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 show to 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. And with the advent of the movies, these three nitwits would reign supreme over just about every other comedy act of their day, even though they appeared in nothing more than a series of relatively low-budget two-reel short subjects for Columbia between 1932 and 1950. Born Jerome Lester Horowitz, Curly’s tenure with the act was cut short in 1947 when he suddenly suffered a devastating stroke on the set. Rushed to hospital, he continued to ail, spending his remaining days in a sanitarium where he died on Jan. 18, 1952. He was only 48-yrs.-old. It’s interesting to view Sony Home Entertainment’s latest spate of Stooge classics, Volume 5, knowing the end for our most beloved chuckle-head is so near. And, indeed, the Curly who appears in this round of rootin’ tootin’ farce seems to be toggling down his dizzying good nature and antics. Fair enough, he’s older here. But he is also a lot less animated, and, on occasion, looking very tired and careworn. Could he have known the time was fast approaching to say farewell?
The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 5, spans the years 1946 to 1948, this latest 2-disc set being the most bittersweet. Midway through shooting 1947’s Half-Wits Holiday (a remake of another stooge classic, Hoi Polloi 1934) Curly had his stroke, the remake, unconvincingly cobbled together with footage from the aforementioned 1934 short. However, even before this tragedy, there seems to be – at least in retrospect - a sense of exhausted restraint lingering throughout these shorts. Not only Curly, but Moe and Larry look 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 having seen better days elsewhere. 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, who had begun as part of the act back in the days of Vaudeville, only to depart for a solo career on the cusp of the stooges’ successful transition from stage to screen.
And, ironically, given the longevity of the stooges ‘with’ Curly, it is shorts featuring Shemp here that are the real/reel reason to stand up and cheer as 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 reinvestment on Columbia's part to reboot 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 the stooges exploit a prize fighter by feeding him cream puffs. Hold That Lion (1947) is an exuberant mishmash of hilarity as Curly makes his final cameo 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 wacky 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’s appeal is he never attempted to ape Curly. Whereas Curly was bombastic and irreverent with grandiose gestures in physical slapstick, Shemp proved 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 and say, ‘well done’. Very well done, indeed.
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 a grittier texture, and, far less smooth B&W image. A Bird In The Head (1946) as example, appears to have several dupes inserted from source material that is slightly out of focus. Three Loan Wolves (1946) exhibits some minor edge enhancement. The characteristic of the visuals is therefore inconsistently rendered at best. The audio on all is Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and adequate. As is the case with all other Three Stooges Collections, there are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)