Classic Slapstick: Why The Three Stooges Still Rule

I was confused by the Three Stooges when I was a kid. Almost every other kid on the school playground loved the Three Stooges. They constantly practiced poking each other in the eyes and chased each other yelling “Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!” I did my fair share of eye poking but I was never really in love with the Stooges the way some other kids were. I thought all the slapping and poking were kind of boring after a while. I much preferred Abbott and Costello over the Three Stooges.

Now that I’m older, I have actually come to appreciate the comic genius of the Three Stooges. They are not just about the poking and slapping. Ted Okuda and Edward Watz, in their book The Columbia Comedy, best described the Three Stooges:

“Many scholarly studies of motion picture comedy have over-looked the Three Stooges entirely – and not without valid reasoning. Aesthetically, the Stooges violated every rule that constitutes “good” comedic style. Their characters lacked the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon; they were never as witty or subtle as Buster Keaton. They were not disciplined enough to sustain lengthy comic sequences; far too often, they were willing to suspend what little narrative structure their pictures possessed in order to insert a number of gratuitous jokes. Nearly every premise they have employed (spoofs of westerns, horror films, costume melodramas) has been done to better effect by other comedians. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming artistic odds against them, they were responsible for some of the finest comedies ever made. Their humor was the most undistilled form of low comedy; they were not great innovators, but as quick laugh practitioners, they place second to none. If public taste is any criterion, the Stooges have been the reigning kings of comedy for over fifty years.”

I was also terribly confused about who was who in the Three Stooges when I was a kid. Let me give a quick Stooge rundown just in case any readers are suffering similar confusion:

  • Originally, in 1925, the act was Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen consisting of Ted Healy, Moe Howard (real name Moses Harry Horwitz), Shemp Howard (older brother to Moe and real name Samuel Horwitz), and Larry Fine (real name Louis Feinberg).                                                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                             

  • Shemp got fed up with Healy and left to pursue a solo career.
  • Curly (baby brother to Moe and Shemp and real name Jerome Lester Horwitz) joined the act.
  • Moe, Curly, and Larry parted company with Ted Healy in 1934. 
  • 1946, Curly had a debilitating stroke and Shemp returned to replace him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                             

  • Shemp died of a heart attack in 1955 and actor Joe Palmer was a temporary replacement for 4 short films.
  • Joe Besser joined as the third Stooge for a couple of years. 
  • Joe DeRita, as Curly Joe, replaced Besser until 1969.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                             

  • Larry had a paralyzing stroke and had to leave the act in 1970. Larry died in 1975.
  • Moe tried to revive the act but died of lung cancer in 1975.

The Three Stooges made 220 films, 190 of them at Columbia Pictures. Four of those short films are in the Public Domain.

Disorder in the Court

Disorder in the Court is a 16 minute short film from 1936 starring Moe, Curly, and Larry. The Three Stooges are “witnesses at a trial where their friend, a dancer at a nightclub where they are musicians, is accused of murder. The Stooges manage to disrupt the proceedings but save the day when they discover the real murderer’s identity.”

The Stooges and their dancer friend break into song and dance during testimony. They get hysterical over a hairpiece they think is a tarantula. There is also a harmonica that Moe swallows, a gun that Curly mishandles, a parrot on the loose, and an out of control fire hose. Among the humorous lines:

  • Court Clerk: “I’ll sue you for this!’  Moe: “Oh, sue – perstitious, eh?”
  • Judge: “He’s asking you if you’ll swear to tell the truth.”  Curly: “Truth is stranger than fiction, Judgie-Wudgie.”

Brideless Groom

     
Brideless Groom is a 17 minute short film from September 1947. It stars Moe, Larry, and Shemp. Brideless Groom was later remade in 1956 as Husbands Beware (not in the Public Domain). “To inherit a fortune, voice teacher Shemp must marry before six o’clock, but no girl will accept his proposal.” The only girl interested in Shemp’s proposal is one of his students but he cannot stand her singing or her. Then a bevy of beauties show up to stop the marriage ceremony because they each want to marry a fortune.

Brideless Groom includes some horrible singing, a mad tussle in a phone booth between Moe and Shemp, a rowdy case of mistaken identification, and an uproarious free-for-all between all the disappointed would-be wives. Among the fun tidbits to be on the lookout for:

  • The actress, Christine McIntyre, who slaps Shemp around when she thinks he was pretending to be her cousin really did kayo Shemp. He felt she was hitting too “daintily.” Shemp said, “Honey, if you want to do me a favor, cut loose and do it right. A lot of half-hearted slaps hurt more than one good one. Give it to me, Chris, and let’s get it over with.” So she cut loose. The final punch which sends Shemp through the door really connected and she broke his nose. Shemp was very gracious about it, “It’s alright, honey. I said you should cut loose and you did. You sure as hell did.”
  • Long time Stooges supporting actor Emil Sitka played the Justice of the Peace. His line “Hold hands, you lovebirds” is engraved on his headstone.
  • Shemp: “You’re too, too fortissimo.”  Girl (singing): “Is that bad?”  Shemp: “It ain’t good!”
  • Moe: “Wait a minute. You wouldn’t hit a lady with that.” (Moe takes object away from Larry and hands him a bigger object.) “Use this. It’s bigger.” 



