead, is a dirty shame.” Sort of a reworking of No Census, No Feeling (1940), the Stooges once again are census takers (had they still been making two-reelers in the 1960 and 1970, no doubt more remakes would have followed), but the short is a hodgepodge of ancient wheezes—“Walk this way!” says voluptuous Jean Willes, prompting much hip-swaggering from the Stooges as they follow behind—and plays like an old Vaudeville sketch. One long scene, admittedly effective, has Moe, Larry, and Shemp gazing into funhouse mirrors for several minutes.

Scrambled Brains (1951)
Somewhat similar to the later, even more bizarre Cuckoo on a Choo Choo, Shemp has been released prematurely from a sanitarium because “We can’t afford it,” says Moe. (How did a clip from this not turn up in Sicko?) Trying to recover at home, Shemp hallucinates an extra set of hands during a piano lesson, and Dr. Gesundheit (Emil Sitka, in co*ke bottle glasses) can do little to help. At least Shemp’s in love, imagining a gorgeous blonde nurse, unaware that his bride-to-be is alarmingly ugly—and nearly toothless—Nurse Nora (Babe London, of Our Wife fame). Later, the Stooges get into a big fight with Nora’s father (Vernon Dent), which begins with a funny scene with the Stooges and Dent all crammed into a telephone booth.
(*** ½)

Merry Mavericks (1951)
Wanted for vagrancy—with a reward of 50 cents each, or three for a dollar—the Stooges are mistaken for famous marshals in Peaceful Gulch; in a strange genre fusion they guard money in a haunted house, where the spirit of a headless Indian supposedly wanders its halls. (When I was a child, this was the only Stooge horror-comedy that actually frightened me; that methodically shuffling headless Injun creeped me out.) Except for some surprisingly good cinematography there’s little to recommend it. Paul Campbell turns up as “Clarence Cassidy” (“Don’t sound quite right no how—somehow!” says Shemp) but he’s a poor man’s Jock Mahoney, and once promising starlet Marion Martin turns up here as a saloon girl. “What’s the West coming to?” asks Moe.
(** ½)

The Tooth Will Out (1951)
In case you’re wondering why the Bernds-McCollum team would shoot back-to-back Western comedies, apparently all the Stooges-as-Old-West-dentists scenes in this were shot for Merry Mavericks, but when that ran long the footage was broken up into two separate shorts (each runs less than 16 minutes). This one’s a slight improvement, notable for its painful scenes of hapless cowboys Slim Gaut and Dick Curtis (in his last Stooge appearance) in the dental chair. Accompanied by tooth-wrenching sound effects, a wayward drill and smoke billowing out of Gaut’s mouth, this is not recommended for those afflicted with odontophobia. Later, with Curtis in the chair, Shemp accidentally picks up a copy of The Amateur Carpenter and, believing it to be a dental instruction manual, proceeds to “sandpaper the chest” and “varnish the lid.”
(*** ½)

Hula-LaLa (1951)
The only Stooge short directed by producer Hugh McCollum is also the only one that fades out with a faux Hawaiian dance number, Lu-Lu. At B.O. Pictures Corp.—the same setting as Studio Stoops—the Stooges are choreographers—Hermes Pan, look out! “Hey ’Red Shoes’!” Moe barks at Shemp. Bossy studio head Emil Sitka (parodying Jules White, perhaps?) sends the boys to the South Seas isle of Rarabonga to teach the headhunters dancing. First, however, they must get past witch doctor Varanu (Kenneth MacDonald), who wants to marry the King’s daughter, Luana (Jean Willes). Best scene has Moe battling a four-armed idol (Lei Aloha plays, well, most of her). Look for Mack Sennett silent era comedian Heinie Conklin as the king.
(*** ½)

Pest Man Wins (1951)
A harbinger of things to come. To save money, Columbia’s short subject department relied more and more on stock footage from earlier films. This short feebly remakes the great 1936 Curly entry Ants in the Pantry while its climax is mostly stock shots of the great pie fights from both In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941) and Half-Wits Holiday (1947), which makes Symona Boniface’s (in stock footage only) inquiry about Moe’s “metamorphosis” downright perplexing. About the only thing going for this short is Vernon Dent, who does a hilarious little dance when a mouse climbs into his tuxedo.

A Missed Fortune (1952)
The team’s 137th short subject (“Sweet Jesus!” to quote from 1776) was actually filmed in 1951, and is a remake of a 1938 Curly short called Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb. Unlike many of the later remakes there’s very little in the way of stock footage. However, except for the opening scene the scripts are virtually identical. Shemp wins $50,000 in a radio contest, correctly identifying the sound of a car engine, a “Bunion 8.” Unaware taxes will whittle their winnings down to $4.85, the Stooges live it up at the Hotel Costa Plente, with Vernon Dent and Stanley Blystone replacing the roles of the hotel manager and house dick played in the original by James C. Morton and Bud Jamison. Watch the opening scene closely—does Larry actually say “It’s those damn hotcakes of yours!” with the word “damn” bleeped out? He must have been in a bad mood that day; later, Larry pours boiling water on Moe’s face.

Listen, Judge (1952)
The Stooges are door-to-door repairmen (“Jiffy Fixers—We Repare Enything” [sic]) charged with stealing chickens, but released by judge Vernon Dent for a lack of evidence. More déjà vu as this 2-reeler is a hodgepodge of story elements (but no stock footage) from three Curly classics, A Plumbing We Will Go, They Stooge to Conga, and especially, An Ache in Every Stake. (I suspect stock footage of Larry’s “I’ll find this thing or else!” front yard tunneling from Plumbing was originally planned; he wears the same costume and crumpled hat as in that film.) Emil Sitka turns up in a variation of Dudley Dickerson’s cook role, while Shemp can’t quite muster the same sense of abandon while stuffing a turkey. Great Cesar’s Ghost! Also appearing is Perry White from the Superman TV show, veteran character actor John Hamilton. Meanwhile, Dent’s wife is played by Kitty McHugh, the real-life spouse of Moe’s neighbor Ned Glass (who appeared in numerous earlier shorts), and the sister of Matt McHugh, character actor Frank McHugh’s untalented brother, who starred with the Stooges in Pardon My Clutch. Kitty, alas, was not a happy woman and committed suicide in 1954.

Corny Casanovas (1952)
Saucer-eyed Connie Cezon, perennial gold digger of a half-dozen or so ’50s-era Stooge shorts, makes her series debut in this typically violent Jules White-directed entry, with Moe, Larry, and Shemp unaware that they’re all “engaged” to the same girl. Watch Shemp’s proto-Hip Hopping, “Gee Moe I’m sorry Moe, What mo’ can a fella say? That’s all there is there ain’t no mo’!” The Stooges do the NRA proud with a handy pistol in the drawer that Shemp uses as a hammer (a wayward bullet grazes Moe’s scalp) and a semi-automatic they use to shoot tacks while reupholstering a sofa. Of course, the tacks are fired at Moe’s butt by mistake and, in a painful-to-watch gag, Moe swallows a mouthful and squirms in agony. This is later surpassed when Moe rams a bellows down Larry’s throat, sad*stically pumping black soot into his lungs! Classic line: “I knew you were coming so I baked a cake!”

He Cooked His Goose (1952)
Strange, violent short is sort of a reworking of Woman Haters (1934); the team is broken up with Larry cast as a two-timing womanizer carrying on with Moe’s wife (Mary Ainslee) and Shemp’s fiancée (Angela Stevens), with Larry making a great, wild-eyed entrance. Larry engineers a plot to get rid of Moe and Shemp in this plot-heavy two-reeler with a Christmastime setting (a Christmas tree falls on Moe). Watch Shemp wring out a wet pooch like a washcloth, Larry’s trained clam, Cedric, and more bellows madness. The best gag has Moe’s chest lighting up like an X-Ray after he accidentally swallows some Christmas lights. Moe and Shemp were real troupers during production; their long-suffering brother Curly was literally on his deathbed while this was made; he passed away just days after shooting wrapped.

Gents in a Jam (1952)
The last Columbia short subject produced by Hugh McCollum and written and directed by Edward Bernds is a good one. After a series of bitter disputes with department head/director Jules White, the pair left Columbia for greener (?) pastures at Allied Artists, where they took over the equally aging Bowery Boys’ feature film series. From here on out, the Stooges’ shorts became increasingly mechanical, incorporated more-and-more stock footage, and frequently substituted violent sight gags for story and characterization. That said, for the next year or so, the team appeared in some of their most unusual shorts (e.g., Cuckoo on a Choo Choo). This one’s a reworking of an old comedy standby: the insanely jealous husband who lives across the hall. It’s more in the realm of Laurel & Hardy (Unaccustomed as We Are, Block-Heads, etc.) than the Stooges, but overall it’s quite funny. Shemp tries to impress a visiting rich uncle, played here by Emil Sitka. Amusingly, it’s Sitka rather than the Stooges who take most of the pratfalls, as the hilariously confused old man is continuously pummeled by angry spouse “Rocky” Duggan (Mickey Sampson), a professional wrestler. His cute wife is played by Dani Sue Nolan, then the wife of I Love Lucy director William Asher. Memorable line: “There goes my teeth!”

Three Dark Horses (1952)
Released barely three weeks prior to the 1952 presidential election, this atypically topical Stooge short offers some generic satire of political corruption but little else. The Stooges are janitors crooked campaign manager Bill Wick (oily Kenneth MacDonald) buys off as delegates to support his candidate, Hammond Egger (played in campaign poster photographs by character comedian Bud Jamison, who died in 1944). Wick’s intelligent henchman, Digger, is played by Ben Welden, well known to Adventures of Superman fans as a perennially stupid henchman. It’s a bit disconcerting watching Welden speaking here in a normal, non-dopey voice. After Shemp accidentally dislodges Digger’s hairpiece, and Larry suggests nailing it back on, Moe’s counters, “Are you out of your mind?! Do you want to punch a hole in this guy’s toupee?” The grim fade-out has the Stooges drowning Wick and Digger in a bathtub, and then bathing en masse atop their lifeless corpses! The James Nicholson listed on the credits as assistant director is not the same Nicholson who co-founded American International Pictures.
(** ½)

Cuckoo on a Choo Choo (1952)
Unquestionably the strangest of all the Stooges 190 two-reel Columbia shorts, this one has some fans attracted to its idiot savant surrealism, but as someone says toward the end, “They ought to bury this skunk.” Vaguely parodying two recent hits, A Streetcar Named Desire and Harvey, the basically plotless short has hopeless alcoholic Shemp and sensual brute Larry (!) somehow having stolen a railroad car named “Schmow” from a moving train. Investigator Moe shows up, but nothing happens. “Rumpot” Shemp, in a drunken haze (and accompanied by a music box rendition of “How Dry I Am” whenever he drinks) falls in love with a human-sized female canary. When an electric razor slides down Shemp’s back, his electrified kisses arouse Larry’s girlfriend, Lenore (Patricia Wright) and her Blanche DuBois-esque sister Roberta (Victoria Horne, the real-life wife of Jack Oakie). Though certainly bizarre, this short’s only redeeming feature is Larry’s hilarious imitation of Brando’s Stanley Kowalski, torn shirt and all. The result ain’t nuthin’ like Brando, but once seen you’ll never forget it.
(* ½)

Up in Daisy’s Penthouse (1953)
A straightforward remake of 3 Dumb Clucks (1937), with gold-digging blonde Daisy (Connie Cezon again) trying to marry the Stooges’ father, played by a muttonchops-wearing Shemp, looking much as Curly had in the original. There’s almost no stock footage, but the script is virtually the same: Pop-Shemp even calls Cezon “Daisy-waisy,” while she calls him “Popsy-wopsy,” as in the original. One line seems upscripted: Moe is hit hard in one scene and Larry, looking genuinely concerned, asks, “Did you hurt yourself?” An old gag dating back to the silent era (and used in earlier Stooge shorts) has Shemp trying to clean a spot on his trousers that’s actually light pouring through a hole in a torn window shade. Shemp ad-libs a bit of Fields-esque contempt for the sequence; eyeing some cleaning fluid within arm’s reach he notes, “How convenient!”

