Judge Christopher Kulik misses Curly, but salutes Shemp for his contributions to Stooge cinema.
Our reviews of The Three Stooges Collection: Volume One (1934-36) (published November 26th, 2007), The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Five (1946-48) (published March 17th, 2009), The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Four (1943-45) (published October 7th, 2008), The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Three (1940-42) (published August 26th, 2008), and The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Two (1937-39) (published July 2nd, 2008) are also available.
"Boy, it must be great to be a private eye. You're rough and you're tough; you gotta be ready for anything! You got to be prepared for trouble!" [Looks in desk drawer full of guns.]—Samuel Howard, aka Shemp
Sony continues to live up to their promise of releasing all their Three Stooges shorts remastered and in chronological order. Volume Six contains 24 shorts from the Shemp era, and they have never looked better.
Facts of the Case
"The Ghost Talks"—Furniture movers Moe, Larry, and Shemp must clean out an abandoned castle, but end up encountering a ghost who's waiting for his Lady Godiva to come and rescue him. (5/5)
"Who Done It?"—Rich Mr. Goodrich asks the Alert Detective Agency (run by the Stooges) to protect him from the Phantom Gang, which includes his own niece. (4/5)
"Hokus Pokus"—A wheelchair-bound girl is actually a fraud looking to collect some insurance money. Her three caretakers don't have a clue…but they do end up being hypnotized by the great Svengarlic. (3/5)
"Fuelin' Around"—Larry is mistaken for a brilliant scientist, and his kidnappers demand the formula to a powerful kind of fuel he's created. (4/5)
"Malice in the Palace"—Somewhere in the Middle East, two goons call upon restaurant lunkheads Moe, Larry, and Shemp to rescue the famous Rootin' Tootin' Diamond from the villainous Emir Of Schmow. (5/5)
"Vagabond Loafers"—The Stooges are now amateur plumbers, coming to the aid of a wealthy society patron. While they create waves of havoc, two guests attempt to steal a priceless painting. (2/5)
"Dunked In The Deep"—Willing to lend a helping hand to a neighbor, the Stooges volunteer to move some watermelons to a ship bound for Europe. What they don't know is the fruit contains secret microfilm. (4/5)
"Punchy Cowpunchers"—When the murderous Dillon clan converge onto an old Western town, three dimwitted cavalrymen are recruited to deal with them. (3/5)
"Hugs And Mugs"—Three female jewel thieves are released from jail, and are now out to obtain a pearl necklace. The only problem is the chair it was hidden in was sold from a warehouse to three furniture repairmen. The ladies become flirtatious with the Stooges, only to be interrupted by their ex-gangster boyfriends, who are also after the necklace. (5/5)
"Dopey Dicks"—Shemp wants to be a private eye so badly, and gets his wish when the Stooges must locate a missing blonde who's been snatched by mental hospital escapees. (5/5)
"Love At First Bite"—The Stooges anxiously await reuniting with their fiancées, but a night of drinking results in hangovers…and Shemp stuck in a tub of dried cement! (4/5)
"Self-Made Maids"—Now working as artists, the Stooges take pleasure in meeting their girlfriends and having them model for their paintings. However, once proposals are announced they must deal with the girls' father…who is ready to kill them after a misunderstanding. (3/5)
"Three Hams On Rye"—Famous Broadway producer is determined not to be ruined by a negative critic, so he asks the extras Moe, Larry & Curley to keep an eye out for him. The finale, with the Stooges and other actors on stage eating a feathered "cake" is uproarious. (5/5)
"Studio Stoops"—The Stooges agree to help a movie producer who wants to create some publicity around his number one female star by having her kidnapped. When she is actually nabbed and held hostage in a hotel, the trio must figure out a way to save her. (5/5)
"Slaphappy Sleuths"—A rash of convenience store robberies are getting out of hand, so three stupid investigators are called upon to pose as gas station attendants to capture them. (4/5)
"A Snitch In Time"—Once again working as furniture salesman, the Stooges deliver some pieces to a boarding house owner and are asked to polish them up. Unfortunately, their work is compromised by the arrival of some crooked crooks that are out to steal the lady's jewelry. This particularly violent short is also gaspingly hilarious, with the fight scenes well executed. (5/5)
"Three Arabian Nights"—Warehouse worker Shemp finds an old lamp in a crate and discovers a real genie inside. Trouble is, two Arabian goons want the trinket themselves…and may have to kill if necessary. (5/5)
"Baby-Sitter Jitters"—Behind in their rent money, the Stooges are forced to become babysitters. Their new job is watching over Junior, though when he gets kidnapped by his father they must save him. (2/5)
