The Three Stooges 1934-1936
Starring: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curley Howard
By Greg Klymkiw
When I look back upon my life, I recall – with considerable fondness – some of my favourite activities: eye-pokes, open-hand-forehead slams, double and triple face slaps and uttering such immortal threats as, “I’m gonna murderize you.” On occasion, when greeted with anything that inspired excitement and/or terror, I’d launch into a series of high-pitched “woo-woo-woos” and, of course, upon hearing something vaguely amusing, I just loved responding with a hearty, “nyuck-nyuck-nyuck”. These days, I find it difficult to engage in such activities. When I do, I am greeted with looks of horror and the kind of hurtful verbal ejaculate best reserved for those in asylums.
Things were so much simpler at the age of six. The abovementioned activities were never received with scorn (save for one’s elders) and, in fact, offered a healthy less-violent alternative to the usual childhood games of the time: Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers and recreations of World War II. Nothing like having your eyes poked. And even better, nothing like successfully blocking an eye poke and delivering a good healthy face-slap.
Thanks mainly to the joys of television syndication most late-baby-boomers and early-gen-Xrs discovered the cinematic genius that was The Three Stooges as they settled into the after-school boob-tube marathon in their living rooms and rec-rooms. Occasionally, some of us during those halcyon days even saw them on a big screen as shorts preceding features during kiddies’ matinees at ramshackle nabes (in Winnipeg, it was the North End’s Deluxe/Hyland Theatre). And sometimes, when we were very lucky, our local community centre would show two or three hours of Three Stooges in a row on 16mm.
Amazingly enough, our parents and grandparents experienced The Three Stooges on the big screen - where they were meant to be seen. However, unlike most other big-screen comedians like Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, etc., The Three Stooges were never really popular in the medium of feature length motion pictures. In fact, they only made five top lining appearances in features in the latter stages of their careers, as well as occasionally guest appearances in features.
The Three Stooges gained all their fame from starring in almost 200 short films. From the early 30s to the late 50s, the Stooges were the most popular, most requested, most beloved live-action stars of short cinema – worldwide. Their lightning-paced comic anarchy was pure slapstick – a series of physically violent set pieces that careened insanely and brilliantly into such surreal realms that they verged upon, if not rivaled Luis Bunuel at his most bizarre.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, we can all relive the experience of these three whack-jobs in the best possible way – painstakingly, gorgeously restored DVDs of Columbia Pictures’ original Three Stooges, presented in their exact order of release in this magnificent first two-disc volume that includes every single one of their shorts produced between 1934 and 1936. While, the Stooges themselves had a variety of onscreen personnel changes before and after the period represented on these discs, it is safe to say that the trio on display here deliver some of the most brilliant comic work ever committed to film. Led by the mean-spirited Moe Howard with his trademark bowl haircut and a variety of the most vicious slaps, kicks, stabs, punches, whacks and eye-gouges imaginable, we are equally amused and delighted by Larry Fine and his trademark pate flanked with curly locks and Moe’s brother, Curly, the slightly rotund and bald whiner.
This volume includes 19 knee-slapping comedy shorts and when viewed in theatrical release order, one sees a well-oiled comedy troupe (they already had many years as vaudeville comedians) that gets only better with each successive film.
Most of the movies feature the Stooges as either homeless or working class bumpkins who, in spite of their brutish ways, manage to keep an upper hand over the establishment ruling class. They were kind of like Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” without the sentiment or The Marx Brothers without the snappy verbal wit. The Stooges were ham-fisted butchers of the English language and reveled in the most lowbrow violent slapstick.
This is not to say their comedy is in any way inferior. In fact, some of it is downright genius. In the short entitled “Restless Knights”, the Stooges engage in a wrestling match/exhibition that recalls Chaplin’s boxing match from “City Lights” in its sheer comic virtuosity – physical humour of the highest order. In “Uncivil Warriors” we get a hilarious spoof of both “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With The Wind” (albeit with eye-poking). In “Disorder in the Court”, the boys defend the virtue of a sexy dancer while making utter manic mockery of the justice system. And, for those who take delight in anachronistic political incorrectness, look no further than the utterly offensive, but urination-inducing “Whoops, I’m An Indian!” These, of course, are a few of my favourites in this collection, but I seriously must admit that I laughed pretty uncontrollably through most of the collection’s 340 minutes.
This is an absolutely terrific DVD. It represents movies with a truly multi-generational appeal – so much so, that I am pleased to report that my six-year-old daughter has also become a Three Stooges fan.
Thanks to Sony’s painstaking work, I not only look forward to the subsequent volumes (some of the Stooges wartime shorts are truly unbelievable – jaw-droppingly funny swipes at Nazis that put Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” to shame), but I’m thrilled that they hold up to my contemporary scrutiny and most importantly, that they have a truly universal and perhaps timeless appeal (if my daughter’s enthusiastic response is any indication).
Simply put, The Three Stooges are commedia dell’arte as re-imagined by Salvador Dali in the Borscht Belt. And besides, who could not appreciate a comedy troupe that are so truly beloved by Mel Gibson that he not only impersonated them in the “Lethal Weapon” movies, but produced a TV-movie biopic about them. Besides, with all that scourging, isn’t “Passion of the Christ” kind of like a feature-length Three Stooges short with Pontius Pilate as Moe, King Herod as Larry and Jesus H. Christ as Curley?
In any event, if you love The Three Stooges, this is definitely a must-own DVD. If you’ve never really experienced The Three Stooges, rent it – they must be seen to be believed and this first volume is the best way to do so.
If, for some reason, you don’t love The Three Stooges, allow me to gouge your eyes out with a hearty “Nyuck! Nyuck! Nyuck!”
Or maybe I’ll just “murderize you”.
Or worse, I’ll get Mel Gibson juiced-up and sick him on you.
Buy it here: The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One: 1934-1936