[6 July 2008]
I can’t imagine how miserable the Three Stooges would have been had they not been movie stars but in fact real-life, low-level, subservient idiots drifting from job to job with no hope of advancement or any feasible nest egg/retirement plan. That’s kind of the underlying message of their famous series of slapstick shorts: the Great Depression was no laughing matter.
The bleak 1930s economy reduced otherwise sturdy, psychologically sound men to babbling idiot children prone to absurd fits of violence. Rest assured Larry, Moe, and Curly would have brutally murdered each other after six to eight months of paint can mishaps and itching powder accidents.
The Three Stooges Collection, Volume Two: 1937-1939 finds the Stooges at their absolute peak, effortlessly tossing off slaps and pokes and invoking brilliant sight gags like the comedic gods they were. Their rhythm is almost sickeningly good, like that of a seasoned relief pitcher or world-renowned breakdancer. The Stooges were clear pros and they knew it. The confidence they exude is one of the main attractions. No other team could bust into a room with more gusto, bravado, or ridiculous costumes (the backwards detective costumes they sport in “We Want Our Mummy” fooled even me, a person familiar with all manner of bizarre get-ups).
The fellas cycle through all the requisite scenarios here: we see them as bumbling tailors, bumbling salesmen, bumbling firemen, bumbling sons of a rich aristocrat, bumbling colonial-era prisoners, and even bumbling cowboys. A trail of frustrated and steaming straight men are left in the Stooges’ wake; I imagine if all these adventures were taking place in the same general area, the locals would band together and form some kind of organization to run our favorite lugs out of town.
But how could you do that to three guys who generally mean so well? It’s not their fault their manager didn’t tell them what exactly Brighto was in “Dizzy Doctors” before they went rubbing it on cars and policemen’s uniforms. Besides, they’re so cute together, what with Curly mugging and barking at everything he sees, Moe constantly steaming, and Larry wearing that wonderful look of grandmotherly concern. It’s not their fault everything they touch ends up letting dogs loose and making women faint.
I think the real secret to the appeal of the Three Stooges is that sometimes their hits and punches are so violent there’s just no way they couldn’t be real. Much has been made of Moe telling children later in life that it was all just pretend, that he never really smashed his friends in the face with ball peen hammers, and that’s probably true. However, when he interrupts Larry mid-sentence with a quick, hard slap, there’s no sound effect or fast motion. It’s just one dude stinging the hell out of another dude for the sheer pleasure of causing pain. You couldn’t fake that back in the ‘30s and you can’t fake it today (I don’t care how much CGI has advanced).
Pardon me for sounding like a gushing idiot on one of those Gunthy-Renker infomercials, but the picture quality on these DVDs is amazing. I have personally never seen the Stooges look so good, so crisp, so clear, and I’ve watched every marathon on Spike TV. It’s very satisfying to see the Howard boys and their Fine buddy get proper treatment after years of lousy transfers and non-chronological collections. I’d complain about the total lack of extras, but I’m not sure they could rustle up anything beyond some Stooge historian weirdo rhapsodizing about a bunch of stuff that’s already completely obvious.
Let’s hope Sony continues this fine DVD series into the Shemp era, providing future generations with a window to the eye-poking, cranium-smashing, woob-woob-woobing and nyuk-nyuk-nyuking comedic brilliance of these three truly American originals.