Booty and the Beast (1953)
This largely forgotten short is something of a milestone: it essentially inaugurates the era of stock footage plaguing the Stooges’ later short subjects. While wholly original shorts continued being made, shorts like this—designed to save Columbia time and money—ultimately confused and disappointed Stooge fans. While the Stooges often reworked gags, remade their earlier shorts or shorts made by others, and while earlier two-reelers would sometimes incorporate a few clips or a short sequence from something else—a practice dating back at least to In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941), which lifted a short scene from 1935’s Hoi PoloiBooty and the Beast goes one step further. The first half is a reworking of Hold That Lion with the same actor playing the villain, Kenneth MacDonald (here a safecracker; in Hold That Lion he was a crooked investment broker), while the entire second reel, the last eight minutes or so, consists entirely of stock footage from Hold That Lion (including Curly Howard’s post-stroke cameo appearance) with but a few lines re-looped to cover the changes in reel one. If you think that’s pretty lame, read on... Meanwhile, in new footage, watch Larry spit for real on poor Vernon Dent, cast here as a neighborhood security guard.

Loose Loot (1953)
Never one to let good footage go to waste, in this short director Jules White recycles the first-half of Hold That Lion, with that film’s extended scene of the Stooges unsuccessfully trying to confront the slippery Ichabod Slipp (Kenneth MacDonald again) in his office. A newspaper clipping seen at the beginning identifies MacDonald as “Elmer Slipp,” and thanks to DVD you can note the sloppy newspaper paste-up with the estate news about Shemp’s uncle mixed in with a real story about “nine men known dead and 200 wounded.” New footage includes a very funny hallway chase sequence but then things pretty much grind to a halt as Slipp and his henchman (Tom Kennedy) confront the Stooges in a backstage dressing room. A too-close close-up catches MacDonald pulling a Mike Tyson on Moe’s ear while, in the best gag, Tom Kennedy smashes his hand and it grows to ten times its normal size.

Tricky Dicks (1953)
One of the best and most unusual shorts of the Shemp era, this apparent spoof of Detective Story is a bottle short—everything takes place in a squad room where the Stooges, as detectives, atypically act out what plays like an old Vaudeville sketch. The jokes, fired off at a machine gun pace, are ancient but still very funny. Moe on the phone: “What’s that, Chauncey? You say you found a dead horse on Ticonderoga Street? How do you spell ’Ticonderoga?’ Oh, you don’t know either. Well, drag ’em over to First Street!” Shemp on a bootlegging bust, “Yeah, but the D.A. says we can’t make a case out of 11 bottles.” Larry: “My sister was engaged to a guy with a wooden leg, but she broke it off.” “The engagement?” Moe asks. “No, the leg.” Connie Cezan turns up long enough to sock Larry (“How dare you look like someone I hate!” POW!) Comedian Benny Rubin makes his first of six Stooge short appearances, here playing an organ grinder named Antonio Zucchini Salami Gorgonzola dePizza (Ah, political incorrectness—where hast thou gone?). Watch this short’s homicidal maniac fire about 80 rounds from his modest revolver. And for the third time in a row, director Jules White recycles yet more stock footage from Hold That Lion, raiding that film’s filing cabinet bit. If the next short hadn’t been made in 3-D, White probably would have found a way to recycle Hold That Lion’s film leader.

Spooks! (1953)
With weekly movie attendance plummeting from 90 million in 1946 to about half that in 1953, a desperate Hollywood searched for new ways to pry audiences away from their new TV sets and back into theaters. In late 1952 the widescreen and stereophonic This Is Cinerama and the 3-D release of Bwana Devil, both independent productions, had mainstream Hollywood scrambling toward new technologies. Movies in 3-D (often in stereophonic sound and cropped widescreen as well) were big business during the spring and summer of 1953, until The Robe and other factors killed the 3-D boom. This Stooge short was one of the first 3-D shorts out of the gate, supposedly premiering just six days after shooting was completed, and it plays like a depthy demo film. In just 16 minutes, everything imaginable is shoved, thrust, or tossed at the camera: pies (of course), syringes, Moe’s two-finger eye poke. Even the title card aims for some 3-D madness; the trio’s disembodied heads float toward the camera(s), only the black cloth they wear below the neck is highly visible, somewhat spoiling the effect. There’s virtually no story in this haunted house spoof with Super Sleuth Detective Agency P.I.s Moe, Larry, and Shemp (“Divorce Evidence Manufactured to Your Order”) up against mad scientist Dr. Jekyll (Phil Van Zandt), his hulking assistant Mr. Hyde (Tom Kennedy), and the usual snarling gorilla (Steve Calvert). Highlights include an eep-eep-eeping bat played in close-up by Shemp, whose human counterpart exclaims “What a hideous, monstrous face!” In its original dual-projector, polarized lenses theatrical release (absolutely not red/green anaglyphic) this and the Stooges’ next short really delighted audiences. A rough approximation of the 3-D experience is included on this DVD.
(*** ½)

Pardon My Backfire (1953)
The team’s second and last 3-D short is even better than Spooks!, with better-motivated depthy gags. This time introduced below the title card and brandishing canes at the audience (a wonderful effect in polarized 3-D) this short casts the 50-something “boys” as suitors trying to impress intended father-in-law Fred Kelsey (in his last Stooge appearance) while working as car mechanics. Later a gang led by scar-faced Benny Rubin brings their hot car to the Stooges’ garage. As with Spooks!, this is positively crammed with 3-D gags: Larry throws a screwdriver at the camera, a big birthday cake is tossed, etc. A lot of this stuff was obviously rigged on wires, as many of the thrown objects can be seen floating up as they sail toward the lenses. Also, director Jules White’s increasing use of violent Stooge gags is on display; in one scene, Moe takes a metal file to Larry’s forehead, generating powdery “skindust,” and in another a long wire painfully enters Larry’s nostrils only to reemerge out of Larry’s right ear (How’d they do that?). At the dinner table, Moe asks Larry, “Do you like asparagus? Well, here’s a couple of tips for you!” [two-finger poke—boink!] Perhaps the funniest line though has Rubin’s gangster telling moll Barbara Bartay, “Go flirt with those men to make them hurry!” Say what?

Rip, Sew, and Stitch (1953)
Released after Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire but filmed several months before, this and the next several shorts are outrageous quickie remakes. About 90% of this short consists of stock footage from Sing a Song of Six Pants (1947) and what little new footage there is—odd, fleeting inserts and a scene where the Stooges search a back room—was shot in a single day. Worried that their tailoring equipment is about to be repossessed by the Skin and Flint Finance Corporation, Moe, Larry, and Shemp are inspired by a radio announcement (delivered off-camera by director Jules White) to capture fugitive bank robber “Slippery Fingers” Hargan (Harold “Tiny” Brauer, a double in the new footage). A testament to Shemp’s talent is a brief but hilarious scene (stock) with him sitting quietly reading the funny papers (Sunday comics), unable to contain his unabashed amusem*nt. Like the short, 90% of this capsule review consists of recycled material.
(* ½)

Bubble Trouble (1953)
Back in high school I had a friend who went to enormous lengths to cheat on exams and term papers, exerting far more energy than if he had simply done the work on his own. That’s what it’s like watching shorts like this, where the process of matching the sets and costumes in the stock footage with the new material must have been nearly as arduous and expensive as if they had made something entirely new. I remember WKBD, Channel 50 in Detroit, once running All Gummed Up (1947) and this remake back-to-back, and for a while there I thought I was going insane (“Help! Help! I’m losin’ ma mind!”). The first 11 ½ minutes are identical to the original, though the awkwardly structured original footage has been reshuffled more sensibly here. Both follow drugstore owners Moe, Larry, and Shemp as they develop a youth serum they test with great success on old lady Christine McIntyre (in effective makeup) who is transformed into, well, beautiful Christine McIntyre. Both films have the same bubblegum blowing sequence, but where All Gummed Up climaxes with crotchety Emil Sitka tasting the Stooges’ brew only to be transformed into a five-year-old version of himself, in Bubble Trouble he becomes a gorilla, which makes even less sense. Only the business with the gorilla is new, and that was shot in a single day; McIntyre is badly doubled for this scene, with someone who looks nothing like McIntyre cowering briefly behind the Stooges until disappearing altogether. (Sitka seems to appear in the new footage, but that’s probably not him in the gorilla mask, nor does it sound like his voice once he’s transformed.)

Goof on the Roof (1953)
Though definitely released in Vitascope, Columbia’s 1.85:1 cropped widescreen process, this short’s super-tight compositions suggest it may have been shot for 1.37:1 and filmed in late-1952 or early-’53, long before its December 1953 release. In any case, despite the complete absence of stock footage and tried-and-true home destruction gags, this dreary short is a long way from the Stooges’ classic shorts. Ironically, the story concerns the trio’s disastrous efforts to install a friend’s television set and antenna. This wasn’t the first Stooge short to feature a television, but it was the first to do so in the wake of the new medium’s impact on the film industry. The sight gags are badly executed in this one; when Larry’s stunt double is funnier than Larry, something ain’t right. It was also the last original short penned by Clyde Bruckman, one of screen comedy’s brightest gag men, who in 1955 borrowed a pistol from his pal Buster Keaton, drove to a Santa Monica restaurant, and shot himself in the restroom.
(* ½)

Income Tax Sappy (1954)
Though hardly the Stooges’ finest hour (or 16 ½ minutes, as the case may be), this short has better widescreen framing than Goof on the Roof, tries harder, and has a better supporting cast. Moe, Larry, and Shemp are so good at cheating on their taxes they decide to go into business advising others to do likewise. The film gets my vote for the most sad*stic gag in Three Stooges History: Larry shows off a long operation scar on his stomach that’s zippered instead of stitched. An annoyed Moe grabs the pull tab and perversely zips it back-and-forth as Larry winces in agony! Better than the Stooges is Benny Rubin’s bearded client, actually an IRS agent working undercover. Vernon Dent—older, frailer, and possibly even blind by this point (he suffered from diabetes and was completely sightless by 1955), turns up at the end.
(** ½)

Musty Musketeers (1954)
“Thou art a lame-brain!” More stock footage, this time scenes from Fiddlers Three (1948), completely overwhelm the pittance of new stuff, with the Stooges trying to prevent evil magician Murgittroyd (Phil Van Zandt) from marrying Princess Alisha (Virginia Hunter), daughter of Old King Cole (Vernon Dent). It’s pretty much all six-year-old footage until near the end—comic horseshoeing scene, the Stooges unwisely hiding out in Murgittroyd’s “magic” box and getting poked by his cardboard swords. At the climax note that the set decoration changes ever so slightly; a big candle in the background changes from black to white, for instance, and watch Van Zandt’s hair suddenly get thinner.

