Seven months have passed since the release of the first Three Stooges collection, that one covering 1934-1936 just as the trio was refining its characters for what would become the longest movie series in film history. Since volume three is already set for an August, 2008 release, we can rejoice in Sony’s continued intent on releasing all 190 Stooge two-reelers released from 1934-1959.
This second installment features what many consider to be the Stooges at their best, 1937-1939. The budgets are a bit higher than they would be during wartime and the post-war years, and there are a few efforts that take the Stooges decidedly out of their element and into the woods, the jungle, even colonial times. These experiments don’t always work, but there are enough tried-and-true Stooge classics here to keep open-minded comedy fans laughing.
Yes, I carefully chose to refer to the films on this two-disc set as classics. And they are. They have effectively withstood the test of time by not only maintaining their appeal to older fans like this writer, but by also attracting several new generations of fans. They have effectively influenced future practitioners, and forced those who foolishly dismiss them as boorish to reassess these impulsive conclusions and actually take the time to investigate just why Curly, Larry, and Moe continue to heal the masses by releasing the positive endorphins caused by loud, long laughter.
Before we discuss how beautifully remastered these films look and sound, let’s single out some of the top comedies in this collection. Of course there is the riotously funny THREE SAPPY PEOPLE, which features strikingly attractive Lorna Gray as a delightfully flighty heiress whose birthday party is enhanced by the actions of the Stooges, posing as psychiatrists hired by her long-suffering husband (veteran character actor Don Beddoe). Ann Doran (James Dean’s mom in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) is on hand as a haughty countess who gets a sloppy pastry In the face after the Stooges bring the bourgeois down to their level by instigating a pie fight right at the dinner table. Ms. Gray, who later acted in westerns under the name Adrian Booth, is still alive today and soon to turn 90. She told this writer that the Stooges were just as zany and amusing offscreen as on, except, remarkably enough, for the manic Curly who was actually very shy and reserved and rarely socialized with the others In the cast.
Lorna is on hand again in OILY TO BED, OILY TO RISE, another top notch effort featuring the Stooges as vagrants coming to the rescue of a kindly widow (Fay McKenzie) who discovers she has oil on her land after she has sold the property to swindlers. Despite an ending that concludes with a woefully dated reference to the Dionne Quintuplets, this short features some hilarious running gags and great slapstick.
Other top entries include YES WE HAVE NO BONANZA, CALLING ALL CURS, TASSELS IN THE AIR, and HEALTHY, WEALTHY AND DUMB. But perhaps the most anticipated title in this collection is VIOLENT IS THE WORD FOR CURLY (the title being a neat take on the then-popular feature VALIANT IS THE WORD FOR CARRIE), as it includes the Stooges doing the delightful musical number Swingin The Alphabet, said to be composed by this short’s director, Charley Chase.
The quality of the films is wonderful, better than any TV broadcast prints or previous video or DVD releases. It should be noted that some of the films that have always had low soundtracks, including THREE MISSING LINKS, BACK TO THE WOODS, and CASH AND CARRY, are loud, crisp and clear on this set.
The Three Stooges are one of the greatest comedy teams in the history of motion pictures. Their films are filled with clever ideas, outrageous verbal patter, and well-timed slapstick, as they successfully present perhaps the best filmed example of vaudeville and burlesque style humor alongside of the Abbott and Costello features. This places them squarely into the realm of being significant from a historical/cultural perspective as they are for being just plain funny. (There, that oughta justify some respect from the pretentious sorts whose taste in cinema is borne of the stuffy college courses that make you watch POTEMKIN.)
Twenty-four short films are contained on this two-disc set, many featuring the Stooges at their very best, and some among the finest and funniest two-reel comedies of all time. Any DVD collection that includes no Stooges is something along the lines of a CD collection that contains no Beatles. I’m already anticipating volume three.