Reviews

The Three Stooges - Hapless Half-Wits (2007)

Steven Horowitz

These Jewish boys from Brooklyn stick it to the anti-Semites before anyone else in Hollywood had the balls to do so.


The Three Stooges - Hapless Half-Wits

Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: MGM
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-02-20

Before Sasha Baron Cohen was accused of bad taste for the way he made fun of anti-Semites in Borat, a different group of Jews vulgarly took the Nazis to task. The Three Stooges were the first people in Hollywood to crudely show the world what Hitler and his band of thugs were like. This new four short-film collection does not include the Stooges’ initial anti-Hitler flick You Nazty Spy (made nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator), but this one-disc DVD does contain the hilarious follow-up I’ll Never Heil Again (1941).

I’ll Never Heil Again grossly parodies Germany before the United States entered the Second World War. Moe Howard (nee Horwitz) plays the Adolf Hitler-like Moe Hailstone, the dictator of Moronica, complete with a toothbrush mustache and a coat of arms that reads “Moronica Uber Alles”. Larry Fine (nee Louis Fineberg) and Curly Howard (Moe’s real life younger brother) broadly portray the Minister of Propaganda and Field Marshal Herring in ways that clearly echo the Nazi leaders whose roles they parallel. The short is chock full of silly one-liners and sight gags and allows its American audience to feel superior against an enemy that proclaimed itself a race of supermen.

The superfluous plot serves as an excuse to make fun of the Axis' desire for world domination. Not only does the film poke fun at the Nazis; the climax features doubles depicting the leaders of Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union plotting a global takeover that breaks down into a hilarious pseudo-football game, which includes everything from a rumba dance to a Statue of Liberty play.

While the inclusion of this flick alone makes the The Three Stooges: Helpless Half Wits DVD worth purchasing, the other three shorts are also very good, especially Brideless Groom (1947) and Dopey Dicks (1949), which are the first Three Stooges movies to feature Shemp Howard. Moe’s younger brother Curly was in all of the Three Stooges films until he suffered a stroke in 1946. Curly still starred in Beer Barrel Polecats (1945), but he doesn’t seem his vital self, probably because he was quite ill. Like most of the Three Stooges films, Beer Barrel Polecats relies on slapstick comedy to be humorous.

The Stooges were always rude, crude, and out of control as they vainly attempted to be the opposite. While high brow/low class Hebrew entertainers like the Marx Brothers made fun of high society in a manner that even the snobbish poet T.S. Eliot could enjoy (wasn’t that Margaret Dumont at Prufrock’s cocktail party chatting about Michelangelo?), the Stooges tried mostly just not to arouse the suspicions of the common people and cops they encountered in their daily lives. The Stooges provided physical comic relief during the Great Depression years, and with the exception of the anti-Nazi films, they continued relying on pokes in the eyes, kicks to the butts, and other gross gestures to be successful comedians.

Shemp was the oldest of the Horwitz brothers and had a thriving career as a character actor when Curly got sick. In many ways, Shemp was a much better actor than Curly. He could play the more debonair speaking roles and serve as a straight man for the Three Stooges’ gags, which he does to great effect in the other two shorts included here. Brideless Groom recycles the common plot of a man (Shemp) without a steady beau who must marry within seven hours to claim a rich family inheritance. The short relies on two comic conceits. Shemp plays a music teacher. His lessons to a talentless and plain looking pupil provides a steady source of fun (he tells her to “gargle with old razor blades”). Plus, the women who Shemp tries to woo serve as constant foils. The most colorful instance of the latter occurs when actress Christine McIntyre learns that Shemp is not the person she thought so she slaps him around, punches him, and knocks him through the door. She actually broke his nose in the process. This scene was included in the movie.

Dopey Dicks makes fun of the detective movies and horror films that were popular at the time. The short begins as the Stooges move furniture into private investigator Sam Shovel’s office and ends with them escaping from a mad scientist in a car driven by a headless robot. That sort of sums up the zaniness involved, but again it’s Shemp who steals the movie from his two cohorts because he can simultaneously seem sophisticated and a doofus. Moe and Larry never seem more than simpletons, despite whatever airs they put on.

The DVD Hapless Half-Wits contains no extra bonuses, but it uses “ChromaChoice” technology that allows viewers using a remote to toggle back and forth between original black and white and colorized versions of the film (so that there are actually eight shorts here; four in black and white and four in color). The black and white masters have been remastered in hi-definition video that looks great. The colorized versions have a sepia tone that fits in with the period from which the movies were originally made.

These four Three Stooges discs stand among the best work the act ever made. Sure the jokes can be as stupid as someone getting whacked in the head with a mop or taking a pratfall into a bathtub full of beer, but it’s more fun than watching someone wrestling with a naked hairy, fat man in their hotel room. And in the case of I’ll Never Heil Again, these Jewish boys from Brooklyn stick it to the anti-Semites before anyone else in Hollywood had the balls to do so.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image