Pals and Gals (1954)
Talk about chutzpah—I guess Jules White’s idea of revenge was shorts like this, which is about 70% stock footage from bitter rivals Edward Bernds and Hugh McCollum’s much superior Out West—but with White’s name slapped on the new title card. How’d stuff like this get past the Directors Guild? In stock scenes, Dr. Vernon Dent sends Shemp and his enlarged vein Out West, where he and his pals run afoul of “brain heavy” Doc Barker (Norman Willes). In the original, showgirl Nell’s (Christine McIntyre) boyfriend The Arizona Kid was being held prisoner in Barker’s basem*nt. In this remake, Nell’s sisters are held captive—so whenever McIntyre is upstairs, it’s stock footage; downstairs she appears in new scenes. Amusingly, in the remake, bartender Moe’s concoction actually kills Doc Barker: “He’s dead and I’m taking over,” announces George Chesboro, who’s in both Out West and this; he only had to wait seven years! I also wondered why old character player Stanley Blystone hovered in the background amongst Barker’s gang—well, it turns out they needed him, too, because the monkey-manning-the-bullet-firing-meat-grinder climax is lifted from 1937’s Goofs and Saddles, which had Blystone as the main villain. (However, he’s so much older in this it hardly matters.) This gets an “A” for ingenuity but the originals are far superior.

Knutzy Knights (1954)
White’s at it again, pointlessly reworking another one of the best Edward Bernds/Hugh McCollum efforts, Squareheads of the Round Table. In new footage, the Stooges try to cheer up a distraught Princess Elaine (Christine McIntyre), warning her to “Weep not or thee will get bags” as the Stooges show off their impressively baggy eyes in an alarming close-up. Then it’s stock footage time with the entire middle eaten up with (at least quite enjoyable) scenes from the older film: The Stooges try to prevent the marriage of Princess Elaine, daughter of The King (Vernon Dent) to the Black Prince (Phil Van Zandt), so that she might marry her True Love, Cedric the Blacksmith (Jock Mahoney). Amazingly, besides McIntyre, Van Zandt, Dent (looking notably thinner), and Mahoney all came back to shoot new scenes, which are confined to the opening and closing minutes. Sadly, it was Dent’s last appearance in a Stooge comedy, at least in new footage.

Shot in the Frontier (1954)
Or at the Columbia Ranch. At least this two-reeler boasts zero—repeat zero—stock footage. Emmett Lynn, the B-Western genre’s favorite bearded barfly, is the pappy of Ella (Vivian Mason), Bella (Ruth White, Jules’ sister-in-law), and Stella (Diana Darrin), the Stooges’ fiancées. After riding into town “head-bent for leather” (ah, the Production Code) a wedding is presided over by Justice of the Peace Emil Sitka (who, alas, does not prompt them to “Hold hands, you lovebirds”). Later, the girls are angry Moe, Larry, and Shemp won’t stand up to the evil Noonan brothers, one of whom is Kenneth MacDonald in his worst Stooge role. After they muster up some courage in a bottle of Old Panther (distilled yesterday), it’s the Stooges vs. the Noonans—Tommy isn’t among them—with Moe, Larry, and Shemp holed up behind some allegedly funny tombstones in front of M. Balmer’s undertaking establishment. Not much here, but it is a bit unusual; it even has underscoring, rare for a Stooge short.
(** ½)

Scotched in Scotland (1954)
Oy McVey! White slaps his moniker on another Bernds/McCollum short, 1948’s The Hot Scots. Near as I can tell, it’s pretty much the same film except for a new opening with detective school graduates Moe, Larry, and Shemp with their long-suffering dean, played by Phil Van Zandt, and some inserted new bits at the “haunted castle.” A recognizably older Christine McIntyre appears in the new footage, but it’s minimal. Alas, Ted Lorch wasn’t available to film new scenes featuring him; he’d been dead for more than six years.
(* ½)

Fling in the Ring (1955)
Perhaps appropriately, this last batch of Shemp comedies begins with a remake of his first, 1947’s Fright Night. This funny boxing comedy casts the Stooges as trainers for big dumb lug Chopper Kane (Richard “Dick” Wessel, in stock footage only. Were these stock-only actors paid for their appearances? I wonder). New footage expands on a subplot in which gangster Big Mike (Tiny Brauer in the original, Frank Sully in the remake) orders Chopper, via the Stooges, to take a dive. The integration of stock and new footage is impressive, almost imperceptible; notice how smoothly it’s done in the alley behind the ring: the set, prop crates, and costumes all match nearly perfectly. However, Shemp and Moe in particular have aged noticeably. Cy Schindell, as dopey henchman Moose, appears only in stock scenes, the actor having died in 1948!

Of Cash and Hash (1955)
A remake of Shivering Sherlocks (1948), this short begins with new footage of Moe, Larry, and Shemp caught in the middle of a gunfight between gangsters Kenneth MacDonald and Frank Lackteen (who resembles Reggie Nalder, not exactly a compliment) and armored car guards. Back to stock scenes, where the Stooges are taken downtown for questioning before Police Capt. Mullens (Vernon Dent) and his amazing lie detector. At the Stooges café, stock and new scenes are dizzyingly blended, with what appears to be new footage of classic Stooge nemesis Stanley Blystone (Half-Shot Shooters, etc.) as an angry customer. After a brief car ride, in new footage featuring Christine McIntyre, it’s mostly stock again as the trio plus Christine arrives at MacDonald’s hideout, where hunchback Angel (Duke York, very creepy) threatens all. This short is notable as it marked the last appearance (in new footage) by actress McIntyre, who retired from show business immediately after. Her new scenes are brief but easily identifiable; nearly eight years older than she was in 1947, McIntyre at 44 was starting to look rather matronly. (Of course, baggy-eyed Moe and ruddy-faced Shemp look far worse.)

Gypped in the Penthouse (1955)
At long last, a new Shemp short with no stock footage: and it’s a remake! Well, not entirely, but basic premise is lifted from Corny Casanovas (1952), which featured Connie Cezon as an unscrupulous gold digger while here the part is essayed by beautiful Jean Willes. At Women Haters Club No. 87, old friends Larry and Shemp exchange stories about Jane, alias the Diamond Kid (Willes), married to hot-tempered Moe. Larry, short, bald, and by then nearly 53, answers Jane’s classified ad looking for a “handsome man about 35.” Larry takes one look in the mirror and it shatters. (The rod smashing it through a small hole from behind the set is clearly visible.) Better are scenes with Willes and Shemp, especially a funny bit where Willes’s out-of-control dishwasher attacks him. Later, when she stuffs Shemp’s diamond ring down her brassiere, Shemp confides to the audience, “There must be a way to get back that ring without getting in trouble with the censor!” (Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas found a way in 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.) And is that director Jules White strolling across in the background in the opening scene?
(*** ½)

Bedlam in Paradise (1955)
A pointless reworking of Heavenly Daze (1948), the short where Shemp dies and goes to heaven only to be sent back to earth to reform Larry and Moe. New footage includes an extended opening with Shemp on his deathbed (grim stuff when you consider he’d be dead for real within a few months) and the addition of the Devil (Philip Van Zandt) and his sultry temptress, Hellen Blazes (Sylvia Lewis). Lewis was and is one of the best dancer-choreographers in the business—she’s instantly recognizable as one of the dancers in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), for instance, while Van Zandt began his career with Citizen Kane (1941). I wonder how they felt about clowning around in a second-rate Three Stooges short? A sign of the times is Jules White’s penchant for violent sight gags: Shemp accidentally bites and swallows a thermometer, prompting Moe’s instructions to Larry, “Rub his stomach—maybe he’ll regurgitate the broken glass!”
(** ½)

Stone Age Romeos (1955)
Though pretty mediocre, at least this reworking of I’m a Monkey’s Uncle (1948) attempts something different in its newly shot scenes. At a meeting with museum curator B. Bopper (Emil Sitka, in his “old professor” make-up), the Stooges—wearing long beards—promise to return from an exhibition with authentic 16mm footage of prehistoric cavemen co-existing with the modern world. Awkward cut to stock scenes from I’m a Monkey’s Uncle then back to the museum and new footage for the wrap-up, where it’s revealed the caveman footage was a hoax created on a Hollywood soundstage. Not much here: for the umpteenth time, the Stooges consult a map with comical place names (I want to live in Kegoboozia!), including one that obviously slipped past the censors: “Isle-Liquor.” In his fake beard, Shemp resembles President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Wham-Bam-Slam! (1955)
Tiresome reworking of Pardon My Clutch (1948), which wasn’t so hot, either. Combing elements from two Laurel & Hardy shorts, Perfect Day (1929) and Them Thar Hills (1934), the story has Moe, Larry and their wives caring for an ailing Shemp, eventually paying $900 to crooked pal Claude (Matt McHugh in stock footage) for his lemon of a car. Shemp himself looks poorly in this short, his already ruddy features appearing bloated and blotchy. (And how ironic that several of his last shorts revolve around him being ill, dying, or dead!) It’s easy enough to spot the new footage in this short; virtually all the new scenes were shot on a single kitchen set. Wanda Perry, as Shemp’s wife, appears in both old and new material. The crassness of shorts like this is disheartening; the new material is lame (Shemp bitten by a lifeless-looking lobster), and Larry overacts badly in the opening scene. Sony deserves some credit here for their full disclosure: on the back of the DVD, all these remakes are noted.

Hot Ice (1955)
Another pointless reworking of material done better the first time around, this short consisting mostly of stock footage from Crime on Their Hands with an opening sequence lifted from The Hot Scots (both 1948). As I stated in my review of Volume Seven, Jules White was apparently a man with no scruples but a lot of chutzpah: though Edward Bernds directed both earlier shorts, which account for about 90% of Hot Ice’s running time, White listed only himself as its director. Appearing in new footage is Barbara Bartay as a woman at a London café; she must have been somebody’s girlfriend because she’s certainly no actress, here sporting an absolutely dire co*ckney accent. Also in (I think) new scenes is ugly Harry Wilson, former stand-in for Wallace Berry who, the same year this was made rather incredibly danced with Cyd Charisse and sang with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando! The few scraps of new footage in this have no particular reason to exist, and are inserted throughout via extremely awkward edits. Take a gander at the sloppy cut between the Three Stooges and the Three Significantly Older Stooges at 10:14; even their clothes don’t match!
(* ½)

Blunder Boys (1955)
Finally—a Shemp short that’s neither a remake nor overloaded with stock scenes. The last good short from the Shemp era and the last released during the comedian’s lifetime is a semi-parody of Dragnet (“I’m Halliday,” says Moe, flashing his badge. “I’m Terriday,” adds Larry, deadpanned. “I’m Saint Patrick’s Day! Hee-hee-hee,” cracks Shemp). There’s even a reference to Jack Webb’s Mark VII Productions at the end, when a similar logo is hammered into Larry’s forehead. The Stooges attend criminology school run by dean Watts D. Matter (Frank Sully) and his daughter, Alma Matter (Angela Stevens); they graduate “with the lowest possible honors.” Anticipating his later semi-regular run as a judge on Perry Mason, Kenneth MacDonald has a rare “good guy” role as Captain F.B. Eye. This wildly irreverent short recalls the team’s mid-1930s efforts, two-reelers like Men in Black, and while this is a far cry from those classics, Blunder Boys is infinitely superior to all these half-baked remakes. Also, here we see Moe’s “81-C” in action: the dreaded double eye-poke.

