Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stooge and the City

Jay Leno once observed that all men think the Three Stooges are brilliant and all women think they're unfunny @$$holes. Only he used actual letters in that last word.

Well, after a week that saw the Sex and the City movie reach number one at the box office -- and saw Dave gush like a fashionista over it -- I figured the guys out there could use a little eye-gouging and face-slapping. Thankfully, we don't have to wait until Friday and the latest from Adam Sandler.As of October of last year, the folks at Sony/Columbia have been correcting one of the most egregious mishandlings in their DVD release history, because that month saw the first volume of chronologically sequenced, uncut, unedited, remastered Three Stooges shorts hit the DVD racks. This past week, they put out the second volume, making the Stooges' full slate of 1930s Columbia shorts available for the first time ever on home video. And, given the way the films have been butchered in syndication over the years, it may be the first chance the average viewer has had to see them in full since they originally hit theater screens.

After dozens of slapdash packages and public domain cheap-o collections, it's refreshing to see the studio give Larry, Moe and Curly (and hopefully Shemp and Joe in future installments) their due.

Watching these films in order and uncut for the first time ever, I've been struck by the way they utilize their Depression-era settings as the basis for the familiar Stooge-tastic anarchy and slapstick. One film, Pardon My Scotch, is set on the day before the repeal of Prohibition took effect. Another, Half-Shot Shooters, concerns the plight of World War I veterans during the economic downturn of the 30s. Many of the boys' adventures begin with them in abject poverty, scraping and scrambling for any work they can scare up.

I'm certainly not suggesting that these knockabout comedies are incisive looks at the serious issues of the day; in each case, the setting is simply a jumping-off point for the nose-yanking, head-conking Stooge mayhem. But the films do give a perspective on the times that a top-down scholarly study would not.

It might not be comedy for everyone's taste, but it's a unique body of work in the history of film and well deserving of the quality treatment it's finally getting.

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