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Time Life The Best of The Three Stooges

Time Life // Unrated // June 18, 2018
List Price: $104.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 9, 2018 | E-mail the Author

In 10 Words or Less

The start of slapstick is intermittently funny

Reviewer's Bias*

Loves: Megasets
Likes: The Three Stooges, Curley
Dislikes: Moe
Hates: Curley Joe shorts

The Collection

When it comes to slapstick comedy, the true classic has to be the films of The Three Stooges. They weren't the first to the party, but they certainly mastered the art and made it their own, leaving an indelible mark on a genre that hasn't really topped it since. Deceptively simple in their ballet of violence, as Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard slapped, poked and punched their way through a multitude of short films that took full advantage of the relatively new field of motion pictures with sound, using music and exaggerated sound effects to sell the guys' chaotic misadventures.

Moe is invariably the leader of the group, a gruff, no-nonsense fella who keeps his cronies in line with physical assaults. He's also the brains behind all their plots, always trying to get him and his pals ahead in life. Larry is more of an even-keeled guy, and often the attempted voice of reason, though he's ineffective in changing Moe's mind. The third man in the mix is Curly, a large manchild best known for the odd sounds he makes when agitated and his over-the-top physical reactions to stress. Together, they are the perfect team, playing off each other with brilliant timing and an understanding of how to get the most out of a moment, whether its a reaction in the background or a movement in the spotlight.

More often than not, the Stooges played the parts of loveable losers, or at the very least underdogs. There is often a level of class warfare on display, as the Stooges take on high society and those who hold themselves in high esteem, and bring them down to earth with a scam, a plot or sometimes a bit of physical force. Though the people the Stooges have in their sights haven't always earned their comeuppance, it's always fun to see someone down on their luck get one over on those who don't worry about where their next meal is going to come from, as powerful people getting their way is never funny.

Of course, sometimes the shorts are just madcap adventures, setting the boys loose in another situation, be it as doctors in a hospital or fireman on the verge of being fired. These can be some of the best of the Stooges' shorts, as they free up valuable space in the 18-minute films for more mischief. Though they couldn't touch the brilliant choreography of a Harold Lloyd, and don't attempt to, there's no denying the combination of highly-physical stunts and pun-laden dialogue make for comedy that's low-brow catnip and easy to lose oneself in for a while. The amount of jokes thrown out ensures that even with a low batting average there will be plenty of enjoyable gags.

Though the shorts at times put the Stooges into period pieces--including casting them as knights, old-west cowboys, WWI doughboys, and Civil War spies for the Northern Army--they usually reflected the times in which they were made, like the shorts about Prohibition. Plenty of the films depict the guys struggling to find work and ways to eat, indicative of the grip of the Great Depression, a theme seen over and over again in this set. Also seen over and over again is the racism that was de rigueur at the time, with stereotypical portrayals of pretty much every race or nationality--some getting it much worse than others. There's nothing about these characterizations that has entertainment value today (well, depending on your voting preference) but as history, they are fascinating to see, even for someone who grew up on Merry Melodies.

Though the Stooges may not have been as quick-witted or clever as some of their contemporaries, they deserve plenty of credit for their innovation, including casting Moe as a Hitler-like dictator in You Nazty Spy! and I'll Never Heil Again, the first one hitting theaters well before Chaplin brought the world his beloved takedown of fascism, The Great Dictator. And the Stooges' shorts weren't all slaps and stupidity, as the trio would stand-up for those who had it even worse than them, particularly when it came to women and children. Women were a particular weakness for the Stooges, as they were always suckers for a gal. But in an interesting twist, in these shorts, women could be as brutal brawlers as the Stooges, which is not something you see all the time.

The quality of the shorts in this collection is all over the map, the result of a number of factors, including low budgets, rushed schedules and personal issues, but cranking out these shorts was always going to end up with diminished returns. The track record early on is astounding, with fantastic shorts, like Punch Drunks, Uncivil Warriors and Disorder in the Court, found throughout the release schedule, but as time went on, the great shorts were few and far between, if present at all.