Husbands Beware (1956)
The fact that the last ten minutes of this 16-minute short consists almost entirely of footage from the Edward Bernds-directed Brideless Groom (1949) didn’t stop Jules White from taking credit for the whole shebang, this time in HUGE FONT, no less. The new footage is highly derivative, but okay. However, one gag doesn’t make any sense. Moe and Larry decide to brown a roasting turkey by rubbing it with salad oil before putting it in the oven. The container they pull from the cupboard is clearly labeled “Salad Oil” but in a cutaway close-up the label has inexplicably changed to “Turpentine.” Huh? The intended highlight of the new footage is supposed to be watching Moe and Larry’s super-fat wives (Lu Leonard and Maxine Gates, the former later a regular on Jake and the Fatman) choke on the Stooges’s bad cooking.
(** ½)

Creeps (1956)
In this remake of 1949’s The Ghost Talks (the one with the talking suit of armor), in new footage and a single, stationary matte shot, the Stooges tell their toddler “sons” (also Moe, Larry, and Shemp) a bedtime story so that they’ll go to sleep. It worked for me! After this feeble, 90-second opening, its back to old film until the last few minutes, in which the frustrated fathers finally render their kids unconscious by hitting them over the head with hammers. (And, for about the 30th time, the tired old gag of NBC’s three-note chimes is heard as their little heads are conked.) Snooze.
(* ½)

Flagpole Jitters (1956)
This reworking of 1949’s Hokus Pokus—I guess if Shemp had lived we would have seen remakes of the 1950 and ’51 slates—is actually pretty clever, at least insofar as how its flurry of new scenes are used to completely alter the original comedy’s story. In the 1949 film, the stooges are paperhangers looking after invalid neighbor Mary (Mary Ainslee). Later on, the Great Svengarlic (David Bond, who later played Jack the Ripper on The Twilight Zone) hypnotizes them, persuading them to dance high above the street on their building’s flagpole. The pole breaks, sending the trio crashing through Mary’s window, so startling the supposedly paralyzed woman that she leaps up from her chair. In fact, Mary was trying to swindle insurance representative Vernon Dent out of $25,000. In Flagpole Jitters, Mary’s legs really are paralyzed but Svengarlic is revealed as the leader of a gang of safecrackers. This time when the flagpole breaks they crash through the bank’s (unsecured) window, catching the crooks, and insuring Mary’s operation. Former Prince Barin, Richard Alexander, turns up briefly as a cop near the end. Not exactly good, but this one gets an “A” for ingenuity.

For Crimin’ Out Loud (1956)
The last short featuring Shemp Howard in new footage opens with the trio working for the Miracle Detective Agency (“If Your Case Is Solved It’s a Miracle” says the sign on the door). They answer the phone, “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello,” Larry adding, “The harmony’s bad. We didn’t have time to rehearse.” That may not have been a joke. After a new opening with average Stooge clowning the two-reeler gives way to stock scenes from Who Done It? Except for a brief medium shot rather pointlessly inserted near the end, that’s it for Shemp, who died instantly of a heart attack on November 22, 1955 after a night out at the fights with some pals.
(** ½)

Rumpus in the Harem (1956)
And so the decision was made to not let a little thing like Shemp Howard’s death preclude the production of new Shemp Howard shorts. This wasn’t really surprising when you consider that Jules White had already been hiring bit players to body double dead, ailing, or otherwise outta-the-picture actors like Cy Schindell. Why not Shemp? The first of the four “Fake Shemps” does this with exceptional clumsiness. In the opening scene, “Shemp” leaves a note for Moe and Larry explaining that, “I’ve gone down to open the restaurant” they own. Yeah, right—Shemp, the industrious early-riser. In later scenes, Fake Shemp huddles with Moe and Larry awkwardly positioned with his back to his camera, but during a chase bit near the end the doubling almost works, especially because someone had the bright idea to dub in the real Shemp’s voice into the action. Otherwise a remake of Malice in the Palace (1949), all the new inserts come at the expense of coherency. Moe, Larry, and Real Shemp appear at the Emir of Schmoo’s palace wearing Santa Claus suits for no clear reason, and continuity goes haywire as Nubian guard Everett Brown has a face-full of smashed fruit before Real Shemp and/or Fake Shemp lobs the first grenade. Moe, understandably depressed, gives a remarkably subdued performance in the opening scenes. Too bad nobody thought to reinstate footage of long-dead Curly Howard, whose cameo as a chef in Malice in the Palace was shot but cut out.
(** ½)

Hot Stuff (1956)
Moe, Larry, and Fake Shemp are agents assigned to protect Professor Sneed (Emil Sitka) and his daughter (Christine McIntyre, in stock footage only) by pretending to be carpet-layers. “I can’t lay carpet!” protests Larry, “I’m not that rugged!” In sharp contrast to Rumpus in the Harem, this remake of 1949’s Fuelin’ Around is actually pretty clever, and atypically gives co-stars (in new scenes) Phil Van Zandt, Gene Roth, and Connie Cezon the opportunity to generate laughs on their own. Amusingly, whoever wrote this entry up over at Wikipedia identifies the citizens of the fictional Iron Curtain country of Anemia as Armenians! Otherwise cut from the film, this short features a lingering shot of Jock Mahoney’s butt.
(*** ½)

Scheming Schemers (1956)
This short has sho’ gone crazy! Tossing in everything including the kitchen sink (or at least one in the bathroom), this remake of 1949’s Vagabond Loafers, itself a reworking of 1940’s A Plumbing We Will Go, in which the Stooges once again play plumbers, is almost schematic. Further adding to the confusion is a pie-throwing finale reworked with clips from 1947 Half-Wits Holiday. For those keeping track, Shemp appears in the 1949 clips but that’s Joe Palma in the new, 1956 scenes. Dudley Dickerson turns up in the 1940 and 1949 footage, but not the 1947 or 1956 shots. Kenneth MacDonald and Emil Sitka shot new footage to accompany their 1949 appearances, but Christine McIntyre, since retired, is doubled in one shot. Larry, on the other hand, is in clips shot in 1940, 1947, 1949, and 1956! Amidst all this is one new sequence that actually works: Moe thinks Larry has gone down the drain, and becomes increasingly desperate to get his pal back through the one-inch drain.

Commotion on the Ocean (1956)
The last short featuring Shemp Howard, dead or alive, is a remake of 1949’s Dunked in the Deep, the Cold War espionage comedy with the Stooges trapped in the hold of a freighter where foreign agent Borscht (Gene Roth) has valuable micro-“fillum” hidden in watermelons. Making these Fake Shemps must have really depressed Moe; he ages noticeably, and Palma’s appearance is limited in this one to a single shot—maybe Moe couldn’t take it any longer. Now it’s possible to tell the stock scenes from the new footage just by looking at the big bags under Moe’s eyes in the 1956 footage. Probably the most interesting thing about this comedy is the appearance of Emil Sitka as a reporter named Smitty; without his “old professor” make-up and speaking in a normal voice, this was as close as audiences got to the real Sitka. In new footage, Larry discusses the finer points of seafood: “On fish, I’m a common-sewer.”
(** ½)

Hoofs and Goofs (1957)
At long last, Joe. Comedian Joe Besser (1907-1988) may be no one’s favorite Third Stooge, but he was definitely funny given the right venue, such as his side-splitting appearances as “Stinky” on The Abbott & Costello Show earlier in the decade. And though he was bald and as fat as long-dead Howard brother Curly at his fattest, Besser never comes off as a third-rate imitator. As a member of the Three Stooges, he was like a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole, but he was also funnier, less predictable, less infantile, and less imitative than his successor, the better-remembered but unfunny “Curly-Joe” DeRita. (Ironically, Besser’s salary was covered by a preexisting Columbia contract that paid him more than either Larry or Moe.) Unfortunately, this all-new but extremely peculiar short serves as a pretty terrible introduction, the plot twisting Joe’s amusingly childish screen persona into one that’s merely pathetic and delusional. Joe can’t get over the death of the Stooges’ kid sister, Bertie (played in drag by Moe, by this point looking 20 years older than Joe). Reading a book on reincarnation by Swami Baykoe Potaytoe, Joe dreams that his beloved sibling has come back to earth as a horse: “Who’d you expect,” asks the mare, “Kim Novak?” Bertie is played, also in drag, by Tony the Wonder Horse and voiced by Stooge series regular Harriette Tarler (the actress, who resembles an older Diane Baker, also plays the daughter of Benny Rubin’s landlord character). Tony gets special billing in this short, though it’s unclear if the creature is related to Tom Mix’s former steed. Undoubtedly inspired by the success of The Search for Bridey Murphy and the reincarnation craze that followed, today this short comes off as peculiar instead of funny.
(** ½)

Muscle Up a Litter Closer (1957)
For the first time sporting “normal,” slicked-back hairstyles, “gentlemanly” Moe and Larry join Joe in this lifeless, uneventful, but at least not a stock footage-filled remake with the boys searching for a ring belonging to Joe’s chubby fiancée (Maxine Gates). She believes it stolen by an employee at the food shipping plant where the Stooges work. (Among the items readied for shipment: Matzos imported from Japan.) The biggest laugh comes early, when Joe’s girlfriend starts to panic and Joe empathically lets loose a girlish scream, then catches and scolds himself with, “Not so looouud!” Besser’s contract reportedly precluded Moe and Larry from striking him too harshly, and the redirected violence (with Moe and/or Larry on the receiving end most of the time) throws the comic balance out-of-whack.

A Merry Mix-Up (1957)
Joe and the new Three Stooges starting finding their groove with this original effort that finds Moe, Larry, and Joe playing three sets of identical triplets who’ve lost track of one another since the end of World War II. The horny, unmarried trio flirts with three gold-digger types but the three fiancées of the engaged set, as well as the wives of the third, married set witness this. There’s an elaborate matte shot at the end showing all nine Stooges but that lasts all of two seconds; what’s really impressive is just how much the careful planning, blocking, and editing of real Stooges and various doubles pays off. It’s really a funny, original short, a rarity in this last spurt of creativity. Joe still comes off as a pain-in-the-ass complainer: “I feel sad about our dear brothers!” he whines, but this gradually disappears from his Stooge character. Women in the cast include Tony-nominated, Emmy-award-winning actress Ruth White (Midnight Cowboy), The Monster from Piedras Blancas’ Jeanne Carmen, and series regular Nanette Bordeaux, who sadly died suddenly of bronchopneumonia prior to the film’s release.

