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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Three Stooges: Stooges on the Run
The Three Stooges: Stooges on the Run
Sony Pictures // Unrated // October 3, 2006
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted September 26, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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"I'm a victim of circumstance!"
- Curly Howard


And incredible mismanagement.

Once again Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has seen fit to completely ignore seven years worth of complaints from angry Stooge fans about the studio's knucklehead handling of its valuable Three Stooges library with yet another pathetic DVD release. The Three Stooges: Stooges on the Run is nothing more than a pricey repackaging of four two-reel comedies - all of which are already out on DVD. But-but-but wait, says Sony, the Stooges are even "Funnier in Color!" Yes, ChromaChoice, that technically dazzling, aesthetically pointless colorization process nobody asked for in the first place is back to annoy Stooge fans and fulfill contractual obligations.

There's no denying that the four shorts in this set are funny. Pop Goes the Easel (1935), Disorder in the Court (1936), Dizzy Doctors (1937), and Calling All Curs (1939) feature stooges Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard in their prime. After the early-1940s, Curly suffered a series of strokes that irreparably damaged his comic timing and markedly changed his onscreen personality, but practically all their two-reel comedies made at Columbia in the 1930s are terrific and in all Curly is in top form.

The problem is that the Stooges made nearly 200 two-reel comedies for Columbia over a 20-year period, from the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s, yet over the last few years Sony keeps distributing (and syndicating to TV) the same skimpy list of shorts over-and-over while dozens of other Stooge comedies (perhaps half the library or more) sit unreleased. Sony's DVDs have been expensive and packaged in annoyingly themed clusters, in stories revolving around "Dizzy Doctors," "Cops and Robbers," etc. which only do the Stooges' brand of slapstick a disservice. Further, most of these compilations have been singularly top-heavy with shorts starring Curly, even though his first replacement, older brother Shemp Howard (1947-56), appeared in 76 subsequent two-reelers, while Shemp's replacement, Joe Besser (1956-57), appeared in another 16. (Sony has to date released none of the Besser shorts.) It's like sitting down to a meal of only proteins, or all carbohydrates. Isn't variety the spice of life?

Fans have been stating the obvious since Sony's first Three Stooges release way back in 1999: Put the shorts out in chronological boxed sets. This request has fallen on deaf ears.

Though Sony did a commendable job earlier in 2006 with Buster Keaton Collection: The Great Stone Face - a first-rate packaging of second-rate Columbia shorts featuring audio commentary tracks (with each short), a documentary, and even a copy of one of the scripts annotated by Buster himself - first-rate Stooge shorts are being issued with no supplements at all. Obscenely, Sony's Keaton DVD, with its 10 shorts plus all those extras, is being sold for the same price as this poor excuse for a DVD, with just four two-reelers, all previously released, with no extras.

Video & Audio

Sony's Keaton set also offers optional English subtitles, which this does not. As for the shorts, "fully restored and remastered in high definition," they look okay, but not exceptional, and not at all worth the price of a double-dip. Columbia forgot to renew Disorder in the Court's copyright in 1966, and so that short has been in public domain ever since. This version is an improvement over the myriad PD videos out there, but that's also part of the problem: this particular short has probably been released to DVD upwards of 50 different times under nearly as many labels, among the most of any film anywhere. Hard to get excited about this one.

After watching two of the shorts both in color and in their original black & white, this reviewer can state for the record that he did not laugh harder, longer, or with greater frequency watching them colorized. The process is technically leaps and bounds over what it was 20 years ago - though flesh tones still lean on the orange side, making Moe, Larry, and Curly look like Oompa-Loompas - but so what? What purpose does it serve, even commercially? Is there really an audience out there that had resisted Three Stooges shorts before because they were in black & white, but who now will rush out to buy this DVD because the shorts are now colorized? I doubt it.

Needless to say, there are no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Hard-core animation fans make up a tiny fraction of consumers buying, say, Disney's Bambi while a large portion of Star Wars DVD purchases are made by mainstream consumers who don't necessarily consider themselves Star Wars fans. But one doubts this holds true as far as Three Stooges DVDs are concerned. Who but the dedicated Stooge fan would be insane enough to plunk down $25 for Stooges and the Law or Have Rocket, Will Travel? The vast majority of Three Stooges fans has had enough of Sony's price-gouging and fan-unfriendly product, and should hold out for what they've been asking for since 1999. In the meantime, Skip It.

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.

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