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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Three Stooges - Goofs on the Loose (Colorized / Black & White)
The Three Stooges - Goofs on the Loose (Colorized / Black & White)
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // August 10, 2004
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The much-maligned Three Stooges would probably be held in the same pantheon as the Marx Bros. and other "respectable" comedians and comedy teams if they weren't victims of their own longevity. Most successful teams are lucky to enjoy a 15-year run in the movies, but the Stooges worked steadily in Hollywood for nearly 40 years.

More than any team, the Three Stooges adapted to changing tastes. Their wildly anarchic, anything goes style comedy, popular on the stage and in films in the late-'20s and early-'30s, eventually gave way to more conventional (but equally funny) genre spoofs and situation comedies. They satirized Nazism in the '40s, went 3-D and spoofed the flying saucer craze in the '50s. When, in the late-1950s their audience shifted almost exclusively to children, the Stooges began making children's films.

Moe Howard and Larry Fine were with the act more or less from its earliest days until Larry suffered a stroke during the production of what would be their last film (Kook's Tour, 1970). The "third Stooge" slot, through death and illness, became something of a revolving door, with no less than four changes over a 25-year period. Moe's brother Shemp was perhaps the most versatile third stooge while Joe Besser's unique persona gave the act a shot in the arm when it really needed it. (Such was not the case with the last third stooge, Surly-Joe, er, Curly-Joe De Rita, who was almost creepily unfunny.)

But few will argue that the Stooges best shorts were those featuring Moe and Shemp's younger brother Jerome "Curly" Howard. His manic energy, contorting gyrations, and "woo-woo-woos" were a unique creation; in the history of screen comedy, there's been nothing like it, before or since.

The best Moe-Larry-Curly shorts were made between 1934 and about 1942. Curly stayed with the team until he was incapacitated by a massive stroke in 1946 (he died six years later), but smaller strokes in the preceding years took an obvious toll on the comedian, who went though a marked on-camera personality change. Many of these later Curly shorts are downright painful to watch.

Fortunately, the four two-reel comedies in The Three Stooges -- Goofs on the Loose represent the team at the top of their form. Unfortunately, three of the four shorts have been released to DVD before, and all are part of a move toward colorization discussed here.

As for the shorts:

Men in Black (1934)

This classic short not only gave birth to those immortal lines, "Dr. Howard! Dr. Fine! Dr. Howard!" but also Curly's trademark Woo-Woos which, according to legend, were ad-libbed when the actor forgot his lines. A spoof of the Clark Gable hospital soaper Men in White, this short best captures the earlier, free-wheeling style of the team's days with ex-partner Ted Healy, a style mostly abandoned over the next few years. This short, their only film nominated for an Academy Award, is supported by numerous comedy veterans, including former Keystone Kop Hank Mann (as a much put-upon sign painter) and Billy Gilbert, hilarious as a loony patient.

The Sitter-Downers (1937)

This funny short is something of a remake of Buster Keaton's classic short One Week (1920), with the trio trying build a pre-fabricated house for new wives June Gittelson, Marcia Healy (Ted's sister), and Betty Mack, with great support from comic foil James C. Morton as their father. Not surprisingly, the stooges get into all manner of trouble building their dream house, the highlight coming when Curly's feet become encased in cement and Moe decides they'll "have to blast."

Punch Drunks (1934)

One of the team's finest shorts, their second comedy at Columbia is also the only one in which they share story credit. Curly is a mild-mannered waiter until Larry plays "Pop Goes the Weasel" on his fiddle. Curly goes crazy and Moe turns him into a heavyweight prizefighter. Real-life fighters Frank Moran and "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom are featured in this classic comedy, which also offers viewers a great look at Hollywood streets circa 1934. Many later Stooge shorts used the same basic premise (e.g., "Moe, Larry -- cheese! Moe, Larry -- cheese!")

Playing the Ponies (1937)

Unlike many of the team's later two-reelers, this one carefully sets up its basic premise, and is more story-oriented than most. In this short, directed by Charles Lamont (later to helm many Abbott & Costello features), the Stooges trade their hole-in-the-wall restaurant for Thunderbolt, a nag of a racehorse whom the Stooges discover will run like Seabiscuit when fed chili pepperinos. The extensive location work the team enjoyed in shorts like this would soon prove prohibitively expensive for cost-conscious Columbia. Update: Reader Paul Larochelle writes, "I noticed that some material is missing from [this short], specifically...the part related to the order of a hot dog was much longer....Curly in this version chases the dog out of the kitchen and the customer changes his order to eggs. In [the complete version], Curly caught the dog and carried him back through the restaurant [to the kitchen], then...as Curly would chop the hot dogs, the dog would yelp with each swing of the cleaver. It was at this point originally that the customer changed his order....I am very disappointed that they released this edited material and not...the complete short."

Video & Audio / Extras

A detailed review of the colorization process applied to both this collection and The Three Stooges -- Stooged and Confoosed can be read here.

Parting Thoughts

The shorts themselves are terrific, classic comedies even those not particularly enamored of the Stooges might conceivably enjoy. But Columbia TriStar's packaging of this material is another matter. The new-and-improved colorization process is undeniably impressive, but so what? Color doesn't make the films any funnier, any better -- just more expensive.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.

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