Space Ship Sappy (1957)
It’s surprising that it took this long for the Stooges to make a flat-out spoof of ’50s-style sci-fi films. This was the first of three made close to the finishing line, and all three are pretty funny. This short has scientist Professor A.K. Ripple (Benny Rubin) and his beautiful daughter (Doreen Woodbury) tricking the Stooges into accompanying them in their rocketship flight to Sunev (that’s Venus spelled backwards). There the trio find three voluptuous women (Marilyn Hanold, Harriette Tarler, and Lorraine Crawford) who are revealed as She-Demons-like cannibals! The hilariously poor spaceship model resembles an oilcan with fins. Editor Saul A. Goodkind must have felt nostalgic; he edited the first two Flash Gordon serials. Curse of the Three Stooges: Like Spinal Tap’s drummer, supporting players in these Stooges shorts seem positively hexed. Besides Bordeaux, actress Woodbury also met an untimely end: the starlet committed suicide after her affair with a “famous comedian” went sour. (I have no idea who that might be.) A dinosaur in what looks like stock footage from One Million B.C. (1940) has a cameo.
(*** ½)

Guns a Poppin! (1957)
The first of the Joe Besser shorts predominantly a remake of a pre-Joe one, this reworking of 1945’s Idiots Deluxe, itself a reworking of Laurel & Hardy’s Them Thar Hills (1934), finds Moe’s nerves shattered, prompting Larry and Joe to suggest a vacation out in the country. This short’s an odd one; unlike the plot-twisting remakes from the late-Shemp era, Guns a Poppin! has a Gus Van Sant/Psycho-like adherence to the original. It’s nearly a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake, so much so Jules White was obliged to give bitter rival Elwood Ullman co-story credit. And because the short is so much older than the Shemp remakes—this one incorporates scenes filmed a dozen years before—the younger and older Moe make quite a contrast. Testifying before Vernon Dent (in stock footage; Dent was completely blind by this time), a middle-aged Moe stands up from the witness box and sits back down an old man. Outlaw Mad Bill Hookup, who turns up near the end, is played by former Fake Shemp Joe Palma; this short offers viewers a good look at something other than the back of his head.

Horsing Around (1957)
I guess it wasn’t all a dream after all. One of the very few (only?) Stooge short sequels (I’ll Never Heil Again doesn’t count in my book) is a follow-up to Hoofs and Goofs, with the reincarnated Bertie (Tony, the Wonder Horse) now desperate to rescue her mate, circus horse Schnapps, before he’s destroyed. It’s interesting to see how much better Joe’s characterization works here compared to the first film. In this there’s a very funny moment when, after being hit over the head by Larry, Joe exclaims, “Not in the head—you know it’s soft!” Larry then pats Joe’s bald dome to which Joe elfishly encourages him to “Make bigger circles!” Harriette Tarler again does Bertie’s voice and turns up briefly as a distraught bareback rider. One strange gag has the herbivore horse gobbling down chicken drumsticks. In one scene the Stooges visit the very same cabin seen in Guns a Poppin!

Rusty Romeos (1957)
“I knew you were coming so I baked a cake!” Another one. This by-the-numbers remake of 1952’s Corny Casanovas (I can already see the Joe DeRita remake: Dopey Don Juans!) has the team unaware they’re all engaged to the same gold-digger (Connie Cezon/Cezan, who’s about 15 pounds heavier in her new scenes with Joe). New footage has Joe joining Moe and Larry as they try to reupholster a ratty sofa, with the same disastrous results for Moe as when they did the routine with Shemp. Soon after filming this short saucer-eyed Cezon became Perry Mason’s oft mentioned but rarely seen receptionist, Gertie. Not much here, but unlike the original film, at least Cezon gets an audience-pleasing comeuppance at the conclusion of this remake.
(** ½)

Outer Space Jitters (1957)
The second and best of the team’s sci-fi trilogy casts the Stooges as assistants to Professor Jones (Emil Sitka) who travel (again) to the planet Sunev (remember, that’s Venus spelled backwards). Initially they’re greeted with open if electrically charged arms by the Grand Slitz (Gene Roth) and the High Mucky Muck (Philip Van Zandt). “Bewitched!” says Moe. “Bothered!” adds Larry. “Bewildered!” exclaims Joe, as Larry turns to address the audience: “And don’t forget to see Pal Joey, folks!” In fact, the Sunevians are secretly plotting to conquer the earth with their army of flat-nosed zombies! Two years before debuting on Bonanza, Dan Blocker (billed here as “Don Blocker”) plays the hulking brute the Grand Slitz demonstrates for the appalled Professor Jones. When “the boys” flirt with three Sunevian beauties (Harriette Tarler, Diana Darrin, and Arline Hunter), their kisses send high voltage electricity through their wrinkly Stooge lips. Joe has a present for his girl, “a frozen spring chicken, ready to cook!” which he pulls out of his hip pocket, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Of course, after kissing the Amazon the bird is burned to a crisp. Eames plastic molded chairs figure prominently in the futuristic art direction, limited to just two sets. (There are no scenes at all aboard the Professor’s rocketship.)

Quiz Whiz (1958)
Though suggesting a spoof of the TV quiz show scandals of the period (now that could’ve been something!), in fact this drab two-reeler mostly is a tired, slight variation of Pygmalion-type shorts like Hoi Polloi (1935) and In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941). After Joe’s winnings are stolen by grifter G.Y. Prince (Milton Frome) and R.O. Broad (Bill Brauer), the Stooges are further tricked by the same crooks into posing as juvenile wards for millionaire Montgomery M. Montgomery (Gene Roth), actually another crook who with the aid of a beautiful accomplice (Greta Thyssen) plans on bumping off the “boys.” Surreal short has the aging comedians (Moe was 59, Larry was 55) pretending to be children, outrageously dressed in curls and Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes. The Copenhagen-born Thyssen makes a worthy successor to Christine McIntyre.

Fifi Blows Her Top (1958)
Chiefly a reworking of Laurel & Hardy’s Unaccustomed As We Are (1929) and Block-Heads (1938) while incorporating some stock scenes from 1950’s Love at First Bite (1950), the Stooges play Vaudevillians whose trunk reads, “Howard, Fine and Besser... Stage, Screen, and Radar.” Joe recalls The Woman That Got Away, how during the war he fell madly in love with a French beauty named Fifi (Vanda Dupre, in a part intended for Nanette Bordeaux?). “She used to show me all the Paris sights!” enthuses Joe. But, tragically, they lost contact with one another and—O bitter irony—Fifi, now married to a jealous husband (Phil Van Zandt), moves into the apartment across the hall! Memorable scenes include a wad of gum that gets stuck in Moe’s ear; the gooey mess must have taken weeks to clean out. Besser’s contract precluded violent slapstick specifically directed at him, but in one scene he takes it on the chin for real when Larry hits him with a co*cktail shaker. Curse of the Stooges, Part Three: Longtime Stooge foil Van Zandt, a depressed, compulsive gambler, took a fatal overdose of sleeping pills shortly after shooting this, his last film appearance.
(** ½)

Pies and Guys (1958)
Like Guns a Poppin!, this is a scene-for-scene remake of a late-period Curly two-reeler, his last in fact, Half-Wits Holiday (1947). The pie fight finale incorporates a lot of stock footage from the earlier film, partly because its climax focused on Moe and Larry with Curly sidelined. Joe Besser’s whiny kid persona doesn’t fit well with Curly’s old material; it’s hard to imagine Joe trying to make off with all the silverware, for instance, but he tries his best. Gene Roth and Milton Frome are the Stooges’ ticket into High Society; each must have been at least 6’3”—in one shot they positively tower over the Stooges, who look like pygmies. Perennial Stooge dowager Symona Boniface may not have been psychic, but (in stock footage) she was still getting laughs with her “Sword of Damocles” line and getting slammed with pies eight years after her death.

Sweet and Hot (1958)
Another one of those, “Gee—I haven’t seen this in 35 years!” shorts, this is the one featuring rotund Muriel Landers (who gets separate title card billing, a first?) as farmer Joe’s sister, Tiny. She’s got talent to spare, belting out Let’s Fall in Love in the opening reel, only there’s a problem: she’s terrified at the notion of singing in front of other people. Tiny’s boyfriend, nightclub impresario Larry, along with Joe take her to see German psychiatrist Moe, who uses sodium pentothal to expose a childhood trauma. When she was just a kid, Tiny’s father (also Moe) tried to bully her into singing before her uncles (Joe and Larry). Best line comes when Joe faints after eyeing a syringe: “I’ll give him artificial respiration!” says Moe. “For what you’re charging,” demands Larry, “you give him the real thing!” I used to hate this short, but except for the embarrassing flashback scene, with zaftig Landers dressed like a 4XL Shirley Temple and talking in a widdle voice, I now admire its attempt to be something different, and the Stooges seem to be enjoying themselves, too.
(*** ½)

Flying Saucer Daffy (1958)
Though a few more shorts were withheld for release until 1959, this was the last Three Stooges two-reeler actually produced by Columbia, shot over just two days on December 19 and 20, 1957. Depressingly, Moe and Larry play ungrateful pigs leeching off cousin Joe’s earnings as a mechanic in this twist on Cinderella. (“All you need,” Moe says to Joe, “is a glass slipper instead of a bonehead.”) On a camping trip and trying to take a photograph of a squirrel with his new Polaroid, Joe’s camera accidentally catches two stuck-together paper plates flying through the air, which everyone mistakes for a flying saucer. Moe and Larry temporarily become rich, while Joe encounters a real saucer (played in stock footage by one of Ray Harryhausen’s spaceships from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and two beautiful alien women (Bek Nelson and Dianna Darrin). (In a real Did-I-hear-that-right? moment, Joe glances at one alien woman’s breasts, exclaiming, “Wow! What mamas!”) Moe, Larry, and their alcoholic mother (Gail Bonney) are merely unpleasant, not funny, but the sci-fi angle is a plus.

Oil’s Well That Ends Well (1958)
Since BP’s private security is blocking access to the media I think television networks, to help explain BP’s clean-up efforts, ought to run footage of Moe, Larry, and Joe ineptly trying again and again to cap their out-of-control gusher, as it appears in this semi-remake of Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise. The Stooges have lost their jobs, and what’s more, their uninsured father needs $10,000 for an operation. (Say—this short really is ripped from the headlines!) They head to, sigh, the same cabin previously seen in Guns a Poppin! and Horsing Around in this especially violent short. Joe’s pretty funny in this, at one point breaking the fourth wall and (possibly ad-libbing) mouths “I hate him!” directly into the camera.
(** ½)

Triple Crossed (1959)
Shemp lives! Sort of. This is a reworking of He Cooked His Goose (1952) which has playboy (and pet store owner) Larry trying to make Joe the fall guy to cover for his own affair with Moe’s wife, Belle. At one point, Joe scurries up a chimney only to reemerge as Shemp dressed as Santa Claus. Shemp’s voice is clearly heard, and his face is easily distinguished beneath the fake beard in at least one shot. The rest of the short is pretty bad; another uninspired remake, producer Jules White shot the minimum footage required to excise Shemp and insert Joe. Angela Stevens appears in both old and new footage as Joe’s wife, but Mary Ainslee apparently wasn’t available, and according to the IMDb was doubled by Connie Cezan. However, this is done very badly, with Cezan about as convincing as Ed Wood’s chiropractor doubling Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space, plus the late-’40s-style dresses the women wear must have seemed awfully dated even by 1959.

Sappy Bull Fighters (1959)
Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye! Although filmed in the fall of 1957, this June 4, 1959 release was the end of the line. A remake of What’s the Matador?, it was probably made in response to Fox’s big-budget adaptation of The Sun Also Rises (1957). The Stooges are comic bullfighters who become friendly with curvy showgirl Greta Thyssen but whose husband, José (George J. Lewis, then playing Zorro’s father on Disney’s TV show, which must’ve confused the kiddies) is insanely jealous. Cheap short’s first-half was filmed on a nearly empty soundstage that tries to convince the audience it’s in Mexico: signs with letters in big font declare “Silencio!” “Boletin,” etc.
(** ½)

Once again, Sony has done a great job bringing the Stooges to DVD with remastered shorts presented in their original release order. The mono audio (English only, unlike some of the earlier DVD releases, which had multiple language options) is otherwise fine. There are no subtitle options, though the discs are closed-captioned.

