The Three Stooges Collection Volume Two (1937-39)
Starring: Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Curley Howard
Guest review by Matt Reid
I have many fond childhood memories of growing up and watching the Three Stooges early on Sunday mornings on television. My sister, on the other hand, considers them the most moronic thing ever put on film. Over Christmas, as I forced my family to watch “The Three Stooges Collection Volume 1”, she just shook her head at me as I laughed away. So with that said, it’s clear the Three Stooges is a love or hate relationship, which can either divide families, or unite them in laughter.
I always loved Moe Howard the best. Why was this? Moe was the ‘boss’ and, according to my sister, when growing up, whatever game was played, I had to be the ‘boss’ (example: Me: “Let’s play gas station…..I’m the manager”). However, watching the Stooges again allowed me to appreciate Curly’s great gifts as a physical comedian, from his trademarked ‘spin on the floor’ to his double takes, to the fear evident when he realizes he just accidentally hit Moe with something. Curly’s character is basically that of the naïve (youngest) child which works well with the rest of the family dynamic – with Moe as the highly disapproving parent, and Larry the ‘trying-to-be-responsible-but-failing-spectacularly’ older child. Larry in general doesn’t get the unanimous fan love of Moe or Curly, but he’s integral to the trio. The other two are such extreme caricatures that Moe, by comparison, assumes the ‘straightman role (plus, comedy always comes in threes, right?).
The Three Stooges Collection Volume 2 is the second in a presumably 9 volume series (knowing that the Stooges made 190 shorts). Columbia/Sony had released ‘themed’ collections in the early 2000’s, but the fan demand for chronological collections eventually caused them to adopt this new release strategy. And for a serious fan, this is a great way to watch them - you can see where some of their recurring gags first started and chart their evolution to become a well-oiled comedy team. Some gags were repeated numerous times over the years, including Curly going wild when he hears/sees something specific (in ‘Grips, Grunts & Groans’, it’s when he smells the Wild Hyacinth perfume), only to be calmed down in some bizarre fashion (in this case, removing his shoes and tickling his feet). Another was dressing as Santa Claus to sneak into a palace, first used in ‘Wee Wee Monsieur’. Ironically this joke is much more recognized as a gag in one of the later shorts with Shemp ‘Malice in the Palace’ (likely owing to the fact that ‘Malice’ is one of four Stooges shorts in the public domain). It’s interesting to note where Stooges gags found their way into other film/TV shows over the years. One example: in ‘Playing the Ponies’, the window sign in their restaurant reads ‘Special: Lobster w/Frogs Legs’. This joke was referenced many years later on “the Simpsons” when Homer asks for the ‘finest food stuffed with the second finest food’ at a particular restaurant (the waiter’s answer: ‘Lobster stuffed with tacos. Excellent choice, sir.’). I obviously wasn’t the only one deeply affected by those Sunday morning airings.
For the shorts themselves, there are a number of similarities that define almost all of them. The plots are fairly rudimentary; the setting/situation serves to set up the boys to do their comedy bits. They usually play lower-class individuals (with generally good intentions, such as helping a sick boy in ‘Cash & Carry’) and come into conflict with some other group: sometimes an unsavory crowd (such as a mob-backed plan to steal their Dad’s money in ‘Three Dumb Clucks’ or gold-digging women after Curly’s new fortune in ‘Healthy, Wealthy & Dumb’) but sometimes as high society as in ‘Termites of 1938’.
On the flip side, when consuming a large number of these shorts at a time, noticeable differences emerge between them, specifically in the amount of violence. ‘Cash & Carry’ is especially violent with gags involving shovels, pick axes and more, while ‘Mutts to You’ kept it to a minimum, relying more on violence-free physical comedy. (As a side note, I won’t even get into some of the racial stereotypes in certain shorts, which unfortunately were a part of many films of the time)
Not everything in this second volume of The Three Stooges Collection scores. There’s varying quality which is natural with such a high output of work. But the general quality of shorts in this collection is pretty high throughout, with a couple of standouts: ‘Goofs & Saddles’, which features the Stooges trying to smoke out some cattle rustlers in the Old West, ‘Tassels in the Air’ with Moe mistaken for the famous interior decorator, Omay, and ‘Violent is the Word for Curly’, again a case of mistaken identity, this time the Stooges are believed to be college professors, which also gives us a memorable song by the boys, ‘Swinging the Alphabet’.
Overall, a great addition to the collection of any fan of the Three Stooges or classic comedy in general.
“The Three Stooges Collection Volume Two” is now available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment