Tuesday, October 30, 2007

THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION: VOL. ONE (Columbia 1934-'36) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Three Stooges are an acquired taste – meaning, that to see them in all their spectacular insanity is to acquire an affinity for their misguided antics forever. Though it’s quite true that men tend to find Moe, Larry and Curly more amusing than women, there is little to deny that this trio of chuckleheads has left an indelible mark on the history of American comedy.

They began professionally as Ted Healy and His Stooges with a series of short subjects made at MGM, where they also made their feature film debut in Dancing Lady (1933) opposite Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. The act, however, wasn’t working. Healy was a control freak and the stooges were better off as a solo act. So, with a split from Healy and a change of venue to then ‘poverty row’ studio, Columbia – the newly inaugurated ‘Three Stooges’ embarked upon a prolific career with 200 shorts as connoisseurs of the slapstick – a reputation that has only grown since their deaths.

Ask most anyone to name their personal fav’ and ‘Curly’ usually gets the odds-on nod. It’s no wonder; since Sony’s newly released The Three Stooges Collection Vol. One 1934-1936 provides us with 19 nyuk-nyuks featuring that loveable bald guy – leering, laughing and lumping his way into our hearts. Some of the trios’ best work is represented in this 2-disc collector’s pack. Starting with the stooges’ first short for Columbia, the musical novelty – Woman Haters (1934), we get a chance to see the evolution of that inimitable branding. The boys play three jilted lovers who have officially sworn off the fairer sex. One problem – they all fall for the same dish who plays all three for suckers.

Moving along; a personal favorite – Punch Drunks (1934), the short in which Curly becomes a boxing powerhouse each time he hears Larry play ‘Pop Goes the Weasel.’ Men in Black (1934) finds the boys as three rejects from med’ school who practice their own variety of intensive care. The last of 1934’s offerings is Three Little Pigskins - the boys tackle the fifty yard line with hilarity and chutzpa.

1935 begins on a bright note with Horse Collars; the boys are a trio of detectives sent to collect an IOU from a ruthless killer. Restless Knights sets the boys in medieval England to protect the queen against palace intrigue. Next up, another personal favorite; Pop Goes the Easel; the boys hide out at an art studio and top off their stay with a gregarious clay fight. Uncivil Warriors sets the trio during the civil war as ‘intelligence’ experts who infiltrate the south to gather war secrets. Pardon My Scotch has the boys as bootleggers, inventing a new and very potent scotch to help ease the sting of prohibition. Hoi Polloi – another personal fav’ – the boys sent off to charm school by a millionaire who is convinced he can turn them into gentlemen. The last of 1935’s offerings is Three Little Beers – a riotous excursion into high society that ends with a calamitous golf match.

1936s’ roster includes Ants In the Pantry - the boys are exterminators who chase away more two-legged guests than four-legged pests; Movie Maniacs – the boys go to Hollywood; Half-Shot Shooters – some payback incured with an old army seargent; Disorder in the Court – a mockery of legelease; A Pain in the Pullman – most famous for the antics between Curly and a cantankerous monkey; False Alarms – the boys as half-witted firemen who start more fires than they put out; Whoops I’m An Indian! – roughing it in the wilderness; and finally: Slippery Silks – the stooges inherit a dress shop and turn high fashion into high-sterics! So much for the line up. What about the transfers?

THANK YOU, SONY! After having to endure the travesty of overpriced, colorized and un-restored countless reissues of the same old Stooges shorts presented out of sequence, Sony Pictures has finally issued a compendium of classics at a bargain basement price, in chronological order, and, remastered in high definition. Having been a victim of Sony’s faux advertising of ‘remastered in hi-def’ without the benefit of any digital restoration in the past, this reviewer frankly did not hold out much hope for this collection.

I am happy to report that not only has considerable work been done on these shorts, but that most look superior to anything consumers have yet seen from this vintage of Stooge Classics. The B&W picture elements are remarkably clean, smooth and solid with fine contrast levels and a minimum amount of grain and age related artifacts. Fine details are evident throughout. Blacks are generally deep. Whites are almost pristine. Occasionally, the image appears more grainy and less refined, but on the whole these lapses are brief and tolerable.

The one exception to this rule is ‘Whoops I’m An Indian!’ I suspect that the original negative for this short was not available since the image quality here seems to have been sourced from a print. The image is overly contrasted and fine details are lost in either extreme blacks or extreme whites. Process shots are very obvious and dirt, scratches and other age related artifacts are quite obvious. Judging by the rest of the work that has been done on this set, this reviewer suspects that Sony did the very best they could with limited archival materials on this short.

The audio on all is Mono as originally recorded. The only extras are a few trailers for upcoming DVD releases including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Ray Harryhausen in Color (Oh, no! More colorization nonsense!). I suppose I could scold Sony for no documentary, audio commentaries or other goodies on the side – but frankly, I am thrilled that The Three Stooges have finally been paid their due with some quality DVD transfers.

Bottom line: highly recommended! ‘Why soit-ney! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!’
FILM RATING (out of five - five being the best)

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