Three Stooges Volume 3 (1940-1942) (2008) – By James L. Neibaur

 A rep from SONY video has indicated that they are indeed planning to release all 190 Columbia-produced Three Stooges shorts by the end of 2009; a year that marks the 75th anniversary of the trio embarking on their long running, timelessly popular series of comedies.  

Volume Three is from a period during which the Stooges had really hit their stride.  A PLUMBING WE WILL GO, ROCKIN’ THROUGH THE ROCKIES, and FROM NURSE TO WORSE, for instance,  remain among the funniest films the boys ever did.

AN ACHE IN EVERY STAKE is particularly wonderful short, featuring the Stooges as ice men who must deliver their wares on a particularly sweltering day to a home that rests atop a long flight of stairs.  Laurel and Hardy’s classic THE MUSIC BOX is recalled as the inimitable Curly discovers that when he makes it up the steps, his large block of ice has melted into a pocket-sized cube.  He remedies the situation by taking two large ice blocks the next time, believing he will end up with one.  Naturally this logic is thwarted when he ends up with two pocket-sized cubes.  From this clever outrageousness,  we later find the Stooges agreeing to help as cook and servants at a society party, paying a humorous nod to the wartime help shortage that plagued the high income brackets. From pumping stove gas into a fallen cake (“pump in a couple more slices in case anyone wants seconds”) to stuffing a turkey by taking literally such directions as “a can of peas,” the Stooges cram some of their most inspired gags into this, one of their finest two reel comedies.

IN THE SWEET PIE AND PIE is another example of  the oft-visited Pygmalion idea of society swells attempting to transform our Stooges into gentlemen of refinement.  While arguably not as funny in its buildup as the similar efforts  HOI POLLOI (found on volume one) and HALF WITS HOLIDAY (which should show up on volume five), IN THE SWEET PIE AND PIE does contain the first of their mammoth pie fights, with each flung pastry a gag unto itself.  This writer has special affection for a big game hunter (Eddie Laughton) whose stories are neatly punctuated by splattering debris.

This set also contains several titles that include dated references and potentially offensive stereotypes.  YOU NAZTY SPY is a really offbeat effort featuring Moe aping Hitler while Larry and Curly act as his minions.  Frantically funny, it was perhaps the most popular Stooge short of its time.  Theater owners of 1940 are on record with comments as to how much period audiences loved this particular film.  Today it dates badly and remains little more than a curio.  It spawned a sequel, I’LL NEVER HEIL AGAIN, which also shows up on this set.  Neither of these is offensive, in that the Stooges are attacking our attackers, so we must take Curly’s comment  “Phoo on the Japanese” in the post-Pearl Harbor effort SOCK-A-BYE-BABY, with the proverbial grain of salt

Blackface rears its head in SOME MORE OF SAMOA (along with Moe and Larry lapsing into a letter-perfect Amos N Andy impression),  and Mexican stereotyping abounds in WHAT’S THE MATADOR.  But this was the era, one in which the term “political correctness” had not been invented, especially where comedy is concerned.  So when the Stooges mistake the term Siesta to believing they must see someone named Esther, we should not take it all that seriously.

Arguably the best collection of Stooge shorts to be released thus far,  Volume Three features the popular Curly Howard at his most manic; allowing him to exhibit the initimable raw talent that was completely innate, and has bled well into the iconography of popular culture, long after the actor’s passing.  His health would soon begin to deteriorate (a mild stroke in 1945 completely changed his on-screen performance and another one a year later ended his career), but during this period he is at his best.

As with previous releases, the films have been carefully restored and remastered from the original 35mm preprint materials found in the Columbia Studios vaults.  They look and sound better than ever.

The Three Stooges are still dismissed as little more than boorish slapstick by those who believe themselves too refined to accept the timeless artistry of their classic Columbia short comedies.  But for those of us open-minded enough to appreciate the supreme level of talent found in their best work, The Three Stooges comedy sets are most heartily welcome.