While waiting on Volume 5, Judge Christopher Kulik will be teaching inner city youth "The Curly Shuffle."
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 Six (1949-51) (published June 26th, 2009), 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.
Curly: We're colossal, we're stupendous, we're terrific! We're even superlative!
For a while now, Sony has been listening to demands by Stooge fans. These classic shorts have been restored and re-mastered for superior sound and picture quality, and the streak continues (mostly) with The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Four (1943-45), which charts the boys' adventures during the second half of WW2. From being mistaken as Japanese soldiers to running afoul of Nazi spies to posing as opera divas, the Stooges continue to dominate the art of slapstick and pratfalls…little realizing the sad fate of the beloved Curly right around the corner.
Facts of the Case
Like the previous collections, Sony presents these shorts (21 total) on two discs:
"Dizzy Detectives"—After screwing up on installing a door (a sequence actually lifted from 1934's Pardon My Scotch), the boys find their dream fulfilled of becoming detectives. Their first assignment: capturing an "ape man" which has been supposedly responsible for burglarizing stores.(4/5)
"Spook Louder"—Door salesmen Moe, Larry and Curly find themselves in the home of an inventor named Graves, who offers them money and rooms to protect his mansion from possible spies. One of the rare shorts told almost entirely in flashback, with a famous running gag of someone off-screen throwing pies at the performers.(4/5)
"Back From the Front"—After saying goodbye to their sweethearts, the Stooges enlist as Merchant Marines. When their ship is attacked by the Germans, they are shipwrecked and manage to penetrate the enemy ship…which is run by their former superior officer (Dent again). Notable for Moe doing his famous Hitler impersonation again.(4/5)
"Three Little Twirps"—The boys are now working for the circus, but their pay is not cash but tickets. Realizing they've been had, they decide to scalp some stolen tickets so they can eat, which naturally outrages their boss. Highlights include Curly being pursued by a bearded lady and Curly and Larry hiding in a horse suit…which is set to be beheaded!(4/5)
"Higher Than A Kite"—Split into two acts, with the first having military mechanics the Stooges attempting to "find a squeak" in a colonel's car; in the second, they going behind enemy lines in a bomb and are able to steal secrets from a high-ranking Nazi official (played by…you guessed it), who develops a crush on dude-looks-like-a-lady Larry.(4/5)
"I Can Hardly Wait"—Bizarre short (to the say the least), with Curly having a toothache and a consequent nightmare of Moe and Larry attempting to fix it so they could sleep.(3/5)
"Dizzy Pilots"—The Wrong Brothers (Moe, Larry, & Curly) are given a chance to prove themselves by inventing an advanced plane so the military could use during the war; if they don't succeed, they will end up drafted. This short delivers until the final reel, when it shamefully reuses footage from 1940's classic Boobs in Arms.(4/5)
"Phony Express"—Wanted for vagrancy in the late 1800s town of Peaceful Gulch, the boys are passed off as travelling marshals to protect the locals from Red and his bank-robbing gang. Not-bad period short, with a hilarious sequence involving a medicine vendor.(3/5)
"A Gem of a Jam"—Night janitors Moe, Larry, and Curly run afoul of some jewel thieves, who mistake them for doctors. Ordered to remove a slug from the leader's arm, the boys only end up let him fall out of a window. Chaos ensues later, with a night watchman becoming bewildered by all the excitement and a cement-covered Curly viewed as a ghost.(4/5)
"Busy Buddies"—Café operators Moe, Larry, and Curly need to raise $97 to pay for the pastries, so they try their luck at a cow-milking contest.(2/5)
"The Yoke's on Me"—The Stooges fail to join the military, so their father sends them to work on a farm…little realizing that escaped Japanese soldiers will be paying them a visit. Quite possibly the most controversial of all the shorts, with the anti-Japanese propaganda viewed in extremely bad taste today. Still an OK short, with some good hijinks on the farm.(3/5)
"Idle Roomers"—Now working as snoozing bellhops, the Stooges drool over a luscious blonde, become a target by her jealous husband, and are eventually chased all over the hotel by the couple's caged wolf man. Positively off-the-wall short marks the debut of Christine McIntyre, who would work with the team for another decade.(5/5)
"Gents Without Cents"—Determined to entertain an audience with their outrageous comedy routines, the boys find true love with three upstairs dancers and end moving their act to Broadway! Among other routines, the Stooges utilize the legendary Niagara Falls skit "Slowly I Turned," which had been prevalent on the vaudeville circuit.(4/5)
"No Dough Boys"—The Stooges are mistaken for escaped Japanese soldiers (no, this is not a sequel to earlierThe Yoke's on Me) by a Nazi officer (yes, Dent again). McIntire also plays one of the dames who is interested in the soldiers' knowledge of acrobatics and jujitsu.(4/5)
"Three Pests in a Mess"—Typical spook slapstick in full force. When a sexy gangster's moll gets the impression the Stooges are wealthy, she pretends to be broke to gain their sympathy. When the plan backfires, the boys go on the run, eventually believe they shot and killed a man (but it's actually a dummy), and decide to bury it in the local cemetery.(3/5)
"Booby Dupes"—Fish salesmen Moe, Larry & Curly decide to eliminate the middleman by getting their own boat to catch more sales. Along the way, Curly steals an admiral's uniform (shades of Three Little Sews and a Sew) and hangs out with some bikini babes.(3/5)
"Idiots Deluxe"—Moe is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, so he decides to go out into the country with Larry and Curly hoping it will calm his nerves. One conflict leads to another, and soon Moe finds himself on trial for allegedly attempting to murder his comrades. This short would use introduce a brand new title card…and a sure sign of Curly's failing health.(4/5)
"If a Body Meets a Body"—Well-written horror comedy has Curly Q. Link realizing he's the heir to a vast three million estate left by his uncle. Problem is, the will and its reader have gone missing once the penniless Stooges arrive one stormy night to collect. Slurred speech patterns and an obvious body double (ironically enough) are more signs of Curly's deterioration.
