Old people slap and hit each other a whole lot. Cue laughter of children.
Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser
Death, awkward casting, and fake Shemping in the last four years of The Stooges career.
The Three Stooges were already in decline when this set begins. By 1955 Columbia had cut back it’s shorts department and the troupe had already gone through two lineup changes. Curly had come and gone and his big brother Shemp was again the third Stooge. The three original members had been making a living out of beating the shit out of each other for over two decades. Even though they had long outlasted their vaudeville roots their shtick was wearing thin on them.
For the first disc and a half, the programs are all Larry, Shemp, and Moe going from vocation to vocation getting into trouble and abusing each other. The trio gets into generic trouble and then hits each other. Lots of mistaken identity and bag switches. The plots are pure filler and rarely add to the gags. Where ever the gang is, they’ll punch, kick, and poke at each other. It’s fun and what we come to expect. The surreal insanity of Curly is missed, but Shemp is the closest thing the group has to a straight man and the others benefit from playing off of him. None of these shorts are their best, but since every short is essentially the same thing, best comes down to which Stooges trio you prefer. For me Larry, Shemp, and Moe are the classic gang that I think of whenever I think Stooges.
But the classic Stooge fun only lasts for a disc and half. In late 1955 Shemp Howard suddenly had a heart attack and died. The two remaining Stooges filmed the four more shorts they owed Columbia for the year by using old footage and faking Shemp with stand ins. Yep, the Fake Shemps started here. In Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers, and Commotion on the Ocean Joe Palma stands in for Shemp. He’s always hiding behind a giant statue or shot from the back. Most of the violence is between Larry and Moe and the gags are sorely missing a third punching dummy. Aside from the novelty of the term, these shorts are just the beginning of the end. The Stooges were already using stock footage heavily, but their use in these shorts is shockingly blatant and exemplify Shemp’s absence.
When they signed a new contract the Stooges hired Joe Besser to take Shemps place. In the Stooge shorts Besser plays a cross between a man child and an amorphic blob. His uncomfortable persona is forced into these shorts. He laughs and smiles through the violence, missing the sadistic glee that makes The Stooges so fun. It’s obvious that after Besser’s arrival the quality of the shorts drop. The two remaining Stooges go through the motions while Besser fumbles around for the last two years. These shorts are like watching your grandpa beat up a fat guy and a lost retarded guy. Besser is out of place in the troupe. He doesn’t have any of the straight man qualities of Shemp or the cartoon stretch of Curly. He’s an obvious stage comedian and The Stooges were at their best when they were rubbery film toys.
Jules White directed all of the shorts on the discs. He was the most prolific of Stooge directors and all his shorts share the assembly line quality of studio system shorts. Sets are reused and stock footage is abound, but the shorts run a brisk entertaining pace. It’s the work of a director who just came into work every week and did his job for the studio. The supporting cast is the same standard fare. Everything behind and in front of the camera is just there to let The Stooges do their thing, and everyone does this just fine.
If you want the classic Three Stooges, you’re better off getting an earlier set. Shemp is in less than half the shorts and Curly doesn’t show up at all, so you’re left with the last year of the classic trio and a few years of awkward unfunny shorts. The best part of this set is it’s place in Stooges history. The origin of the fake Shemps is a fun little nerd factoid but it’s not really worth watching the painful downfall of a one time great comedy troupe.
The shorts are all in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen. They all look great and very film like. Every Yuck-Yuck you hear comes through clear in the mono soundtracks. It’s as good as they’ll look and I hope it’s a long time before Sony decides they need HD releases. No extras, besides 550 minutes of elderly punching, are included.