Judge Christopher Kulik is proud to be a member of the "Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk" club.
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 Six (1949-51) (published June 26th, 2009), and The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Three (1940-42) (published August 26th, 2008) are also available.
Moe: "All for one!"
Thank you Sony! Stooge fans around the world are no longer victims of soicumstance. For years, we had to deal with your overpriced DVDs containing only five or six shorts. We even had to deal with your sorry colorization process which compromised the original theatrical quality. Sure, we are still fired up over double dipping some shorts on later discs, though last year you redeemed yourselves…big time!
The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 1 (1934-36) was a true gift. The shorts featuring our favorite knuckleheads have never looked better. They were magnificent on a monochrome level, if not spectacular on a sonic one. Neverthless, one of the great comic teams finally got their just due with your meticulous restoration. And that praise continues with Volume 2, in which we close out the '30s with Moe, Larry, and Curly. Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!
Facts of the Case
In Volume 2, Sony presents 24 shorts from three years running over two discs in one deluxe package:
"Grips, Grunts and Groans"—-- After illegally riding the rails, the Stooges find themselves in the Hangover Athletic Club. They are asked to keep an eye on champion boxer Bustoff, though his drinking problems are too much to handle.(5/5)
"Dizzy Doctors"—-- Lazy and out-of-work, the Stooges are ordered by their wives to get a job selling bottles of Brighto ("brightens old bodies"). At first, the boys mistake the medicine for cleaning solvent. Once their faux pa becomes clear, they wreak havoc at Los Arms hospital, desperately seeking buyers. (4/5)
"3 Dumb Clucks"—-- These clucks happen to be in jail when they receive a letter from their mother desperately seeking their help. Evidently, their father (who looks like Curly with a beard, nyuk nyuk) has left his wife after getting oil rich and plans to marry a sexy gold-digger. (5/5)
"Back to the Woods"—-- The Stooges get kicked out of England and sent to the New World to protect the colonists from Indians. (2/5)
"Goofs and Saddles"—-- These goofs get sent by General Muster to capture notorious criminal Longhorn Pete. At first, they attempt to outwit him in playing poker, but are soon on the run for their lives when they are discovered cheating. (3/5)
"Cash and Carry"—-- Living in a junkyard is peaceful for the boys until they discover a young woman and her disabled brother also residing there. The brother needs an expensive operation, so the Stooges volunteer to go treasure hunting…only finding themselves inadvertently raiding the U.S. treasury! (3/5)
"Playing the Ponies"—-- With their restaurant business in trouble, the Stooges decide to sell it to try their hand at horse-racing. When they discover their mare going berserk—-and obtaining superior speed—-after eating red-hot peanuts, their luck may have just come into play. (4/5)
"The Sitter-Downers"—-- The Stooges want to get married, but the girls' old man won't give in. A sit-down strike is instigated, and they win…but in order to satisfy their wives, the boys must build a "dream house" in the country. Predictably, their inexperience with building leads to catastrophe.(2/5)
"Termites of 1938"—-- Acme exterminators Moe, Larry and Curly get called in to help a society matron…who really wanted escorts! Inspired chaos ensues at a house party, where the Stooges' unusual eating habits cause quite a stir.(5/5)
"Wee Wee Monsieur"—-- Now masquerading as so-called French artists, the Stooges get in trouble with the law but make their escape. They think the Foreign Legion will help them go home…only to find themselves duped by Uncle Sam. (4/5)
"Tassels in the Air"—-- The Stooges stumble a bit in this mediocre short where they pretend to be house redecorators.(2/5)
"Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb"—-- Moe gets outraged when he mistakes liquid glue for syrup, though Curly is delighted when his poem wins $5000 in a nationwide competition. The Stooges are now filthy with dough…and soon they will be filthy without it.(5/5)
"Violent is the Word for Curly"—-- Now working as grease-monkeys, the boys are a bit too committed in providing "super-service" to their customers. Circumstances force them to flee and they wind up being mistaken for German professors at an all-women's college. Highlight: a musical number called "Swingin' the Alphabet." Don't worry, they'll explain it so even you could understand it!(5/5)
