I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume everyone has at least heard of the Three Stooges. For nearly 40 years the Stooges had become a part of mainstream culture; from the days of vaudeville to the television age. All told the trio appeared in over 190 short films, 6 feature films, and countless appearances on television. Their short films were used as preludes to full length films in the theaters. While the group changed personnel a few times over the years, the base group was brothers Moe and Curly along with Larry Fine. On occasion, Moe's brother Shemp also was part of the group, as well as a few others, but most people remember these three as THE Three Stooges. At any rate, they knew how to entertain with their unique brand of pseudo-violent slapstick humor, plays on words, and constant variations on "fish out of water" stories. They remain one of the best-loved and most well known comedy acts of all time. Columbia brings 7 of their short films to DVD; a nice collection for those who would like to add The Stooges to their film library.
Most people get their start with the Three Stooges as kids. I did not, as my mother decided they were too violent and didn't allow me to watch them; I suppose she thought I'd start poking my baby brother's eyes out or something. I really didn't know what I was missing, so I didn't exhibit my usual predilection of just watching it anyway. So I guess I was already an adult by the time I really got exposed both to the Stooges and to people who were big fans of theirs. And I confess, I just didn't get it. Sure, I would get a chuckle or two once in awhile from their zany antics, but it seemed like a one note show to me. I think that I have a better appreciation for them now after having watched this DVD however, as I was able to see the topical humor and clever plays on words that also accompanied the various head-bonks, eye gouges, and pratfalls.
It was really in the 1930s and '40s that the Stooges were at their peak, and that was squarely in the Moe, Larry, and Curly era. All seven of these shorts are from that era. The first is "Grips, Grunts, and Groans" where Curly wrestles. Next is "All the World's a Stooge" where they impersonate rather large child refugees for free meals and room, and "3 Dumb Clucks" where Curly plays a dual role as the Stooges father, who must be prevented from marrying a black widow. The Stooges had to break out of prison in that one, as well as the next one; called "Three Little Pirates" where some strange era bending between then modern day and the days of pirates in the Caribbean force them to escape from Dead Man's Isle. Costume humor again is used throughout in "Uncivil War Birds," a Civil War story where the Stooges keep changing from Union to Confederate uniforms to fool the various armies, and even have a scene in blackface as they try to win the war in a week so they can get married. "Back to the Woods" puts the Stooges in pilgrim garb as they vie against an Indian tribe that won't let the white settlers hunt for food in their woods. Finally, the Stooges impersonate European college professors in "Violent is the Word for Curly," where they strive to bring an athletics program to a girl's college.
None of these were truly famous classics of the many shorts the troupe did, but none were really bad either. Probably "Three Little Pirates" and "Uncivil War Birds" were the most entertaining of the lot, but all of them were worth a laugh. Each short is approximately 17 minutes long.
Enough of what I think of the Stooges; most people have an opinion of them already and don't really need mine. What Stooge fans want to know is about the DVD presentation. The video quality of the 7 shorts is pretty uneven. Ironically the first one on the disc, "Grips, Grunts, and Groans" is the worst looking of the lot. Poor contrast levels, murky shadow detail, and the poorest source print make this one only watchable but nothing better than you've seen on television before. Frequent nicks and scratches from the source print also plague most of the other shorts, but at least they have better detail and clarity. Best of the lot were "Uncivil War Birds" and "Violent is the Word For Curly," which looked great for their age, and suffered the least from the overly soft image.
Sound quality is nothing special, and in some cases poor. Noticeable hiss creeps up frequently but dialogue and sound effects are always audible and understandable. These are the original mono tracks and I suspect some extensive remastering would be needed to make them better.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm a little surprised at Columbia for this disc; as I've grown accustomed to their great work in making beautiful transfers and restorations of most of their classics, and a decent collection of extras to go with them. The only extra with this disc is a biography in a two page leaflet inside the case. Certainly there was room on the disc for some featurette or commentary from some talking heads. I'd wager the Three Stooges are among the most analyzed comedy acts of all time, but there is little to be learned here, other than what you discern yourself from their work.
Much of the video is very softly imaged, grainy, and suffers from nicks, blips, and scratches. The sound has a high noise floor that is noticeable even without having to listen for it. Still, it looks at least as good, and in some cases better than I've become accustomed to seeing them, and certainly better than VHS would have looked.
I'm not going to try to convince you to either like or dislike the Stooges. I'd say this disc is a good introduction to the uninitiated, and worth a rental in that regard. True Stooges fans will want to buy the disc.
The Three Stooges I hope are in the Afterlife working out skits with Red Skelton, along with some collaboration with Chris Farley and John Candy. Columbia is released because of the high esteem this court has with their work as a whole, but certainly this one doesn't quite match up to the excellence of their other discs.
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