Columbia was one of the earliest adaptors of 1.85:1 cropped widescreen (which, early on, they referred to as Vistascope), and which they pretty much used on all their non ’scope productions from about the spring of 1953 forward. Spooks! was the first short shot with 1.85:1 framing in mind, though a few two-reelers filmed before it were released later in 1953. Rip, Sew, and Stitch comes after the 1.85:1 Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire but was released 1.37:1 full-frame. From Bubble Trouble onward, everything is 1.85:1 (and 16:9 enhanced), including Goof on the Roof, which was obviously shot before the switch but released in widescreen anyway. It’s a real pleasure to see these films in their proper aspect ratios. The new footage looks infinitely better, while even the stock scenes generally look okay, framing-wise.

The two 3-D shorts are available in both flat 2-D and in a red-green anaglyphic process (two sets of cardboard glasses are included). The 3-D versions are, frankly, pretty lousy, only about 25% as effective as their original polarized 3-D presentations, which when properly projected looked like a regular black and white movie but with superb three-dimensional depth. For some reason, whatever was done here results in an enormous amount of video noise. Why this is I have no idea. Anaglyphic can look much better than this (I have a 3-D trailer for The Maze that looks outstanding) but at least a general sense of the effect can be enjoyed, and kudos to Sony for offering these at all. Both shorts were also originally sepia-toned (audaciously billed as Mono-Color by Columbia’s ad men), but are in standard black and white on this DVD.

(Correction: Three-D expert Bob Furmanek says only Spooks! and the feature it supported, Fort Ti, was sepia-toned, due to light loss issues during projection. “(And) That’s why they mention Fort Ticonderoga in the opening scene of Spooks!” adds Bob. Thanks!)

Update: Both shorts have since been released in Blu-ray 3-D.

Rockin’ in the Rockies, included below, looks great, while Have Rocket, Will Travel is on the grainy side for the first 15 minutes, but improves after that.

As for extras, The Three Stooges: Rare Treasures from the Columbia Pictures Vault is spread across three discs, stacked on a single hub as with a few other Sony titles. Personally, I don’t object to this space saver as with reasonable handling one is unlikely to scratch any of the discs.


The Three Stooges Full-Length Columbia Films

Rockin’ in the Rockies (1945)
Despite the fact that the Stooges have been a television staple for more than half a century, until now this Three Stooges starring feature inexplicably had been almost impossible to see. Not to be confused with their 1940 two-reeler Rockin’ Thru the Rockies, this feature is a real anomaly. The Stooges had small roles in a few Columbia features, such as their blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em cameo during the last three seconds of My Sister Eileen (1942), but this was their only Columbia-produced starring feature pre-Joe DeRita. How it came about is a mystery, at least to me, but it plays as if the Stooges’ parts were written for other actors/comedians and they were a last-minute replacement. Moe, his bowl-style haircut uncharacteristically combed backed, plays the mostly straight part of Shorty Williams, a ranch foreman pretending to be a big shot while owner Rusty Williams (Jay Kirby) is out of town. Shorty has mining in his blood, and cons gentlemanly vagrants (“chased all the way from the slaughterhouse”) Larry and Curly (themselves), in a rare moment of solvency, out of their cash to invest in Shorty’s grubstake. Ambitious singers June (Mary Beth Hughes) and Betty (Gladys Blake) join them, as do aspiring Western swing band The Hoosier Hotshots (themselves). Written and directed by hands not associated with the short subjects department, Rockin’ in the Rockies is less a Stooge short expanded to feature length (67 ½ minutes) than it is an offbeat B-Western, albeit one minus the conventional Gene Autry/Roy Rogers-type hero in the lead. Kirby, who’d recently played the juvenile lead in several Hopalong Cassidy films, fits that bill by default but he’s not in the film all that much, and cranky when he is. It’s fun to see Moe in what’s essentially a character part even if it throws everything out of whack. In one scene the three engage in the familiar “Point to the Right” routine, but this time Moe’s playing Larry’s part and vice versa. The writing also has Curly and Larry playing something closer to the anarchic comics they had been ten years before, but Curly’s small strokes affect his line delivery, though he’s in better shape here than most of his 1945 short comedies. Still, their atypical gentlemanly vagrants demonstrate that their talents weren’t limited to broad and violent slapstick. About half the movie consists of Western swing performances (including by “King of the Western Swing” and future convicted murderer Spade Colley) and while this stops the narrative dead in its tracks, I found the songs and performances quite delightful, especially the title tune and the four numbers performed by the madcap Hoosier Hotshots, whose followers included everyone from Spike Jones to actor John Lithgow. Gladys Blake makes a good comic love interest for Moe. Blake also appeared with Laurel & Hardy (in Jitterbugs) and Abbott & Costello (Who Done It?, as “The line is busy” telephone operator). Vernon Dent has a small role as a harried casino nightclub manager.

Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959)
This awkward feature, at times sloppily sentimental and generally unfunny, yet peculiarly almost endearing, was the Stooges’ first movie after their career in two-reelers had ended. For a time their career in pictures seemed over, but then Columbia sold a package of mostly early two-reelers to local television stations (at a $12 million profit) and the Three Stooges became an overnight sensation with schoolchildren across America. Have Rocket, Will Travel is something of a transitional work; it’s similar to the latter-day sci-fi spoofs the team made with Joe Besser, but it also readjusts for its newfound audience, if slightly less so than their subsequent features. This one, for instance, features what may be Moe’s last-ever onscreen eye-poke. It was also the first to feature Joe “Curly-Joe” DeRita in the “third Stooge” slot. “Surly-Joe,” as I call him, was profoundly unfunny though, surprisingly, a pretty decent actor in “serious” roles. He seems to have been chosen less for his talent than his height (he was short, like Moe and Larry) and width, and for his willingness to be refashioned into the Stooges brand, as it were. Where Curly, Shemp, and even Joe Besser contributed their own unique talent and comic persona to the team, Joe DeRita’s stooge was by design a Curly imposter (pale “Woo-woos” and other Curlyisms are overdubbed in this feature), but unfortunately so badly and so painfully unfunny that he fooled no one, not even the smallest of small fry. In his defense, DeRita was playing a made-to-order character, one meant to conform to the older, less energetic Moe and Larry, themselves likewise hom*ogenized for their newfound demographics. But in all of DeRita’s film and TV appearances with the team he generates not a single inspired moment of lunacy. In the movie, whose plot resembles Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953), Moe, Larry, and Curly-Joe are janitors at a space center hiding aboard a rocketship that’s launched, rather maliciously, by beleaguered boss Jerome Cowan. It lands on Venus, where the trio encounters a friendly talking unicorn (voice by Dallas “Gumby” McKennon), are menaced by a giant tarantula, and captured by a super-computer that makes zombie-like duplicates of them. (“Yours is a shape I admire,” says the computer. To each his own.) Directed by prolific television helmer David Lowell Rich (The Concorde... Airport ’79), the film, despite its low budget ($127,000), is undeniably a feature and lacks Jules White’s short-form comedy sensibility to good and bad effect. The musical score is intensely annoying, particularly in repeatedly quoting Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, while the big finish, where the Stooges muck up a big society party in their honor, really feels tacked-on. And yet I must confess a certain fondness for the film, despite everything. I mean, there’s something crudely beguiling about a musical number (Music by George Duning, Lyrics by Stanley Styne) performed by the Stooges, wearing spacesuits, strolling along the surface of Venus, singing slightly off-key to their new friend, a talking unicorn (“Have Rocket, Will Travel, in Spa-a-a-a-a-ce!”) The special effects vary widely, but the giant tarantula is nicely done, better in fact than filmmaker Bert I. Gordon’s usual assortment of such things, though the first time we see the big spider it’s actually stock footage from Universal-International’s Tarantula (1955). Robert Colbert, later lost in The Time Tunnel, is the juvenile lead.

The Three Stooges Columbia Cartoons

Bon Bon Parade (1935)
Something of a misnomer, as the Stooges don’t actually star in any of these cartoons, nor do they provide their cartoon equivalent’s voices. Nevertheless, these are still nice little cartoons to have. This one is about a street urchin transformed by a sympathetic cupid into a pint-sized citizen of Candyland and seems to have been inspired by a Disney Silly Symphony, the much-superior Candy Carnival, released earlier that same year. Quasi-Stooges turn up briefly as bratty cupids. Despite this sourcing a re-release film element, the color and clarity are impressive.

Merry Mutineers (1936)
Peculiar “Scrappy” cartoon has kids playing with elaborate sailing ship toys in a park’s water fountain, vessels manned by miniaturized caricatures of Hollywood stars. Predictably, featured are cartoon versions of Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh and Wallace Beery as Long John Silver, but also Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Bros., Jimmy Durante, and the Three Stooges. Ironically, considering this was a Columbia short, the cartoon Stooges don’t look anything like them, while both the drawing and mannerisms of Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Bros. are dead-on.
(** ½)

A Hollywood Detour (1942)
The great Frank Tashlin wrote and directed this irreverent, cynical series of blackout gags about life in Hollywood. As with Merry Mutineers, there are loads of funny caricatures, including animated drawings of Katharine Hepburn, William Powell, and John Barrymore. The renderings of the Stooges this time are by far the best, but they appear for all of three seconds!


Columbia Comedy Shorts Featuring Shemp Howard

Home on the Rage (1938)
Funny Andy Clyde short opens well, with sleepy Andy resisting the efforts of his German Shepard, Penrod, to wake him. Downstairs, Andy’s wife (Lela Bliss, later memorable as the tipsy Mrs. Shellhammer in Miracle on 34th Street) is surprised by the sudden arrival of Happy (Shemp), her good-for-nuthin’ freeloader brother. So unscrupulous is he that Happy plots to injure Andy for the insurance money, and later plots to kill Penrod. This short was written by James W. Horne, who only the year before had directed one of Laurel & Hardy’s best features, Way Out West, and numerous other Hal Roach classics. This may have been his only Columbia two-reel comedy. Soon after he switched genres and became a director of serials. Co-starring Vernon Dent, in a dapper white suit just asking to have India ink spilled all over it.
(*** ½)

Glove Slingers (1939)
This was the first of 12 loosely connected “Glove Slingers” comedies, about a young college student/amateur boxer, though the cast changed so often it barely qualifies as a series. In this initial outing, fight manager Pat Patrick (Shemp Howard, everyone’s favorite Irishman) discovers breezy college kid Terry Kelly (Noah Beery Jr.) is a natural fighter after he knocks Charlie “The Kid” Benson (Cy Schindell) cold. Very strange to see past and future Stooge Shemp teamed with Jim Rockford’s Dad. Beery has loads of natural charisma, too; though he’d become a fine character actor, here you wonder why he didn’t become a big star. (Beery also takes a painful pratfall in this one; he’s lucky he didn’t break his neck.) Also featuring Stooge regulars Dick Curtis and Richard Fiske, and a couple of gags pilfered from Punch Drunks. Shemp sports a mustache and glasses in this one.
(*** ½)

Money Squawks (1940)
Andy Clyde stars again, this time as the station agent at the remote Plainpool Depot. Andy unhappily accepts delivery of the nearby Adams Mining Co.’s $10,000 payroll, despite reports of robbers in the area. Fellow station agent Shemp arrives and hilarity ensues. Director Jules White reached pretty deep into his gag bag, employing just about every silent comedy gag for this short, from the derby-on-the-foot-mistaken-for-a-burglar gag to the slapstick chase climax, with sight gags straight out of the Keystone Kops. With Vernon Dent as the night watchman at the mine, Richard Fiske and Cy Schindell as robbers, and Bud Jamison as the local sheriff. Andy’s comic timing is impeccable

Boobs in the Woods (1940)
Similar to Charley Chase’s On the Wrong Trek (1936) this short again stars Andy Clyde saddled with obnoxious brother-in-law Shemp, here called Gus. A lazy good-for-nothing sponging off Andy for the past three years, he manages to get Andy fired from his job at Bud Jamison’s music store, then tags along when Andy and wife Esther Howard (soon to join Preston Sturges’s stock company of actors) go on a much-needed vacation. But Gus is an insufferable pain in the ass: when Gus, at the wheel, gets Andy’s car stuck in some mud he complains, “Why did you tell me that hole was so deep!?” In contrast to Home on the Rage, Shemp’s more annoying than funny in this one. Featuring Bruce Bennett as a park ranger, and Jack “Tiny” Lipson (King Vultan in Flash Gordon, the engineer’s assistant in A Night at the Opera) as a motorcycle cop.