"Three Missing Links"—-- Working as bumbling janitors, the Stooges get an offer they can't refuse: acting in a movie being filmed in Africa. However, they run afoul of lions, gorillas, and even cannibals!(4/5)
"Mutts To You"—-- The boys now own a dog-washing business. When they discover an "abandoned" baby, they feel it's the right thing to adopt him…only making them wanted by the authorities.(4/5)
"Flat Foot Stooges"—-- The Stooges wouldn't know a fire unless it was barbecuing their buns, but they somehow get a job working a local fire station.(2/5)
"Three Little Sew and Sews"—-- Hilarious short features the boys working as tailors in the Navy. Seaman Curly has some fun wearing an Admiral's uniform, making him a vulnerable patsy to some spies.(5/5)
"We Want Our Mummy"—-- Acme detectives Moe, Larry, and Curly are hired by a museum director to locate a kidnapped professor as well as the tomb of King Rootin' Tootin' of Egypt. Their reward may be $5000, but these dopey dicks fail to realize the cab ride back and forth to Cairo will cost more than that.(5/5)
"A Ducking They Did Go"—-- The Stooges get suckered into a duck-hunting business run by some con men. When they (finally) realize they've been had, they must find a way to conjure up some ducks for their newly-recruited hunters…the entire police department! (4/5)
"Yes, We Have No Bonanza"—-- Back in the old west, the Stooges are eager to strike gold to marry their waitress girlfriends. Obviously, they do stake a claim…which had already been claimed by an evil gunslinger.(2/5)
"Saved By The Belle"—-- In the tropical kingdom of Valeska, travelling outfitters Moe, Larry, and Curly are arrested for treason…a crime punishable by death. Strange, weak short has zero in terms of story and the boys are rarely given a chance to be funny.(1/5)
"Calling All Curs"—-- The boys are now veterinarians, looking after dogs and cats as well as eating dinner with them. When a wealthy socialite's prize dog gets stolen, however, they take it upon themselves to rescue him.(4/5)
"Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise"—-- Three crooked mugs have just acquired a poor woman's farm. After the homeless Stooges befriend the woman—-and her three sexy daughters—-they discover an oil well.(4/5)
"Three Sappy People"—-- Telephone troubleshooters Moe, Larry, and Curly are mistaken for Doctors Zeller, Ziller, and Zoller, expert psychiatrists. A wealthy man "hires" them to help his cuckoo of a wife.(5/5)
I've been a Stooge fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching them every Sunday morning, nearly 30 years after their TV debut. Little did I realize they had a long history, starting in 1920s vaudeville, moving on to MGM films in the early '30s, before finding a home at Columbia for over four decades. Combining physical slapstick with verbal puns, the Stooges perfected their art early on, so much so that imitating them would be a fruitless endeavor. Even some of the best actors today couldn't possibly re-create their genius; perhaps that's why the Farrelly Brothers' movie version has been on hold for years.
These 24 shorts may not represent the trio's finest. Still, they all have Curly (the most popular stooge) and most don't depend on a period setting with goofy costumes. In 1937, only two shorts found the Stooges as part of history, with "Back to the Woods" set in early 17th century New England, and "Goofs and Saddles" set out west in the 1800s. The former isn't too bad, but suffers from being too long, with the story going nowhere. What's worse are the sad Indian stereotypes, where the times practically required for white actors playing Native Americans. "Goofs and Saddles" is much better, as it relies more on verbal humor, including a hilarious poker scene. As dumb as they are, they are clever cheaters: "You've been to the oasis? I've been to the oasis twice! Nyuk, nyuk!"
Social satire—-no matter how silly—-is where the Stooges truly excelled. With "Grips, Grunts and Groans," "Dizzy Doctors," and "3 Dumb Clucks," the trio were more comfortable as part of the working class. (In these specific cases, the working class which never actually worked.) All three are very funny, though the last one gets my vote as the best simply because we have the ever-lovable Curly having a dual role as himself and his rich dad. "Cash and Carry" was more unusual than funny, with the Stooges becoming virtual heroes, a rarity to be sure; along with the speedy "Playing the Ponies," both make their DVD debut. Unfortunately, "The Sitter-Downers" doesn't even come close to the wonderful wackiness we associate the Stooges with. Despite a promising set-up, it simply dies without a chance to get started.
