Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION: VOL. TWO (Columbia 1937-'39) Sony Home Entertainment

Mention The Three Stooges to any male old enough to walk and you’re likely to observe an instant pleasurable smile suddenly dart across his face. While it’s undeniably true that most women do not understand or even enjoy the Stooges brand of raucous slapstick, the ever-lasting appeal of Moe, Larry and Curly is firmly embedded in the testosterone driven collective cultural consciousness – arguably for all time.

A Vaudeville team cum the most unlikely of film stars, The Three Stooges never made a feature length movie until long after the original trio had disbanded. Nevertheless, their Columbia short subjects of the early 1930s to mid-1940s drew larger theater attendance in their day than the actual features they preempted. Today, the Stooges are revered and endlessly revived on cable and home video - an unforgettable part of America’s comedic cultural fabric.

When delving into Stooge lore one should perhaps pause a moment to reconsider just how dangerous their ultra-violent antics were to life and limb on the set. In the age of ‘do it live’, the boys became frequent physical martyrs to their creative art. “I remember once,” Moe Howard has written, “when the prop man concocted a smorgasbord of gook; chocolate, whipped cream, asbestos chips, linseed oil, ketchup and other unknown goodies…As luck would have it, I forgot to close my eyes. Curly had me buried under for about eight seconds…nostrils and eyes full of that brutal concoction. They needed the studio doctor…to bring me back to normal…something I haven’t been for years!”

The Three Stooges began professionally as Ted Healy and His Stooges with their feature film debut in MGM’s Dancing Lady (1933). The stooges however were better off as a solo act. So, with a change of venue to then ‘poverty row’ studio, Columbia – the newly inaugurated ‘Three Stooges’ embarked upon a prolific career,The Three Stooges Collection Vol. Two 1937-1939 provides us with yet another batch of goodies to bust a gut over: 24 shorts represented in a 2-disc collector’s pack. The laugh-Olympics begin on Disc One with Grips, Grunts and Groans (1937); Curly substitutes for pro-wrestler Buzz Saw after a freak accident.

Next is Dizzy Doctors; after being threatened with divorce, the boys try their hand at selling Brighto – a wonder tonic. Three Dumb Clucks has our trio break out of prison to stop the wedding of their father (also played by Curly) to a backstabbing gold digger who plans to do away with her rich hubby immediately after the ceremony. In Back To The Woods the boys from Britain are exiled to rustic America where they manage to start a minor Indian revolt, and in Goofs and Saddles, the stooges scout for cattle rustlers.

Cash and Carry is a bit of an anomaly; playing three prospectors who call the city dump their home – that is, until a crippled boy and his sweetheart sister move in. The boys raise money for the child’s operation by falling victim to a con and end up crashing the Federal Reserve. Playing the Ponies finds the stooges trading up their restaurant business to the same couple of cons for Thunderbolt – a would-be thoroughbred who jumps into action after being fed hot chili peppers.

The Sitter-Dowers finds the boys as newlyweds building a dream house from scratch. Termites of 1938 represents a case of mistaken identity for the stooges with a wealthy socialite hiring an escort but winding up with three exterminators instead. In Wee Wee Monsieur, the boys join the foreign legion to rescue Capt. Gorgonzola from a feisty Arab Prince. Yet another case of mistaken identity, Tassels In The Air has the same socialite hiring the boys as Omay and Associates; interior designers who are more into home demolition than decoration.

In Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb Curly wins $50,000 minus taxes on a radio contest, attracting the interest of three penniless gold diggers. Disc One’s goodies are rounded out by Violent is the Word for Curly, with the boys mistaken for three progressive European professors newly arrived at the all girl’s Mildew College.

On Disc Two we get Three Missing Links; the boys hightail it to Africa and come face to face with a gorilla. A foundling and a lot of strays are the focus of Mutts to You. In Flat Foot Stooges the boys are accused of impropriety after a fire truck salesman stiffs them. Spies come out of the woodwork in Three Little Sew and Sews (1939) after Curly dons an Admiral’s jacket to a social gathering.

We Want Our Mummy finds the boys in Cairo on the look out for a priceless Egyptian cadaver and its kidnapped professor, while A-Ducking They Will Go has the stooges inadvertently foiling a political debacle. The stooges are gold prospectors again in Yes We Have No Bonanza; in love with three waitresses. The boys escape the death penalty in Saved by the Belle – thanks to a noisy guard.

Cast as veterinarians in Calling All Curs, the stooges must rescue one of their furry charges from kidnappers. In Oily to Bed Oily to Rise, the stooges foil a con designed to kick their fiancée’s mother off her oil-rich land. And last, but not least is Three Sappy People; with Moe, Larry and Curly mistaken for a trio of psychiatrists bent on curing a crazy socialite’s bizarre behavior.

The best shorts in this latest retrospective of Stooge-opia reflect the versatility of the trio; their ability to plug n’ play into just about any situation while coming up with some truly hilarious and iconic nyuk-nyuks along the way. We get unhinged moments of utter insanity, inspired and delinquent of the moral and social codes of their times. So much for the line up. What about the transfers?

This big smoochy wet kiss goes out to all the good people at Sony Home Entertainment who, not only have given us another bumper crop of Stooge classics in chronological order, but have actually taken the time to remaster these hilarious classics for the digital format. Truly, The Three Stooges have never looked better, and, at a bargain basement price! Overall, 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.

Owing to limitations in film stock and technology, transitions between scenes (dissolves, fades) retain a strong patina of film grain. These lapses are brief and tolerable.The audio on all is Mono as originally recorded but presented at a very adequate listening level. The one exception to this rule is Cash and Carry; which sounds considerably more strident. I suppose I could scold Sony for no extra features but frankly, I am thrilled that The Three Stooges have finally been paid a part of their due with some quality DVD transfers. Looking forward already to Volume III! Highly recommended? ‘Why soit-ney!

FILM RATING (out of five - five being the best)



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