Pleased to Mitt You (1940)
The Glove Slingers are back, with Shemp and Dorothy Vaughan reprising their roles (she as Terry Kelly’s Ma), but with Guinn “Big Boy” Williams and bland David Durand in the Paul Hurst and Noah Beery Jr. roles. An atypical Columbia two-reeler, this has little in the way of broad slapstick (save for the feather-filled oven mitt in the layer cake routine) and not much story, either. Terry’s $1,400 worth of college tuition money is stolen by a rival, but mostly what happens in this lighthearted short is a bunch of college kids partying at Ma Kelly’s house, jitterbugging and enjoying free eats. Not terribly funny, but pleasant.

Columbia Comedy Shorts Starring Shemp Howard

Pick a Peck of Plumbers (1944)
“Yumpin yiminy!” Labored comedy teams Shemp with El Brendel (Wings, Just Imagine), an American-born dialect comic that Columbia billed as “America’s Swede-Heart.” El and Shemp, nearly blind behind co*ke-bottle glasses, face jail time unless they can pay a $100 fine within 48 hours. They get a job as plumbers and are sent on an assignment to retrieve a diamond ring lost down a drain. A remake of Plumbing for Gold (1934) and a partial reworking of APlumbing We Will Go (1940), this one doesn’t benefit from the mismatched teaming of Shemp and El, nor the standard Jules White-tailored broad slapstick, though it tries hard, and the gags aren’t just repeats from the earlier Stooge comedy. The best ones involve the black actors cast as the household’s butler, Pinkerton (Billy Mitchell), and cook, Amelia (Willa Pearl Curtis). He spots a flooded bathroom about to cave in on the lady of the house and her bridge club, but she poo-poohs his warnings until, in the middle of a “royal flush,” a flood of water douses the socialites. (A crew member wanders into view, somewhat spoiling the effect.) Later, with Shemp and El having mixed up the gas and water lines, Amelia happily cooks mashed potatoes on a lawn sprinkler—until everything goes haywire and dollops of potatoes are flying every which way.
(** ½)

Open Season for Saps (1944)
Very funny short casts Shemp as incorrigible womanizer Woodco*ck Q. Strinker, devoted member of The Hoot Owls, a fraternal organization. When Woodco*ck arrives home (sporting a tux and bowler) at 5:00am for the umpteenth time, his wife (Early Cantrell) puts her foot down. Woodco*ck protests that he’s up for “Keeper of the Nest Egg” but no, his wife insists on quality time together and the two take a vacation. However, at their hotel Woodco*ck runs into a fellow lodge member (songwriter Harry Barris) who needs help out of a jam with blackmailer Christine McIntyre (never prettier), whose jealous Latin husband (George J. Lewis, Guy Williams’s father on Zorro) naturally turns up. McIntyre gets to sing in this one, and Shemp is amusing (and indescribably ugly) disguised as a señora.
(*** ½)

Off Again, On Again (1944)
Woodco*ck Q. Strinker returns for this sequel to Open Season for Saps and remake of the 1938 Columbia Charley Chase short Time Out for Trouble. Woodco*ck saves gangster’s moll Maisie Frump (Grace Lenard) from a falling case of canned goods, but among the crowd of onlookers is a photographer who snaps a picture of Maisie in Woodco*ck’s arms. This enrages Woodco*ck’s girlfriend, Edith (Christine McIntyre), and she breaks off their engagement. Depressed, he tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide, then through Maisie’s boyfriend, Louie Derringer (Dick Curtis), has a contract put out on himself! Routine but Shemp is funny, and there’s some irony in future Shemp impersonator Joe Palma playing the assassin trying to kill him. Bobby Burns, Heinie Conklin, Bud Jamison, and John Tyrrel are featured.

Where the Pest Begins (1945)
Routine short has obnoxious husband Shemp wreaking havoc in the kitchen before “helping” new neighbors Tom and Annie Batts (Tom Kennedy and Christine McIntyre). Jules White seems determined to typecast Shemp as a lazy freeloader and/or shameless womanizer, both of which apply here. Shemp was undeniably versatile (he had, after all, recently played Sinbad the Sailor) and plays this about as well as could be expected, but it’s not terribly appealing. One also has to question the casting of hulking former prizefighter Kennedy as a scientific genius responsible for “bombs and things” at the nearby defense plant, including the Buttside Super-X aerial bomb. Produced by Hugh McCollum and written by Edward Bernds, but directed, badly, by Harry Edwards, who ruins one gag by breaking the 180-degree rule of editing.
(** ½)

A Hit with a Miss (1945)
This remake of the classic 1934 Three Stooges classic Punch Drunks isn’t particularly good but nonetheless fascinates. Rameses (sic), played by Shemp, meets with girlfriend Marilyn Johnson (later Mrs. Forrest Tucker) in a park, where she complains that after seven years of dating it’s about time that he make her an honest woman. Rameses then goes to work at a local dive, the “Casino de la Spud McGurn—Caterer to the Elite,” and assumes the Curly role from Punch Drunks. Prolific bit player Robert Williams assumes Moe’s role while, most intriguingly, one “Charles Rogers” plays Larry’s part, here called Professor Periwinkle. British-born Charley Rogers (as he was more commonly billed) was a stage comedian who became a gag writer and bit player and, eventually, a director on numerous Laurel & Hardy shorts and features. He seems to have been one of the team’s closest collaborators from about 1932-40, and a couple of films after that. By 1945 his career as a writer-director had ended, and attempts to resume acting lead nowhere. After this the IMDb credits him with just three small parts: a bit in a cheap Western featuring Buster Keaton, an uncredited part in Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, and a co-starring role in an Andy Clyde short, suggesting perhaps that others were giving him a leg up. The rest of the short offers some new gags, stock footage of long-dead Arthur Housman, and even a stock shot of a clearly visible Larry. Once again, the original story is credited to “Howard, Fine & Howard.”
(** ½)

Mr. Noisy (1946)
If I could will but a single unreleased Columbia two-reeler to DVD, it would have to be The Heckler (1940) starring Charley Chase as the title character, a man so rude, selfish, and thoughtless toward everyone around him that he’s hilarious in his awfulness. I only saw it once, but Chase was brilliant in an atypical role, though similar to another famous role he played in Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert. The Heckler was itself a remake of an earlier Chase title for Hal Roach, and remade here with Shemp in the part. The material is nearly identical, but where Chase was obliviously exuberant in his rudeness, Shemp is coarse and philistine, yet Shemp’s version is quite funny too. The last third of the short involves gangsters who try to cash in on Shemp’s game-altering taunts, but the funniest scenes simply feature Shemp wreaking all manner of havoc on the poor spectators sitting adjacent to him, particularly Vernon Dent. “How’s the ol’ ballgame goin’, slim?” Shemp rudely asks this stranger.
(*** ½)

Jiggers, My Wife (1946)
Another winner, this short once again casts Shemp as Woodco*ck J. Strinker. Confusingly, though Christine McIntyre appears in this, she’s no longer Woodco*ck’s fiancée but an old flame named Trixie, while Early Cantrell returns as Shemp’s wife. Either way, this is the best of the three and, ironically, least emphasizes Woodco*ck’s carousing ladies man image. In this short, Woodco*ck tries to make it up to wife Minnie by buying her a car from a neighbor whose husband is in the service. She overhears their conversation, ripe with double-entendres and assumes the worst: “You say she’s plenty fast, eh? That’s the way I like ’em, nice and speedy! Warm her up for me and I’ll be right over!” Minnie’s busybody friend Trapella Weatherwax (Symona Boniface) catches sight of Woodco*ck entering Trixie’s house—atypically shot not at the Columbia Ranch but on a real residential street quite close to DVD Savant’s home by the look of things—and she runs to tell Minnie. (A breakaway vase shatters on Boniface’s face, and appears to cut her forehead.) Meanwhile, Trixie’s jealous serviceman husband (Cy Schindell) unexpectedly returns. A solid short, with McIntyre both quite funny and sexy, despite being deglamorized as an ordinary housewife. One of Shemp’s best.
(*** ½)

Society Mugs (1946)
A remake of Termites of 1938, this one opens with Charles Williams (Cousin Eustace in It’s a Wonderful Life) fleeing a high society party that wife Muriel (Christine McIntyre) wants him to attend. As the party’s host, Alice (Rebel Randall), also is without a partner, she suggests they contact the Acme Escort Bureau. “They’re all college boys and perfect gentlemen!” Unfortunately for them, their maid Petunia (Etta McDaniel, Hattie’s sister) mistakenly dials Acme Exterminating, where Shemp and Tom Kennedy, hard of hearing after an explosion, mishear Muriel’s instructions. This one’s funny for its cast, including Vernon Dent as a foreign dignitary looking to Shemp and Tom for tips on etiquette, and perennial movie extra Bess Flowers uncomfortably sandwiched between Shemp and Tom at the dinner table. Not great, but enjoyable.

Bride and Gloom (1947)
The last Shemp solo short was actually released a few weeks after his first short back with the Stooges, Fright Night. This one ends routinely but begins well, with Shemp late to his own wedding to Jean Willis (billed as Jean Donahue). Vernon Dent plays Shemp’s prospective father-in-law, standing in front of the same backlot church for a similar scene in Joe Besser’s first solo short, Waiting in the Lurch (1949). First Shemp’s taxi (driven by Emil Sitka) gets stuck in the mud, and then from Heinie Conklin he borrows a car with no brakes. It smashes into a hydrant dousing Christine McIntyre, who hops in Shemp’s car and undresses to dry off. Still without brakes Shemp and a half-naked Christine keep circling the block where the church is. In a way it’s too bad Shemp took over from Curly when he did, as Shemp’s solo shorts were really getting good during 1945-46.