Offering reviews of each short feels like an exercise in excess, especially when Stuart Galbraith IV has delivered detailed capsules on each film in his review of Sony's Ultimate Collection. I couldn't come close to what he delivered. Here's a breakdown of the shorts included in this set:


  • Woman Haters
  • Punch Drunks
  • Men in Black
  • Three Little Pigskins


  • Horses' Collars
  • Restless Knights
  • Pop Goes the Easel
  • Uncivil Warriors
  • Pardon My Scotch
  • Hoi Polloi
  • Three Little Beers


  • Ants in the Pantry
  • Movie Maniacs
  • Hail-Shot Shooters
  • Disorder in the Court
  • A Pain in the Pullman
  • False Alarms
  • Whoops, I'm an Indian!
  • Slippery Silks


  • Grips, Grunts and Groans
  • Dizzy Doctors
  • Three Dumb Clucks
  • Back to the Woods
  • Gools and Saddles
  • Cash and Carry
  • Playing the Ponies
  • The Sitter-Downers


  • Termites of 1938
  • Wee Wee Monsier
  • Tassels in the Air
  • Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb
  • Violent is the Word for Curly
  • Three Missing Links
  • Mutts to You
  • Flat Foot Stooges


  • Three Little Sew and Sews
  • We Want Our Mummy
  • A Ducking They Did Go
  • Yes, We Have No Bonanza
  • Saved By the Belle
  • Calling All Cups
  • Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise
  • Three Sappy People


  • You Nazty Spy!
  • Rockin' Thru the Rockies
  • A Plumbing We Will Go
  • Nutty But Nice
  • How High is Up?
  • From Nurse to Worse
  • No Census, No Feeling
  • Cookoo Cavaliers
  • Boobs in Arms


  • So Long, Mr. Chumps
  • Dutiful But Dumb
  • All The World's a Stooge
  • I'll Never Heil Again
  • An Ache in Every Stake
  • In the Sweet Pie and Pie
  • Some More of Samoa


  • Loco Boy Makes Good
  • Cactus Makes Perfect
  • What's The Matador?
  • Matri-Phony
  • Three Smart Saps
  • Even as I.O.U.
  • Sock A-Bye Baby


  • They Stooge to Conga
  • Dizzy Detectives
  • Spook Louder
  • Back From the Front
  • Three Little Twirps
  • Higher Than a Kite
  • I Can Hardly Wait
  • Dizzy Pilots
  • Phony Express
  • A Gem of a Jam


  • Crash Goes the Hash
  • Busy Buddies
  • The Yoke's on Me
  • Idle Roomers
  • Gents Without Cents
  • No Dough Boys


  • Three Pests in a Mess
  • Booby Dupes
  • Idiots Deluxe
  • If a Body Meets a Body
  • Micro-Phonies

The Discs

Time Life has collected over 45 hours of Three Stooges shorts, films, cartoons and more on 13 DVDs, which are packaged in a trio of flimsy single-width keepcases, each with overlapping dual-hubbed covers, while the third case has a tray for the fifth disc. The discs sport static menus--these are repressings of the previous Sony DVDs, so the on-disc volume numbers confusingly don't match the disc art--with options to watch all the content or select films or episodes. There are no audio options and no subtitles. Time Life also released a more extensive set, with more than 90 hours of content on 26 DVDs.

The Quality

There's a lot of variation over the course of the decade-plus of shorts in this set, with a fuzzy few seconds here or there, and a few off moments, but for the most part the films' full-frame transfers look pretty great, with crisp black and white imagery, featuring a level of fine detail that shows some of the production work (like manipulating wires and the shadow of a boom mic.) Other than some minor scratches and dirt, damage isn't a concern for most of the shorts--though some sequences suffered in their original reels--and compression is surprisingly not an issue, despite hours of content on each disc. Grain is consistent and pleasing, but once in a while--like on When a Body Meets a Body--there's a flickering to the brightness.