The Stooges would begin the next year on a high note with "Termites of 1938," even if it's a semi-remake of the classic "Ants in the Pantry." Poking fun at the upper class was the name of the game here, and it would continue in many other shorts in which the Stooges would make a mockery of the rich and snobbish. (It more or less started with "Hoi Polloi" in which the theme of heredity vs. environment was employed to prove poor knuckleheads would never be part of the nouveu riche). Others in this set which followed this formula in different directions were "Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb," "Violent is the Word for Curly," and "Three Sappy People."
Of course, no set would be complete without military satires, and this one provides two: "Wee Wee Monsieur," and "Three Little Sew and Sews." The first has the boys joining the Army and doesn't disappoint with Curly's cluelessness and their uncanny ability to compromise enemy territory (in this case, wearing Santa Claus outfits). In "Sews," they become U.S. sailors, working as "tailors" simply because it sounds like "sailors." Their uniforms cleverly manage to parallel their persononalities, with Moe a first class petty officer, Larry a second class, and Curly a seaman; the results provide plenty of squid slapstick and snappy one-liners. Here's my favorite: When a woman asks Curly what the Navy's like, he says, "They feed you beans every day, except on Sunday…that's when you get bean soup! And beans!!!"
The major difference between these shorts and earlier ones is the injection of sound effects. Everyone should know the famous gurgling sounds when a character drinks, or how the eye-pokes sound suspiciously like violin strikes. Naturally, they enhance the pain factor and thus are more funny. Even with all the fake wood and Paper Mache vases, the sound effects manage to obscure the fake props in lieu of more natural reactions to the real thing. Pretty much all of the shorts from 1938 onwards employ everything from walnuts to ukuleles to crank up the slaps and cracks. Aside from their acting skills, the Stooges will always be remembered for those insane noises.
Sony's treatment of these shorts is nothing short of superb. Faithful to its full frame origins, these re-mastered transfers are practically dust speck and scratch-free. Comparisons of these to earlier releases yield a vast improvement, particularly with "Grips, Grunts and Groans" and "Calling all Curs." Audio-wise, we are treated to the same mono tracks, now with noticeably fewer hisses and pops, and "Three Blind Mice" overture sounds terrific even 70 years later. Extras are sadly nil, however I must give Sony points for a beautiful two-disc package, complete with colorful, '30s-style menus and episode selection screens.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not every short is a gem. Aside from "The Sitter-Downers," I had problems with "Tassels in the Air," "Flat Foot Stooges," "Saved By The Belle," and ""Yes, We Have No Bonanza." Despite some energetic antics, "Tassels," feels familiar in their handymen blunders. "Flat Foot" recalls one of the far superior "False Alarms" (which was on Volume 1), even down to having the same actor play their chief. "Bonanza" has its moments, but not enough to make them stand alongside the good ones. Otherwise, the majority are Stooge classics and, more often than not, deliver the goods.
For those who have been collecting the older DVD releases from day one, very few of these shorts are "new." In fact, only five or six have been released for the first time, which only angers one more with Sony for screwing up in the first place. Still, the immaculate treatment of these shorts, along with the soon-to-be-released Volume 3 in August, makes room for forgiveness.
If the Stooges prove anything, they were expert comedians who knew how to do slapstick comedy. Things may have never been the same after Curly died, but the act went on until the mid '70s, and they remain one of the longest-running comic teams of all time. That says a lot, considering their two-reelers have been re-shown endlessly on television, when they were initially only meant to amuse audiences before a theatrical feature. Sony is commended for giving the team the respect they deserve, while other companies are still shamelessly rehashing the public domain shorts with little purpose other than to make a quick buck.
Sony is acquitted and the Stooges are free to go. Soitenly!
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Scales of Justice
• IMDb: Grips, Grunts and Groans
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