Our reviews of The Three Stooges Collection (published March 20th, 2002), The Three Stooges: Cops And Robbers (published September 26th, 2002), The Three Stooges: G.I. Stooge (published November 14th, 2002), The Three Stooges: Hapless Half-Wits (published February 16th, 2007), The Three Stooges: Stooges On The Run (published October 10th, 2006), and The Three Stooges: Stop! Look! And Laugh! (published April 25th, 2003) are also available.
A full length feature film that's out of this world!
A little background before this review begins:
After the demise of the shorts department in 1959 and the death of Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, the Three Stooges found themselves out of a job. After thinking about their next move, they decided to break into feature films. Their first film, Have Rocket Will Travel, was a quickly made, low budget affair that was a big hit for Columbia. While off making Snow White and the Three Stooges for Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia decided to make more money by compiling old Curly-era Stooges footage with newly filmed material featuring ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. The resultant film, Stop, Look and Laugh! was a big box office success but one party wasn't amused: The Three Stooges. Moe threatened legal action but an out of court settlement was reached. The settlement: financing for future features.
The Three Stooges in Orbit was the second film of that deal, the first being The Three Stooges Meet Hercules. Both were released in 1962. Despite the all too obvious use of stock footage and misleading title, the film is a fun little entry in the Stooges' canon.
Our film begins with a variation of a usual Stooges predicament. Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe are being evicted from every boarding house due to their constant cooking (in a no cooking room!). Running out of options, they take boarding in a strange scientist's (Emil Sitka) mansion. He has invented a revolutionary new military vehicle: a tank/submarine/helicopter hybrid. One problem: he claims that the Martians want to steal his invention to take over the world. Of course, the Stooges (and everyone else) laugh it off and decide to humor him. What they don't know is that there really are Martians in the mansion. And they're planning to destroy the Earth, not invade it!
The title of the film is misleading. While they technically go in orbit, it is for a mere two minutes. I could complain about that, but it is not the bait and switch that Abbott and Costello Go to Mars was (email me if you want to know more). Unlike that film, this film is a lot of fun and is actually quite clever and well made. Elwood Ullman's script is an extension of a failed Stooges pilot. Actually, the first twenty minutes of Orbit are culled from that failed pilot. You will see the genesis of their classic animated series The New Three Stooges here as well. Anyway, back to the movie itself. Ullman's script has terrific one-liners and a well plotted, coherent storyline. In lesser hands, this would have been a total disaster, but an old pro like Ullman pulled it off. Director Edward Bernds (Return of the Fly) combines his new material with stock footage, and if it weren't for the poor condition of the print used for this disc, the end result would look seamless.
The reason why The Three Stooges were so successful was not only could they excel in physical comedy, but they always had at least a shred of humanity. While they may physically appear as if they're supermen, deep down, they're just like you and me and never pretend to be more than that (well, unless it's one of Moe's scams). Moe Howard and Larry Fine had worked together for many decades at this point, but Joe De Rita was the new kid on the block, having joined the group in 1958 after the departure of Joe Besser. Still, you would never know if from watching him work with Moe and Larry. They just had good chemistry and if it wasn't for the massive stroke Larry suffered in 1969, they probably would have done better and brighter things.
I wish I could say nicer things about the transfer. Let's start out by saying that Columbia TriStar didn't do much, if any, restoration on their master print. Grain is present throughout the entire feature. Some scenes have it worse than the rest, but the fact that is always there is a disappointment. The print has some major defects in it. Long black vertical lines in the opening credits sequence, loads of scratches and specks in the stock footage sequences, and some hot white patches during some scenes towards the middle are just a few of the defects present. Heck, some of their 1930s shorts look better than this. While their features cannot compare to the classic shorts, they deserve the same respect and treatment for home video.
The sound isn't much of an improvement. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, it's rather flat and dull. It gets the job done, but the ideal sound mix for any Stooges short is stereo. The music, sound effects, and one-liners deserve to be heard in the best possible presentation. The one on this disc is okay, but again, they deserve better!
Previous discs of Three Stooges movies had featured a classic short from their peak period. Unfortunately, Columbia TriStar decided not to continue that policy. That is a shame. And this would have been the perfect opportunity to finally release some decent looking prints of the classic animated series. Not even a theatrical trailer can be found here.
Despite these negatives, I still recommend The Three Stooges in Orbit. It's a nice way to spend 88 minutes of your time. Die-hard Stooges fans will want to own this and they should. It may be the best presentation you'll find to date (that really isn't saying much, though). A rental is encouraged if you're either unsure or a non-fan.
Columbia TriStar is found guilty of shortchanging the men who brought millions of dollars in profits to the studio in the soon to be seventy years since their studio debut. Their work deserves better treatment on DVD. Heed this warning as a wakeup call.
The Three Stooges are easily acquitted of all charges. I dedicate this review in their memory.
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