Sing a Song of Six Pants


Sing a Song of Six Pants is a 17 minute short film from October 1947. It stars Moe, Larry, and Shemp as tailors who owe money to the “Skin & Flint Finance Company, I. Fleecem, President.” “When the boys read about a big reward for a fugitive robber, they think it could be the answer to their problems. The bank robber conveniently ducks into their shop and leaves a suit with a safe combination” in its pocket. Sing a Song of Six Pants (which is in the Public Domain) was edited into the 1953 short film Rip, Sew and Stitch (which is not in the Public Domain).
     

There are lots of puns in this short movie:

  • The title of the movie, Sing a Song of Six Pants, is a take-off of “Sing a Song of Sixpence.”
  • The tailor shop owned by the Stooges is called “Pip Boys” in a parody of the auto service chain “Pep Boys.”
  • The shop window advertises “Cleaning, Pressing, Altercations.”
  • The finance company is called “Skin & Flint” and its president is named “I. Fleecem.”
  • At one point, Moe bemoans their debt: “We’re going to be paupers! Paupers!” and Shemp replies: “Are you kidding? We’re not even married!”

There is also a lot of good slapstick in Sing a Song of Six Pants. Shemp loses a fight with an ironing board, the bank robber pretends to be a mannequin and loses his clothes to the Stooges, and the Stooges brawl with the robber gang. Lots of jokes and laughs in this Three Stooges short movie.

Malice in the Palace

Malice in the Palace is a 16 minute short film from September 1949. Malice in the Palace (which is in the Public Domain) was later edited into the 1956 short film Rumpus in the Harem (which is not in the Public Domain).

Malice in the Palace is set in a desert land somewhere. The Three Stooges run the Café Casbahbah. Hasan Ben Sober and Ginna Rumma, two would-be thieves, arrive to discuss their plans to steal the King Rootintootin diamond. They are disappointed to learn that the Emir of Shmo has gotten the diamond first but the Stooges decide to go after the Rootintootin diamond themselves. “They journey to the stronghold of Shmo where they disguise themselves as Santa Clauses and scare the ruler into giving them the diamond.”

Malice in the Palace is my favorite of these four short films. It has an absolutely hilarious classic sketch where villains Hasan Ben Sober and Ginna Rumma order food and they, along with Moe and Shemp, become completely convinced that Larry has cut up a cat and a little dog and cooked them (no animals were really hurt). I love their reactions when Larry proudly presents his food and says: “Here you are, gentlemen. Hot dogs, when it comes to cookin’, are the cat’s meow.” I also love Shemp and Moe’s faces as they pet the food, thinking it is the dog and cat.

This short film also has familiar Stooges slapstick including: spilling food on customers, falls and spills, lots of whacking and poking, disguising themselves as three Santa Clauses to sneak into the palace (why in the world did they dress up as Santas?), tricking a humongous guard, and scaring the beejebers out of the emir. There is also an excellently funny map that the Stooges use to plan their route to the palace. I recommend pausing the video for a closer look at the silliness of the map, especially the names of the countries for example: the country of “Slap Happia” and also the countries of “I-Ran,” “He-Ran,” “She-Ran,” “They-Ran,” and “Also-Ran.” Could there be some hidden comments on the state of the world included in that map?

Another interesting tidbit about Malice in the Palace is that Curly Howard was supposed to play the cook instead of Larry. Curly had retired from the Stooges when he had a stroke a few years previously and been replaced by Shemp. According to Larry Fine’s autobiography, Curly had appeared in Malice in the Palace but the scenes had been deleted. A photo on an advertising poster is all that remains. Curly had “clearly lost weight, and his face was disguised with a huge handlebar mustache.

So, overall, if you have never seen a Three Stooges film, these four short films are an excellent introduction to their classic comedy style. And if you are already a Stooges fan, then you’ll love some of the classic sketches in these four Public Domain films. Audio and video are excellent for all four films and they are all very short so you can easily watch all four together for a fun filled evening. Or you can watch them one at a time to spread out the silliness. Either way, these four short films are FREE in the Public Domain at The Internet Archive.

Please click the link to watch Disorder in the Court at The Internet Archive.
Please click this link to watch Brideless Groom at The Internet Archive.
Please click this link to watch Sing a Song of Six Pants at The Internet Archive.
And please click this link to watch Malice in the Palace at The Internet Archive.
Or find all four short films in one place when you click this link and watch Three Stooges Episodes at The Internet Archive.
Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Classic Slapstick: Why The Three Stooges Still Rule

  1. Great review.
    The Stooges are like a lost treasure, fading in memories and often completely unknown to the youth of today. This is an excellent ode to their legacy.

  2. I'm pretty I live in Jerkola.

    I grew up with The 3 Stooges on old WTBS aka WTCG, Ted Turner's superstation.

    I know these episodes by heart. There's a lot of comedy gold here.

  3. They were such funny, hard working, good guys and the studio treated them so shamefully: repeatedly deceiving them as to their true worth, threatening their careers, and massively under-paying them, and then just throwing them out when the short films were no longer in demand. {-(

    Yet through it all, they remained close, treated the actresses and actors they worked with with respect and kindness, and remained committed to giving people a good laugh. =))

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