"Micro-Phonies"—One of the Stooges' most embraced films by loyal fans, this one finds Curly posing as a Spanish opera singer. Many funny moments abound, film also has the opportunity to hear Christine McIntyre's wonderful singing voice.(5/5)
Journeying from Vaudeville to MGM to Columbia, comic team The Three Stooges would finally find a home making eight shorts a year. The year of 1943 would mark a high point for the trio, as ten films would emerge. To be fair, however, two of the films (both, ironically, with "Dizzy" in the title) would utilize recycled footage, and it's too bad because I would have wanted to see more antics written into the respective storylines. In Dizzy Detectives, we have a great nut-cracking scene and Curly displays his physical comic brilliance in a climactic fight. In Dizzy Pilots, we have an elaborate sequence where Larry and Curly cluelessly attempt to rescue Moe, who is covered in rubber cement.
As for this volume, there is one short from 1943 in which fans will be clamoring for simply because it's rarely ever broadcast on television. That would be They Stooge to Conga, which is arguably the most violent of all Stooge shorts, with such painful gags as Curly getting his nose twisted and then "reshaped," with memorable use of a revolving grindstone. While working, the Stooges would be all about safety on the set, but this short has such an underlying current of verisimilitude you can actually feel it when Moe gets a spike shoved in his eye (it's not a pretty sight, either). More often than not, you can actually tell the eye pokes and slaps are fake, as it was really the sound effects that cranked up the pain factor. In They Stooge to Conga, effects are virtually nonexistent and yet the pain pays off in spades…or spikes, if you will.
Some may be disappointed by the lack of military or period satires on this set. With Back to the Front, we have some more smacks at our sea forces but also Nazism, which served as a target in many of the trio's shorts. In fact, we even have Moe do his Hitler impersonation briefly twice, which will serve as a real treat to those who loved the famous You Nazty Spy! and I'll Never Heil Again! from Volume Three. Pretty much the only short with a period setting would be Phony Express; I've never cared for these type of shorts because the humor feels more appropriate in modern settings. Still, Phony Express is one of the better ones, and it doesn't depend on silly costumes or slang to sell the jokes as so many previous ones had.
In my previous Stooge collection reviews, I barely mentioned the supporting actors, who really contribute immensely to the proceedings. One particular fan favorite is Bud Jamison, who was seen many times in previous volumes, usually as a street cop chasing the Stooges. However, he was there from the very beginning, starting in 1934's Woman Haters and making over 30 more films with the trio. Sadly, 1944's Crash Goes the Hash would mark his swan song with the comics, and its fitting he goes out with one of the most memorable lines: "Such levity! You remind me of the Three Stooges!" Other famous foils like Stanley Blystone and Chester Conklin would be seen intermittently.
Still, nobody was more frequent than the incomparable foil Vernon Dent. He makes his fair share of appearances here, particularly as the lead Nazi dummkoph. Like Jamison, Dent later contracted diabetes, however he also was able to work with the Stooges for nearly another 10 years. In "Idle Roomers," he played the husband of 29-year-old blonde beauty Christine McIntyre, who would also work with the Stooges for a decade, even doing three more than Dent during the Shemp era. Her comedic skills as well as singing talent was a perfect fit, and it played terrifically alongside the slapstick trio. Just check out her moves on Curly in Three Pests in a Mess as well as her lovely rendition of "Voices of Spring" in Micro-Phonies.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Once again, Sony does deliver exceptional full-frame transfers for these shorts. I was worried while watching Volume Three they were getting a little lazy, considering there was some green tints on "You Nazty Spy!" Here, there is one black sheep among the shorts with "Idiots Deluxe," which pretty much looks exactly how it looks on television, with scratches, white spots and apparent damage in the background. I was able to compare the earlier treatment of this short on the Stooges and the Law DVD, and my suspicious were met; it was if Sony had just forgotten to fix this short altogether. That's really tacky.
On a sad note, The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Four (1943-45) will mark the last time you will see the Superstooge in his prime. In pretty much all of the shorts from 1945, you can see growing evidence of his failing health with his declining physicality and deeper voice rhythms. It was around the time of Idiots Deluxe (of all shorts) that Curly suffered a mild stroke, his first of many. He knew he was ill, and so did his brother Moe, who had actually pleaded with Columbia's president to let Curly go on an extended vacation to get well. At the time, the Stooge shorts were fantastic moneymakers for the studio and, as a result, Curly never took that much needed vacation. While he would make several more shorts, it was clear there was no more nyuk'ing around.
Not guilty! Sony is face-slapped with a misdemeanor for their laziness on Idiots Deluxe, but free to go to get back to work on Volume Five. Court is adjourned!
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