"Don't Throw That Knife"—Census-takers Moe, Larry and Shemp run afoul of a jealous husband in this uninspired short, a collection of parts from older Curly films. (2/5)
"Scrambled Brains"—Moe and Larry are hoping their partner Shemp is finally cured of hallucinations when they collect him from a sanitarium. Turns out, Shemp has fallen in love with a "beautiful" nurse…a toothless entity which horrifies his friends. (3/5)
"Merry Mavericks"—Wanted for vagrancy in the Old West, the Stooges arrive in Peaceful Gulch and are mistaken for lawmen. This intimidates Morgan and his evil gang of thieves, who attempt to scare them away from a house full of stolen money. Nice blend of Western and horror spoofs in this engaging short. (5/5)
"The Tooth Will Out"—Jobless nuts Moe, Larry, and Shemp somehow becomes dentists and then go out west (again). Their second client: a criminal with a toothache who will plug 'em if they screw up. (3/5)
"Hula-La-La"—Producer Hugh McCollum's sole directing gig of a Stooge short has the boys working for B.O. Pictures and journeying out to a South Seas island to teach the natives how to dance for an upcoming film being shot there. (3/5)
"Pest Man Wins"—Desperate attempt to combine scenes from classics In the Sweet Pie and Pie and Ants in the Pantry. The Stooges are exterminators who spread ants and mice in a socialite's house to garner some business, but end up making fools of themselves. (1/5)
With superstooge Curly Howard forced to retire in 1947 due to ill health, the Stooges were at a crossroads. Luckily, the ideal replacement was more than willing to do it: Curly and Moe's eldest brother Samuel, better known as Shemp. (He was so named because his Lithuanian mother mispronounced his real name, awkwardly coming out as "Shemp.") At first, Columbia Pictures was hesitant, arguing that Moe and Shemp looked too much alike. When Moe threatened to quit, however, Columbia gave in, and soon Shemp was taking Moe's eye-pokes and slaps with all the bravado the role sorely needed.
Most Stooge fans (including yours truly) prefer Curly to Shemp. However, that doesn't mean Shemp wasn't an expert comedian or a fine slapstick foil. What most people tend to forget is Shemp was the original third stooge, working with Moe and Larry on Vaudeville (with lead Ted Healy) while Curly was being protected from show business by his mother. After the Stooges' debut in MGM's 1930 film Soup to Nuts, Shemp got fed up of acting second banana to Healy for such a measly paycheck that he angrily left. Question is, who would be the third stooge? It was actually Shemp's idea to shave his baby brother's head, and a comic genius was born.
In 1947, with Curly now falling prey to a series of strokes, Shemp seemed to be the logical choice. Contracts were rewritten, and soon Shemp was back in the Stooge Spotlight, one in which he embraced with enthusiasm. Wisely, even though Shemp was saddled with some old routines that were supremely executed by Curly, Shemp did it in his own way, preventing himself from imitating his little brother. I've always liked and respected Shemp, but don't love him in the same way I love Curly. The man himself no doubt thought it was awkward at times to fill the shoes of not only one of the great comedians but also his own brother, but I still salute Shemp for giving it is all.
Unfortunately, by 1954, Stooge shorts were made up of mostly recycled footage from earlier films, and Shemp was unknowingly ill at this time. Even though he died a year later, onscreen evidence of his illness is minimal, compared to the slurred Curly performances in 1946. That being said, the years from 1949-1951 represent the finest of Shemp performances, and the quality of writing and directing was still at a high level. Edward Bernds may not have directed the majority of the shorts (that honor goes to Jules White), but all his films display some masterful Stooge improvisation and superbly executed slapstick routines. Pretty much all of the Stooge shorts in this collection represent this, and it wasn't until the last couple of 1951 in which things begin to embarrassingly go downhill.
This collection starts on a high note with The Ghost Talks, a marvelous spook comedy, with the Stooges encountering a spirit inside a suit of armor. The spirit identifies himself as Peeping Tom, and is well-voiced by Ed Arnold, who did several shorts with the trio. The next corker is Who Done It?, which has the stooges play private eyes out to find a blonde bombshell (regular Christine McIntyre), who is part of the murderous Phantom Gang. This short also features long-time Stooge character actor Emil Sitka, famous for his line "Hold hands, you lovebirds!," and even becoming one of the Stooges himself after Larry suffered a major stroke. Sitka appears in most of the shorts in this collection, and his roles are very diverse, with parts as a stage director, a cowboy, a butler, a popcorn-eating motorist, you name it.
