Sunday, June 21, 2009

THE THREE STOOGES: Vol. 6 (Columbia 1949 - 51) Sony Home Entertainment

The Three Stooges Collection Volume Six is a curious potpourri of hilarity and misfires. The 2 disc set picks up the trio’s tenure from 1949 to 1951, two years after Curly Howard’s death and his replacement as part of the act by brother, Shemp – usually considered the lesser to Curly.

What makes the stooges tenure with Shemp often appealing is that Shemp never tried to emulate the wide eyed antics of his brother. Perhaps Shemp’s tenure in films apart from the stooges helped to contribute to his characterizations within the act. Still, there’s no denying that when all the pistons are firing, the stooges with Shemp works as a marvelous team.

24 short subjects comprise this set, beginning with The Ghost Talks – the boys as a trio of movers arriving at a drafty castle on a stormy night to remove a suit of armor, only to discover that it is possessed with the playful spirit of the late Peeping Tom. In Who Done It? an aged millionaire (Emile Sitka) is kidnapped by a trio of thugs who plan to do away with the stooges - assigned as private eyes to investigate the disappearance. Hokus Pokus is all about an insurance fraud scam that goes horribly awry, while Fueling Around finds the boys unwittingly kidnapped after a trio of thugs believes that Larry is the inventor of rocket fuel.

One of the stooges best remembered shorts; Malice in the Palace finds the boys as proprietors of a small café but ends with them invading an Arabian palace after the Imer of Schmo has stolen the Rootin-Tootin’ diamond. Vagabond Loafers is a painfully bad remake of the stooges own A Plumbing We Will Go, utilizing whole portions of stock footage from that previous effort while attempting to recreate the classic moment of building a watery prison out of leaky pipes. Dunked in the Deep, finds Larry, Moe and Shemp as stowaways on a ship after their Russian neighbor turns out to be a spy who has stolen some top secret documents.

In Punchy Cowpunchers the boys must infiltrate the Dillon Gang – a ruthless sect of desperadoes in the old west. Hugs and Mugs finds the boys the unwitting victims of a trio of sultry female jewel thieves. Dopey Dicks is a riotous race against time after an heiress has been kidnapped for ransom by a trio of thugs. Love At First Bite has Larry and Moe attempting to dispose of Shemp’s body after they erroneously assume that he has been poisoned with moonshine liquor. Self Made Maids tops out the offerings on Disc One; the stooges playing not only themselves but their fiancées and their father.

On Disc Two we get Three Hams on Rye – the stooges employed by a Broadway producer to keep a tabloid news hound at bay. In Studio Stoops, an actress disappears right under the stooges’ watchful eye, forcing the boys to craft a publicity squib to set the record straight. Slaphappy Sleuths has the boys masquerading as a trio of gas station attendants in order to foil a crime wave. A Snitch in Time has the boys making a special delivery to a den of thieves. In Three Arabian Nuts Shemp discovers a genie in a bottle who will grant him any wish.

Baby Sitter Jitters finds the boys looking after a belligerent baby boy while his mother goes out for the evening. In Don’t Throw That Knife, the stooges are a trio of census takers who have little luck procuring information from the people they visit. Shemp is released from a sanitarium in Scrambled Brains, but his delusions may not be entirely cured.

Merry Mavericks is a remake of the Phony Express; the boys forced to do battle with a notorious gang in a lavish mansion. The Tooth Will Out employs the trio as dentists who end up removing more than a tooth from their clients. Hula-la-la casts Larry, Moe and Shemp as dance instructors to some natives who decide they’d rather shrink heads than learn to samba. Finally, there’s Pest Man Wins with the boys as a trio of exterminators.

Many of the gags in all of these shorts have been reworked from better days with Curly. When the scripts allow Shemp to be his own character the comedy is more meaningful and enjoyable. However, when he attempts to emulate his late brother’s legacy the results are less than stellar.

‘Less than stellar’ is a fairly accurate way to describe the visual quality of these two discs. While Sony Home Entertainment has taken the time to remaster many of the early stooge shorts with Curly represented on Volumes 1 through 4, Volume 5 released earlier in the year hinted that perhaps the studio did not hold the rest of the trio’s legacy in such high regard. The shorts included in Volume six have far more grain and age related artifacts from dupe elements.

The image is frequently softly focused and the gray scale less than finely balanced. Overall, these shorts look superior to anything we’ve seen when they were broadcast on television, but that should not be the barometer of how good they could have looked if just a little bit more time and care had been employed to remaster them from surviving fine nitrate elements. The audio on all is mono and adequate for this presentation. There are no extras.

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



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