The audio on these discs is delivered via Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, and they are--with some minor exceptions, like the often-tinny Yes, We Have No Bonanza--solid presentations, with the dialogue clear and easily understood and the music and sound effects strong and impactful. Considering the age of the material, there are no complaints here.

The Extras

The extras in this set have been seen before on DVD, in part in Sony's 2012 "Ultimate Collection" and in whole in 2017's "Big Box of Nyuks" from Mill Creek. Things get rolling with The Three Stooges, the 2000 television film based on Michael Fleming's book about the group. Directed by James Frawley (The Muppet Movie) and starring Paul Ben Victor, Evan Handler, John Kassir and Michael Chiklis as Curly, it's very much a "behind the laughs" type of story, detailing the formation of the team and the struggles they face as they seek fame and fortune, told in flashback as an older Moe deals with being cut out of the success the shorts have on television. Very much an old-fashioned TV movie in tone and look, it features decent recreations of memorable Stooges scenes--Chiklis is the best of the group in approximating the real Stooge--but exploring the melodrama in their lives is not exactly what fans are likely to be looking for.

Three cartoon shorts from the ‘30s and ‘40 are available to watch: 1935's "Bon Bon Parade" (8:40), 1936's "Merry Mutineers" (7:20) and 1942's "A Hollywood Detour" (8:04). The first sees an urchin pining for the candy in a store window, only to save the life of a cupid who gives him a wish, which he uses to live in Candy Town. It's the kind of insane musical cartoon that dominated the era, but to call it a Stooges cartoon is a stretch, despite the brief appearance of three characters called "Cupid Stooges." (It's worth noting that the title card says "A Re-Release".) "Mutineers" is very much a musical version of Warner's pop-culture-heavy Merry Melodies, featuring characters obviously intended to represent the Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields and many more, as two kids fantasize about a naval battle between their toy boats. You could make a cartoon out of anything back then it seems. Finishing out the cartoons, "A Hollywood Detour". A sarcastic travelogue about the glamorous world of 1940s Hollywood, it is again loaded with celebrity parodies and caricatures, and again mostly free of Stooges.

Though the set features no shorts with any Stooge line-ups outside of the classic threesome, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe DeRita are all represented by an assortment of solo shorts, which give an idea as to how each fit in with the group, as these films have much of the same sense of humor. But with only a few exceptions--Jiggers, My Wife and Money Squawks among them--they can't touch the Stooges' shorts in terms of entertainment, with Shemp (obviously an original Stooge) being the best of the three (exemplified by his work with Andy Clyde), Besser being a weak stand-in for Curly-esque bits, and DeRita coming off as a rather pathetic comedy lead that plots happen to rather than being a protagonist. Many of these shorts are examples of the era's focus on remakes and corner-cutting, as you'll notice repeated plots, sets and footage throughout Again, Stuart Galbraith IV did an amazing job reviewing each film in detail.

Shemp Shorts

  • Home on the Rage
  • Glove Slingers
  • Money Squawks
  • Boobs in the Woods
  • Pleased to Mitt You
  • Pick a Peck of Plumbers
  • Open Season for Saps
  • Off Again, On Again
  • Where the Pest Begins
  • A Hit with a Miss
  • Mr. Noisy
  • Jiggers, My Wife
  • Society Mugs
  • Bride and Gloom

Besser shorts

  • Waiting in the Lurch
  • Dizzy Yardbird
  • Fraidy Cat
  • Aim, Fire, Scoot
  • Boobs in Arms
  • Caught on the Bounce
  • Spies and Guys
  • The Fire Chaser
  • G.I. Dood It
  • Hook a Crook
  • Army Daze

DeRita shorts

  • Slappily Married
  • The Good Bad Egg
  • Wedlock Deadlock
  • Jitter Bughouse

Annoyingly, on the disc, these shorts are listed in one long menu, with no indication of which comedian you're going to watch. So unless you know that Boobs in Arms is a Joe Besser film, you're going to have an issue finding what you want to see.