Another gem is Malice in the Palace, even though this one has the unfortunate status of being one of four public domain shorts. It appears on endless unofficial Stooge DVDs from third-rate companies looking to make a quick buck. Yet, this is still hilarious stuff with the ultimate in cringing-bad-taste gags, when Larry "chops" up a cat and dog to cook for some restaurant guests. This short also a haunting aura to it, as it was meant to be Curly's final onscreen appearance, playing a mustached chef; several production photos show conclusively he was going to be in it. What's eerie are the unexplained reasons why his performance was cut from the final print. This was still before he suffered the stroke which left him paralyzed, confining him to a wheelchair for the final two years of his life. As a side note, Malice in the Palace is a slight reworking of the Curly short Wee Wee Monsieur, and it has the familiar scene of the Stooges arriving at Emir of Schmow's palace in Santa Claus outfits.
Some stock footage was all-too-obviously re-used for Vagabond Loafers, a mediocre remake of A Plumbing We Will Go. Sadly, this was also the final appearance of African-American Dudley Dickerson, who was reduced to many "bug-eyed" roles due to Hollywood racism. Still, his exuberance is still on full display here, rendering his stunts and lines as nothing short of riotous. Following this one forgettable film are the original Hugs and Mugs and the wildly funny Dopey Dicks. Both feature sexy McIntyre in two of her best turns (one as a jewel thief and the other as a kidnapped dame), and a lot action involving chases and fights which makes these two stand out. Plus, Dicks also has an insanely irreverent turn by Philip Van Zandt (Citizen Kane) as a mad scientist determined to remove one of the Stooges' brains for a robot. As if that would make the robot intelligent!
Self Made Maids has the distinction of being the only Stooge short where Moe, Larry, and Shemp played the leads as well as all of the supporting characters. It's fun and unique, but not quite as humorous as some of the earlier ones; plus, it feels a bit forced, even in terms of Stooge comedy. Studio Stoops has another winning turn by McIntyre, now playing an egotistical actress who agrees to be part of a faux kidnapping to boost some publicity. Another longtime Stooge foil, Vernon Dent, plays the typical disgruntled law officer who would fall victim to many of the Stooges' mayhem. Dent would get an even better role in Three Arabian Nuts as an antique dealer who is unaware that a lamp he bought in the Orient would house a real wish-fulfilling genie. Van Zandt also excels in this short as a violent Arabian thug out to get the lamp before Shemp rubs his palms on it.
The final seven films in this collection are all merely OK, with Merry Mavericks being a rare example of a remake being superior to the original (in this case, 1943's Phony Express). The problem with many of these shorts is the situations are repeated almost word-for-word, action-for-action from the Curly era. Baby Sitters Jitters calls to mind the superior Sock-A-Bye Baby; Don't Throw That Knife borrows an entire subplot from What's the Matador?; and Pest Man Wins annoyingly re-works the legendary Ants In The Pantry. The results are not nearly as fun, although Shemp is-of course-not to blame for this repetitive and cheap maneuver.
Despite these hiccups, Sony's sixth volume in their Three Stooges Collection is absolutely stellar, when it comes to the A/V details. The 1.33:1 monochrome prints are scrubbed free of any and all scratches and debris, and the Mono tracks come off beautifully. Some of the earlier collections had minor instances of green tinting and white lines, but here everything is pitch-perfect. The lack of extras is beginning to get a bit irritating, though. Sony has lost so many opportunities to this point, and with the Stooges entering a weak period in their history, it's all the more upsetting. I do give them credit for at least providing the original, silent Columbia logos before all the shorts, which are usually deleted for television broadcasts.
It was recently announced the Farrelly Bros.' The Three Stooges movie had been cast. Academy award-winners Benicio del Toro (Traffic) and Sean Penn (Milk) were supposed to play Moe and Larry, while Jim Carrey was going to gain 30+ pounds to play the unimitatible Curly. However, Sean Penn has since pulled out, leaving the entire project in doubt, which is fine with me. As a longtime Stooge fan, I had tremendous concerns, especially since the Farrellys admitted their script would be filled to the brim with toilet humor. The Stooges may have been lowbrow, but certainly never went that low. The cast may have pulled it off (considering their credentials), but I don't understand why the Farrellys couldn't leave well enough alone.
With at least two more volumes on the way, this is the time to enjoy the real Stooges, even if Volume Six doesn't contain the finest of the trio. With Shemp serving as an adequate third buffoon, this collection has enough eye-poking hilarity to make it amusing even to Curly purists. Keep up the good work, Sony!
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Scales of Justice
• IMDb: The Ghost Talks
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