Columbia Comedy Shorts Starring Joe Besser

Waiting in the Lurch (1949)
Funny short casts Joe as a wealthy eccentric obsessed with fire, the “No. 1 Fire Kibitzer of the City.” However, his fire chasing gets him in trouble when he forgets about his wedding to Christine McIntyre, leaving her at the altar and infuriating her father, Vernon Dent. From the Hugh McCollum-Edward Bernds team near the peak of their comic prowess, this is a fine, character-driven short that serves as a good showcase for its star. Co-starring Symona Boniface in one of her last roles. A good start to the series, it like other one-off shorts uses Mary Had a Little Lamb as its theme song.
(*** ½)

Dizzy Yardbird (1950)
Besser’s big break was being cast in the army comedy Hey, Rookie, opposite Ann Miller and Larry Parks, and an unusually high percentage of Besser’s solo output charted similar territory. This one pits Pvt. Joe against gravelly-voiced Sgt. Dick Wessel, who on a bet unwisely agrees to “go a little easy,” that a pampering approach would be more effective than browbeating the little guy. Naturally, one disaster after another ensues, with Wessel dunked in a barrel of white paint, and Joe accidentally varnishing the platoon’s mess hall table with liquid glue. It’s not terribly funny, but Besser’s perpetually cheery screen persona is immensely likable. Best scene has Joe knocking out one of Wessel’s teeth. Delighted, Joe exclaims, “Hey, sergeant! Can I keep this? My father’s an Elk!” Emil Sitka, minus his usual “old professor” makeup, turns up as a soldier stuck to Joe’s glue-smeared table.
(** ½)

Fraidy Cat (1951)
Joe is teamed with “Hawthorne” (so billed) in this nearly line-for-line remake of the Stooges Dizzy Detectives (1943). (Jim) Hawthorne, who gets an “and introducing” credit, was a popular DJ at the time who looked like a cross between Tommy Noonan and Marvin Kaplan. At the Wide Awake Detective Agency, I. Ketchum (Tom Kennedy) orders investigators Joe and Jim to look into a series of burglaries allegedly being committed by a monster ape (Steve Calvert). “Maybe it’s one of them orag-gatangles!” speculates Joe. Nearly all the comedy, most of the dialogue, and even some of the footage from Dizzy Detectives turns up in this short, from Kennedy’s desk-pounding smashing of Joe’s walnuts to the old cat’s-tail-under-the-rocking-chair gag. Interesting though to see this same material funneled through Besser’s screen persona.
(** ½)

Aim, Fire, Scoot (1952)
Superior to Dizzy Yardbird, this army comedy, a semi-remake of the Stooges Boobs in Arms (1940) opens with a newspaper headline from the Goulash Gazette: “Starvania Breaks with Thirstgaria.” A bit of Cold War satire follows as no-goodniks Joe and Hawthorne are literally drafted (in strong winds) into a recruiting center. During basic training, Joe is reunited with gorgeous platinum blonde girlfriend Olga (Angela Stevens) while drill sergeant Henry Kulky (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) assumes the old Richard Fiske role: “I’m gonna make soldiers out of you if I have to kill you!” As with Fraidy Cat, it’s interesting to watch Besser’s take on identical material performed, in this case by Curly, a dozen years before. His asides to the camera (breaking the fourth wall) and occasional ad-libs are pretty funny, and Joe’s idea of push-ups is inventive, to say the least.

Caught on the Bounce (1952)
The best of the Joe Besser solo shorts, this one actually has some hilarious original gags (at least to me) and a politically-incorrect approach that’s a refreshing change from the usual Jules White-style violent slapstick. Fat Joe is married to even fatter (by a good 75 lbs.) Maxine Gates, and they have a fat son, Junior. Overcome with worry about a $2,500 bank loan, the couple decide to take the train and meet the wife’s rich aunt (Esther Howard, in her last film role). Junior inadvertently gets locked in a steamer trunk and amid his muffled cries of “I’m suffocating!” Joe and Maxine struggle to find the key to get him out, eventually resorting to a two-man saw and an axe. “Daddy! Mama! It’s hot in here!” Later, on the sleeper train, there’s a priceless reaction from a black porter when Maxine announces her intention to sleep in the upper berth. She then (naturally) falls on top of him, flattening him like a pancake (a priceless sight gag). Later, on the set seen in Cuckoo on a Choo Choo (also 1952), some fudge gets mixed up with cubes of Squire’s Chewing Tobacco, and Joe and Junior each turn white with nausea. They don’t make ’em like that anymore!
(*** ½)

Spies and Guys (1953)
I know what you’re thinking: What’s this? Another basic training comedy. Yep. Joe’s back in one of those made-up countries, presumably to avoid trouble with the censors. This one’s called the Republic of Jugonutzland, now at war with Starvania. (Did Joe switch sides? You traitor, youuuuu!) Again Joe is drafted, again Angela Stevens is his voluptuous girlfriend (and superior offier), and again he makes trouble for his drill sergeant, this time played by Murray Alper, later a favorite bit player for Jerry Lewis. Angela sends Joe and Sarge on a secret mission to Starvania, played by an impressive backlot set left over from some other movie (Sirocco, perhaps?). Emil Sitka commands the firing squad in this one.
(** ½)

The Fire Chaser (1954)
It’s downhill from here, folks. This is the first of several Jules White remakes, in this case of Waiting in the Lurch (see above), in which just enough new footage has been added to technically qualify this as a new release and not a reissue. As with innumerable ’50s Stooge shorts, White also has the effrontery to bill himself as producer-director and brother Jack as screenwriter, even though 90% of it was actually the work of others while the new scenes were shot in a single day. The new material consists of millionaire Erik Loudermilk Potts (Besser) in the hospital discussing with an ooh-la-la French nurse (Barbara Bartay) his plans to sue prospective father-in-law Vernon Dent. In new footage Christine McIntyre reprises her role as Erik’s fiancée; it was one of her last film roles. Amazingly, if pointlessly, the bookending bits at the hospital are supplemented by an entirely new climax, with Erik crashing McIntyre’s wedding and being chased by Dent, in one of his last parts. Supposedly blind or nearly blind by this point, Dent nonetheless gives a lively physical performance, though he’s obviously older (and thinner) than he was when the original film was made. Note: This and the remaining shorts are all in 1.85:1 enhanced widescreen.

G.I. Dood It (1955)
Weak remake of the already not so hot Dizzy Yardbird. This one opens at a dog pound, where thanks to the miracle of optical printing Joe’s Great Dane Homer (voiced by Besser) tells the story of his master, framing the mostly older basic training footage with Joe and Dick Wessel (billed as “Richard” here, for some reason). In new footage, poor Philip Van Zandt appears as Col. Phillip Potts, and the new scenes introduce a subplot about stolen documents. What’s interesting about these Jules and Jack White-conceived remakes is that, almost invariably, the remakes are meaner and more cynical than the originals. This one ends with sad*stic Joe gloating while Wessel is made to clean an enormous pile of spittoons.
(* ½)

Hook a Crook (1955)
Next White remakes Fraidy Cat (1951), less than four years old and itself already a remake of Dizzy Detectives (1943). How weird do things get? The diamond-stealing ape is played in new footage by a pre-Bonanza Dan Blocker, in a gorilla skin worn by Ray Corrigan in stock shots from Dizzy Detectives, before he sold it to Steve Calvert, so he could find work as a gorilla in films like Fraidy Cat, also excerpted. Barbara Bartay and Lela Bliss join Joe and Jim Hawthorne in new footage. Also appearing briefly is Dudley Dickerson in what may have been his last new Columbia short, though it’s hard to tell for sure. In any case he does an admirable final pratfall similar to what he did in A Plumbing We Will Go, almost literally slipping and sliding into slapstick immortality.

Army Daze (1956)
Marginally better than G.I. Dood It, this remake of Aim, Fire, Scoot at least has extended new footage featuring Henry Kulky and Angela Stevens (billed), along with Jim Hawthorne and Phil Van Zandt (unbilled). The new material consists mainly of a protracted scene at the Camp Fullabullets Canteen, where Sgt. Bonebreaker (Kulky) and Col. Pretzelbender (Van Zandt) are on the receiving end of a messy mess. The short, I assure you, is just as funny as those characters’ names. There’s some amazing matching of new and old footage in some of these remakes, but Army Daze ain’t one of them. Stevens’s hairstyle so mismatches at first I thought I was watching an Angela Stevens impersonator. The crew spent all of October 5, 1955 shooting this one. Joe reported for Stooge duty less than a year later.
(* ½)

Columbia Comedy Shorts Starring Joe DeRita

Slappily Married (1946)
From the Edward Bernds-Hugh McCollum team (with a screenplay co-written by comedian Monte Collins) comes DeRita’s Columbia two-reeler debut. Joe plays a harried husband who spends most of reel 1 accidentally destroying his kitchen because he thinks it’s Friday the 13th. Later, at Joe’s dress and show store, Joe runs afoul of a persnickety customer (Jean Willes) and ends up in an apparently compromising position with another (Dorothy Granger). This leads to a fight with wife Christine McIntyre who moves to the women-only Hotel Amazon, which Joe tries to crash. In DeRita’s defense, Columbia had a habit of shoehorning all their comedians into the same type of broad slapstick comedy, whether it suited them or not, but unlike Besser, whose unique screen persona still shines through the occasional tedium, DeRita seems bereft of original talent. Co-starring Florence Auer, Dick Wessel, and a virtually unrecognizable Symona Boniface.
(** ½)

The Good Bad Egg (1947)
So-so short opens with Mr. Priggle (Joe), a bundle of nerves and suffering from ovaphobia, staying at Vernon Dent’s Shady Shelter Rest Home. A bachelor, Joe explains how he had read a marriage proposal on an egg from an apparently lonely widow, Florabelle (Dorothy Granger). But, after marrying her, he learns that she’s a single mother with an especially obnoxious ten-year-old, Rudolph (Norman Ollestad), very reminiscent of Tommy Bupp’s character in W.C. Fields’s great It’s a Gift (1934). Priggle is nonplussed. “I always go on Mom’s honeymoons!” says Rudolph. Priggle is an inventor about to unveil his Knee-Action Dish Washer, but Rudolph keeps lousing everything up. The machine, sabotaged by the kid, turns Florabelle’s prize china into powder. Nothing special, but Joe does a spectacular sideways pratfall that appears to bloody his nose.
(** ½)

Wedlock Deadlock (1947)
Easily the best of DeRita’s four solo shorts, this is a remake of Unrelated Relations (1936), which starred Monte Collins. Eddie (Joe) and Betty (Christine McIntyre) are blissfully happy newlyweds until Betty’s mother (Esther Howard), brother Chester (Charles Williams), and Aunt Hortense (Patsy Moran) show up. “Hey, groceries!” exclaims Chester, “When do we eat?!” And, indeed, they eat weak-willed Eddie and Betty out of house and home, including their wedding cake, while wreaking havoc elsewhere. “They’re coming down,” says Betty’s mother, ripping the drapes from the walls, “I can’t stand pink!” Eddie reads Nearly Perfect Murder (by Elwood Ullman) for advice, but eventually has co-worker Dick (William Newell) and his wife Ruby (Dorothy Granger) pose as Eddie’s crackpot relatives, newly released from the asylum.

Jitter Bughouse (1948)
Bland musical-comedy short has Joe managing The Nov-Elites (Art Terry, Frankie Carr, and Joe Mayer), a novelty trio that’s like a cross between Spike Jones and the Ritz Brothers. The boys, with the help of Joe’s long-suffering girlfriend (Christine McIntyre), eventually take their act to eccentric millionaire Mr. Lark (Emil Sitka). Joe is basically comedy relief between the musical numbers, though he does get to do another impressive sideways pratfall. The Nov-Elites are better musicians than comedians (here doing standard comic imitations of Al Jolson, Italian dialects, etc.), though the short doesn’t serve them particularly well, either.

One hopes Sony will eventually release all these shorts to Blu-ray. Hard-core fans will not want to wait for a truly complete set but, in the meantime, you’ll want to keep this Ultimate Collection until a true Blu-ray counterpart comes along.

The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (5)

- Stuart Galbraith IV


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The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection (DVD Review) (2024)
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