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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Three Stooges - Hapless Half-Wits
The Three Stooges - Hapless Half-Wits
Sony Pictures // Unrated // February 20, 2007
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted February 9, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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I've never written a review on this site that starts with a discussion of the actual DVD presentation; by orientation and training, content has always been my starting point, with considerations of presentation always secondary. But the release of The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (what's the point of even labeling this DVD as coming from Columbia Pictures, anyway?), has really raised my ire, and some long-standing gripes of mine about the Stooges' treatment on video and DVD have to come out.

To put it succinctly: what the hell is Sony playing at? Since the beginnings of the home video age, there have been legions of Three Stooges fans who have eagerly awaited not just random releases of hodgepodge collections of their various shorts, but releases that respect one of the most influential, and most significant, screen comedy teams of the 20th century. That's right - The Three Stooges are that important. Their film career spans the vaudeville-inspired links of the early 1930s movie comedies, through the glory years of their Columbia two-reeler shorts, through their soldiering on into the age of television when shorts had all but died out, to their embrace of the new televised medium and their rediscovery through it, and finally, coming full circle, their reappearance on movie screens in the early 1960s. Never given one ounce of respect by critics during their heyday (and even now, most historians tend to sniff at their antics), no amount of historical negligence can erase the fact that millions of fans all over the world continue to discover The Three Stooges, and that their surreal, perverse, exceedingly violent form of slapstick comedy is as hysterically funny today as it was over seventy years ago.

So, quite simply, why hasn't anybody given the Stooges their due on video and DVD? The latest Sony DVD release, The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits, is an excellent case in point. Let's start with the disc's selection of shorts. For a suggested retail price of $24.95, you get four Three Stooges shorts. That's right; over six bucks per short. If that ridiculous price isn't enough to make you head straight for a Franchise Collection set from Universal, try looking at the four titles included on The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits: I'll Never Heil Again, Beer Barrel Polecats, Brideless Groom, and Dopey Dicks. The last two Shemp shorts have already been released on DVD, so dedicated fans of the Stooges more than likely already own these. Yes, they've been cleaned up for this release, but why not clean up two other worthy Shemp shorts that haven't seen the light of day on DVD? Beer Barrel Polecats is a largely sub-par Curly short which took new footage cobbled together along with bits from shorts So Long, Mr. Chumps and In the Sweet Pie and Pie. It's a questionable selection at best for this new DVD release. Which leaves I'll Never Heil Again, the unofficial sequel to the Stooges' own favorite short, You Natzy Spy!. It's making its debut here on DVD, and that's welcome news for Stooges fans. But by my count, at least, that makes one truly legitimate choice of a title on this paltry disc, and that's pretty steep for twenty-five bucks.

But that's not the end of the curious choices that Sony makes with The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits disc. We also get the privilege of having our Stooges shorts colorized. I've written before about colorizing, and I'm not going to get into a big discussion of it here. What is clear, though, is that The Three Stooges have absolutely no business being colorized. The Stooges have always existed in a black and white universe - or at least, the fans see them that way - and despite their later forays into color films, The Three Stooges belong in a black and white world. Their stylized, almost kabuki-like ballet of punches, kicks, eye-gougings, and slaps demands a monochromatic palette; color is just a distraction from the performance. And since the humor level of these shorts has absolutely no relation to whether or not they're in color - why colorize them, then? Well, as we all know, they did it for the money, that's why. Perhaps somebody looked at the sales figures for the first season of the Bewitched series (where the colorized sets sold way more units than the original black and white ones), and decided that colorization - which had died out on video - was still a valuable marketing tool. Of course, that somebody in the Sony marketing department didn't take into account that you couldn't find the black and white DVD sets of Bewitched anywhere on the shelves of major stores, so naturally, the colorized sets sold more units. But, having had first-hand experience working in the marketing industry, this disconnect from reality is not an unheard of thing.

Even dumber is "ChromaChoice," a feature on The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits disc that allows you to switch from the original black and white image to the colorized version just by pressing a button on your remote. After about five seconds of desultory curiosity, I can't think of a more idiotic, needless gimmick than "ChromaChoice." Hey, I've got an idea for your next DVD release; it's called "Half-witVision," where you can black out one side of the screen, back and forth -- all at the touch of your remote! Or how about "Short-witVision," which shorts out your circuit breakers every time you play the disc -- all at the touch of your remote! Seriously, as a Stooge fan (and thus, one of the prime candidates to buy this collection), what the hell do I care about switching back and forth between color and black and white, when I don't even want the color in the first place? And Sony knows this, too. Right on the back of the DVD box, there's a note to "dedicated Stooge-o-philes," reassuring them that the shorts are accessible on this disc in their black and white versions, as well. If they have to write a special note just to us -- fans who will more than likely make up over 90 percent of the buyers of this disc -- trying to reassure us that The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits is a worthwhile disc, then even Sony knows they have a sow's ear here.

For under twenty bucks, you can get a Franchise Collection from Universal of eight full-length feature films starring Abbott and Costello. They're beautiful prints, and fans love Universal for treating their library catalog with respect. On any given week, there's usually a new release of a classic comedy TV series, where you can get an entire season's worth of episodes (sometimes totaling out over fifteen hours' worth of viewing time) for thirty to forty bucks. Why in the world would anyone pay twenty-five dollars for a measly four Three Stooges shorts? The final nail in Sony's coffin as far as mistreating its Stooge customers can be found at the bottom of the back cover. It states the running time of the disc at a healthy 137 minutes. The unwary, uninitiated buyer may look at that and think, well, even though the price is kind of steep, there has to be some extras, or maybe these four shorts are really long. Sadly, Sony just doubled the combined running time of the four shorts, counting the colorized versions as separate features. It's a crass little fact off a bum disc, and it should rightly turn off potential buyers of The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits.

The DVD:

The Video:
The four Stooges shorts on The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits do look nice here, remastered in high definition. Pity Sony doesn't do that do that for all of their Stooges shorts.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 mono audio soundtrack accurately reflects the original theatrical presentation. There are no subtitles, but close-captioning does work if selected on your TV menu.

The Extras:
There are no extras for The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits.

Final Thoughts:
It's a shame to see the primitive, elemental, brilliant Three Stooges mistreated by their studio after their deaths, the same way they were taken advantage of during their lifetimes. There's only one way that Sony can get back into good graces with millions of Stooge fans -- and even that may be too late after the years' worth of half-assed releases they've perpetrated on their customers. Gather together all of the shorts. Clean them up, and transfer them to DVD in their original, unedited lengths (and with no unnecessary color, either, thank you). Then, either group them chronologically by decade, or chronologically by cast members (the Curly years, the Shemp years, etc.), or take the plunge like other studios have recently done and put out a definitive, all-inclusive Three Stooges megaset, and you will clean up at the cash registers. This is what, after all, DVD was invented for: pristine video and sound quality, with a maximum of storage on a minimum of space. And this is what millions of fans are clamoring for. I urge all Stooge fans to NOT buy or rent The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits disc, or any other further Sony Three Stooges discs, until the comedy team's influential output is treated with the respect it deserves. Skip this awful disc.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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