Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Morons are Back

The eighth volume of The Three Stooges Collection, which was released this month, brings together the last of the Stooges shorts released by Columbia Pictures from 1955 to 1959. This covers the last shorts with Shemp, who died in 1955, and the last sixteen shorts in the series featuring Joe Besser as the "third Stooge."

The obvious shortcoming of the series during this period was its extensive use of stock footage, which was often sloppily thrown together with new footage in a desperate attempt to create a new product for exhibitors. The sloppy editing is particularly evident in Triple Crossed (1959), a remake of He Cooked His Goose (1952) with Besser substituting for Shemp. Stock footage from the original film was so badly assembled with the new footage that, at one point, Shemp eerily turns up in the middle of a chase scene. This collection also includes the four infamous "fake Shemp" comedies that were made directly after Shemp's death. The Stooges had yet to find a replacement and finished pending productions by disguising another actor (Joe Palma) as Shemp. Palma is wearing a long wig meant to approximate Shemp's unruly, flyaway hair and he jerks his shoulders up and down repeatedly while sputtering Shemp's trademark "eeeb-eeeb-eeeb!" The results are not pretty. Right now, somewhere in Heaven, Lloyd Bentsen is telling Palma, "You are no Shemp Howard."

Still, with all that said, I still enjoyed this collection. The Three Stooges were undoubtedly giving it their all in the final years of the series. Shemp, despite his waning energy, remained funny to his dying day. Shemp performs an entertaining dance with a she-devil in Bedlam in Paradise (1955).

He has an amusing battle with an automatic dishwasher in Gypped in the Penthouse (1955).

The entire team is funny as they struggle futilely to free themselves after accidentally becoming handcuffed together in Blunder Boys (1955).

Joe Besser, as Shemp's replacement, made an acceptable Stooge. In the earlier solo vehicles that he made at Columbia, Besser played an angry, know-it-all character who was more often abrasive than funny. However, his character was softened in the Stooges series to make him more like the childlike character that Curly had played in the earlier years of the series. Besser was at his best in Flying Saucer Daffy (1958), which was unfortunately the last production of the series.

The Stooge comedies from Besser years made little use of stock footage and the new material, while not the Stooges' best, was often enough funny or at least intriguing. The Nine Stooges make their debut in A Merry Mix-up (1957), in which it is revealed that the Stooges are in fact three sets of identical twins.

The Stooges meet up with cannibal amazons in Space Ship Sappy (1957).

On the topical side is Oil's Well That Ends Well (1958), in which the Stooges have to cork an oil leak. TS prove more capable at the job than BP. It leaves me wondering if BP CEO Tony Hayward could be made into a successful cork for the ongoing leak.

I felt like a kid again watching these comedies. No doubt, I was able to relate to the Stooges as a child because they seemed to have a lot of the same problems that I had at the time. A child can certainly relate to the Stooges' disagreeable response to being immunized for space travel in Space Ship Sappy.

Other volumes in The Three Stooges Collection included 21 to 24 shorts but this volume includes a total of 32 shorts at the same price. This is fair compensation for the shorts dominated by stock footage.

If I had a genie, I would first wish for a billion dollars and the end of war and disease. Then, I would wish for The Three Stooges Collection Volume 9 with all new shorts starring Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp.

Until the next time, I wish you all pleasant dreams.

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