Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello.
So it's come to this, the final 32 two-reel shorts starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard and, in the final two film seasons, Joe Besser. While classics of film comedy are few and far between here - there's nothing on the level of classic Curly shorts like Uncivil Warriors, A Plumbing We Will Go, or Three Little Beers - in some ways fans, including this reviewer, have coveted this set more than any of the others simply because for years these titles have been locked away in the vault. Consider this: Volume One of The Three Stooges Collection featured 19 shorts of which just eight were new to DVD, and even those were frequently shown on television and available in other home video formats. Here however, in The Three Stooges Collection - Volume Eight - 1955-1959, you get 32 shorts instead of 19, and all are new to DVD.
It's particularly gratifying to at long last see the Joe Besser comedies again; I don't think I'd seen any since the early-1980s. With his unique comedy persona Besser wasn't really suited to the team's violent slapstick but could be quite funny on his own terms.
The first half of this set is, to quote Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again. The Stooges soldiered on despite ludicrous budgetary cuts that meant that all but a few of the last 16 Shemp shorts would be dominated by stock footage from earlier glories. Indeed, the differences between the original, late-1940s films and their mid-1950s remake were nearly imperceptible, sometimes not much more than about 15-20% new footage. Why even bother? I suspect Columbia may otherwise have been required to sell and advertise the shorts as reissues, and at a reduced price, unless they were at least partially new, so they may have simply opted for the cheapest possible solution.
But things really got weird after Shemp Howard died suddenly on November 22, 1955. The Stooges still had four more shorts to make under their current contract after Columbia head Harry Cohn rejected Moe's ideas to continue either as "The Two Stooges" with Larry, or as a new threesome with African-American comedian Mantan Moreland playing the patsy (this seems unlikely but fascinates). Instead, a bizarre alternate plan was hatched. Allow me to digress: Back in the late-1970s the very first movie I bought to play on my Super-8 sound projector was a 1956 Stooge short entitled Hot Stuff. This was during a time when the Stooges had inexplicably vanished from the airwaves (at least in the Detroit market) and so I ran that print into the ground. Gradually though, I began to notice something quite odd. For one thing, the sets and set decoration would subtly change from shot-to-shot, something the casual viewer would never notice. Moreover, in some scenes Shemp is seen only from the back, hunched over and he wouldn't have any lines other than an occasional "Eep-eep-eep!" Finally it hit me: most of the footage was actually from an earlier short, Fuelin' Around (1949) and that the subtle changes in the set reflected new footage shot for Hot Stuff, which in this case accounted for about 30% of the film. By the time these new scenes were shot, Shemp Howard was dead and so, as in three other shorts, in new footage bit player Joe Palma doubles Shemp.
Sony Pictures (and project supervisor James Owsley) deserve one last big hand for trying to present all the shorts in their original release versions. All of the shorts in this set are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Some of the pre-1953 stock scenes look a little awkward with this cropping, though most of the time this footage looks at least okay, but more importantly all of the new footage looks infinitely better-composed at this ratio.
Volume Eight offers more than eight-and-a-half hours worth of comedy spread over three single-sided, dual-layered discs. The excellent transfers are up to the same high standards of Volumes One and Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.
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.
Fling in the Ring (1955) [new to DVD]
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! (*** out of *****)
Of Cash and Hash (1955) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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? (*** 1/2)
Bedlam in Paradise (1955) [new to DVD]
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!" (** 1/2)
Stone Age Romeos (1955) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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 the 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 Cockney 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! (* 1/2)
Blunder Boys (1955) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Creeps (1956) [new to DVD]
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. (* 1/2)
Flagpole Jitters (1956) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Rumpus in the Harem (1956) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Hot Stuff (1956) [new to DVD]
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. (*** 1/2)
Scheming Schemers (1956) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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." (** 1/2)
Hoofs and Goofs (1957) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Muscle Up a Litter Closer (1957) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (*** 1/2)
Guns a Poppin! (1957) [new to DVD]
The first of the Joe Besser shorts predominantly a remake of a pre-Joe one, this reworking of 1945's Idiot's 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) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
"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. (** 1/2)
Outer Space Jitters (1957) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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 cocktail 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. (** 1/2)
Pies and Guys (1958) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (*** 1/2)
Flying Saucer Daffy (1958) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Triple Crossed (1959) [new to DVD]
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) [new to DVD]
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. (** 1/2)
Video & Audio
Once again, Sony has done a great job bringing the Stooges to DVD with remastered shorts presented in their original release order. The 32 shorts, all in 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen, are crammed onto three single-sided dual-layered discs and generally look great. The mono audio (English only, unlike some of the earlier DVD releases, which had multiple language options) is fine, though I did notice that the first reel of one short was approximately six frames out of synch. There are no subtitle options, though the discs are closed-captioned.
And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make, lamebrain. Recommended for general audiences but Highly Recommended for Stooge fans. Bring on Charley Chase!
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set looks at Japan's own beloved comedy film series.