Friday, March 20, 2009

THE THREE STOOGES: VOL. 5 (Columbia 1946-48) Sony Home Entertainment

Curly Howard will forever remain everyone’s favorite stooge – his bald pate and bulbous face contorted into innumerable expressions of severe stupidity that elevate ‘dumb comedy’ into a refined art. Such was the case when Curly began as one of The Three Stooges together with brother Moe and cohort Larry Fine in Vaudeville. These three cinematic nitwits reigned supreme over just about every other comedy act working in films of their day, even though they appeared in nothing more a series of relatively low budget two reel short subjects for Columbia between 1932 and 1950.

Now, Sony Home Entertainment rolls out the latest installment of their franchise celebrating Columbia’s most enduring funny men, Larry, Moe and Curly with The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 5. Spanning the years 1946 to 1948, this latest 2 disc set is perhaps the most bittersweet. Midway through shooting 1947’s Half-Wits Holiday (a remake of another stooge classic, Hoi Polloi 1934) Curly Howard suffered a debilitating stroke that forced him to withdraw from the trio.

However, even before this tragedy occurred, there seems to be – at least in retrospect - a sense of tired restraint lingering throughout the shorts featuring Curly in this box set. Not only Curly, but Moe and Larry look more careworn, or perhaps merely less carefree than we’ve come to expect. Although Uncivil Warbirds – the short that casts the stooges as a trio of confederate soldiers during the war between the states – is a bright spot of clever comedy, shorts like Beer Barrel Polecats and Monkey Businessmen tend to meander as waning reminders of the stooges at the height of their popularity. Only now, they appear to simply be going through the motions.

After Curly's stroke Moe suggested to Columbia’s president Harry Cohn that the stooges be given a second chance to make good; this time with Moe’s other brother – Shemp Howard, who had begun as part of the act in Vaudeville, but departed the stooges before they made the successful transition from stage to film.

The shorts featuring Shemp in this collection are perhaps the real reason to stand up and cheer; for they represent not only a renewed willingness on Moe and Larry's part to resurrect and slightly reinvent the act for a new generation, but also a commitment on Columbia's part to reinvigorate the franchise with as much pomp and circumstance as the act received at the height of Curly’s popularity.

Shemp’s inaugural as a stooge, 1947’s Fright Night is a tour de force in slapstick as they exploit a prize fighter by feeding him creampuffs. Hold That Lion (1947) is an exuberant mishmash of hilarity as Curly makes his final cameo in a stooge short while Moe, Larry and Shemp hunt down a swindler for revenge. Shivering Sherlocks (1948) is another delightful romp as the new trio comes face to face with a bloodthirsty robber and his diabolical henchman, while The Hot Scots (1948) is a whacky tale of three detectives guarding a haunted highland castle.

In all then, Volume 5 of The Three Stooges is a celebratory note for the ‘fourth’ chuckle-head – Shemp. Part of Shemp Howard’s appeal is that he attempts in no way to resurrect his brother's memory through his own performance. Whereas Curly was bombastic and irreverent with grandiose gestures in physical comedy, Shemp is a more refined raconteur, carrying the act of a ‘mama’s boy’ to new heights of whiny perfection. Although Curly will always be in our hearts, Shemp occasionally gets inside our heads. Hence, when we think of Curly we remember his energy and laugh out loud. When we think of Shemp we simply have to smile.

Sony Home Entertainment’s commitment to ‘restoring’ the stooge classics on DVD seems to have slightly waned with this latest compilation. Although these shorts come from a later period in the stooges’ career and are therefore younger than all the shorts offered in previous collections, a good many in this collection tend to exhibit more grain and a less smooth B&W image.

A Bird In The Head (1946) as example appears to have several dupe shots inserted from second generation source material that is slightly out of focus and considerably more grainy than the rest of the short. Three Loan Wolves (1946) exhibits some minor edge enhancement. The characteristic of the visuals is therefore inconsistently rendered at best. The audio portion of this presentation is mono and adequately represented. As is the case with all other Three Stooges Collections currently put forth by Sony, there are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)




Tor Hershman said...

Did you ever notice how much Chaplin's film "A King In New York" (Court scene) was inspired by The Three Stooges "Disorder In The Court"?

Nick Zegarac said...

Well, you know what they say, Tor. To steal from one is plaigerism. To steal from many is research. Yes, I've noticed the similarity. Chaplin was an artist unto himself. I don't think the 'borrowing' was intended. Chaplin could get by without the Stooges and vice versa.