Three full-length-ish feature films are included with this set. First up are two from the Curley Joe-era Stooges, both of which lack enough plot to fill out their runtime, resulting in a good deal of padding and a general lack of momentum. Things get started with 1959's Have Rocket, Will Travel (76 minutes.) The Stooges are janitors working at a space travel laboratory, and after taking a somewhat paternalistic liking to the comely lead scientist (Anna-Lisa)--who's being pursued by an aggressive fellow staff member--they attempt to help her solve her problems and end up getting shipped to Venus. Then things get really weird. Taking the Stooges' shtick into space was a smart move, as it creates new opportunities for their brand of comedy. The Outlaws is Coming (98 minutes) from 1965 positions the Stooges as wildlife preservationists sent to the old west to save the buffaloes mostly because the trio are a disaster in the group's offices. There, the guys run afoul of the west's most legendary bandits, and need the help of a very glamorous Annie Oakley to survive. Though a rather weak example of Stooges comedy, the best part of this film (other than Henry Gibson's anachronistic college-educated tribesman) is seeing the Stooges partnered up with Adam West, just a year before he would become Batman, as the organization's magazine editor. West is just so good as the straight-laced but ineffective Boston intellectual. Though the depictions of Native Americans are horribly dated, the storyline concerning arms dealers working both sides of a conflict is sadly timeless.

Wrapping up the films is 1945's Rockin' in the Rockies (67 minutes) featuring the best-known line-up in a film that's less a Three Stooges movie than a movie with the Three Stooges, as Larry and Curley are a pair of down-on-their-luck hobos who come into some money and end up conned by Moe, a two-bit hustler. Punctuated by a number of musical moments, it's pretty lacking in laughs, particularly of the trademark Stooges style, though there are some surreal moments that are a bit interesting.

The final extra is a massive one: a nine-part, seven and a half-hour documentary called Hey Moe! Hey Dad!, with Moe's son Paul as the narrator. Done in a TV show format (with an opening and closing theme), they are rather in-depth, with entire episodes dedicated to each Stooge's life, looks at the origins of the group (including their early blackface shows.) and the supporting casts and interviews with an assortment of famous fans, including Michael Chiklis, Tracy Morgan, Leonard Maltin, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy West. You also get to hear from the Stooges' families (including voice recreations of their progenitors), as well as archival audio and home movies of the Stooges. Though the feel of the episodes is very soft and friendly, the darker edges of the Stooges' story aren't ignored, including Curly's spiral down in his later days (a sequence that feels very odd with the contrasting tone of the narration.) A gem for fans of the troupe (despite having to sit through the increasingly excruciating 3:14 opening sequence nine times) it is likely to be a bit much for casual viewers, as the personal voice of the family being the backbone requires viewers to care more about the subjects than a documentary would usually ask. But honestly, if you aren't really into the Stooges, are you likely to pick up a huge collection like this anyway?

Unfortunately, not everything from Mill Creek's set has made the leap to this set, as Time Life has held some of that bonus content, including the New Three Stooges cartoons and additional films, for the larger deluxe edition of the set. But even then, there's some material in the Mill Creek set that's only available there, including an additional documentary and some TV pilots.

What is exclusive to this set is a 12-page booklet with a history of the troupe, biographies of each of the six Stooges and a timeline of their films.

The Bottom Line

Watching a Three Stooges short once in a while is a treat, as their antics can be very funny, the gags are often inventive and the slapstick impressive, but when you stack them up in the quantity found in this set, you start to recognize the rhythms and tropes, and they begin to lose their charms. Of course, if you spread out your viewings, you're going to get a lot of enjoyment out of this repackaging of the first four volumes of Sony's releases from 2007 and 2008. Despite being rehashed standard-definition transfers over 10 years old, they look very solid, and Time-Life has not only included all the extras from Sony's exhaustive 2012 "Ultimate Collection", but threw in material from Mill Creek's "Big Box of Nyuks". The thing is, at going rates, you can buy both of those sets for less than what this collection costs, and you'll get more content.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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