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DVD Review: The Three Stooges Collection, Volume Five: 1946-1948

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Having dropped the ball a bit last year, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has returned with The Three Stooges Collection, Volume 5: 1946-1948, another chronological set of slapstick humor that your wife is sure to hate. In this set we are treated to the last of the Curly classics (whose numerous strokes would eventually force him into retirement from the series) and introduced to the next onscreen “Third Stooge,” the great Shemp Howard.

Although many scholars (and I use that word cautiously) may prefer Curly over Shemp, I am one of those few individuals who graciously accepts any Third Stooge into my home, despite whatever reputation may come along with him. Curly is known as the epitome of the Third Stooge, and there is little doubt that he was a king of manic comedy — but what about dear old Shemp? Truth be known (and diehard Stooge fans will already know this), Shemp had already been with the troupe before Curly joined back in the pre-moving picture vaudeville days. When their act was asked to hit the big screen, however, the eldest Howard brother Shemp declined to join his younger brother Moe and their partner Larry Fine, preferring to go about Hollywood on his own — and so Moe brought aboard baby brother Curly. Unfortunately, Curly’s off-screen life was just about as manic and fast-paced as his onscreen character was, and, as the result of his reckless partying, the comedian was forced to retire after suffering several strokes.

Now Shemp, on the other hand, was not as manic of a partner as Curly was; his character was more reserved (if such a thing is possible when you’re talking about The Three Stooges) and a lot more subtle. A good way to describe it in layman’s terms: Curly was the type of clown that Moe would hit and throw out the window, whereas Shemp was the type to jump out before Moe hit him. The writers knew their subjects well, too — Curly may have been rock-stupid, but that wouldn’t stop him from battling an angry lion. After all, this was the man-child with a seemingly indestructible physique and boiling hot canine blood in his veins — whereas Shemp’s writers took advantage of his countless and bizarre phobias, making sure to exploit his fear of water, heights, cars, planes… Adrian Monk has absolutely nothing on Shemp!

So anyway, here we go with The Three Stooges Collection, Volume 5: 1946-1948, which contains all twenty-five starring shorts of Larry, Moe, Curly, and Shemp produced by Columbia during the years mentioned. As with my review for Volume 4 (which is available along with my take on Volume 3 should you need to do some catching up), I have included individual ratings for each short along with a ranking system that evaluates the level of violence and political incorrectness. The short ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. The other ratings range from “Low” (for either tame or nonexistent) to “High.” [Note: since these shorts were produced or released after World War II, most of the “racist” wartime humor is gone–and so I’ve only added the Political Incorrectness Level rating when it’s appropriate: if it isn’t there, that means it’s “Low.”]

DISC ONE

Beer Barrel Polecats (1946)
Directed by Jules White

Well, following in the footsteps of the Stooges’ 1945 masterpiece Micro-Phonies, 1946’s first effort Beer Barrel Polecats seems like a pretty weak start. The story starts out as an uncredited remake of Laurel & Hardy’s Pardon Us, with the boys brewing up a large batch of bootlegged beer — only to get thrown in jail when Curly tries to sell a cop a bottle at the black-market price (off-screen). Most of the short uses stock footage from In The Sweet Pie And Pie and So Long Mr. Chumps (both from 1941 and available on Volume 3). Vernon Dent appears as a warden in the new footage and Eddie Laughton returns briefly as his Mr. Chumps character in a vain attempt to make sense out of the leftover footage (making his final appearance with the Stooges). Still worth a chuckle or two.

  • Short Rating: 2½
  • Violence Level: Medium

A Bird In The Head (1946)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Kicking things up a notch, the great Edward Bernds brings us a spooky chapter from the Land of Stooge with a demented scientist, Professor Panzer (Vernon Dent), hoping to find the right candidate to “donate” a brain to his gorilla, Igor (Art Miles, playing one of many simian roles in his minor career). Panzer finds the perfect specimen in Curly (naturally). The animated sequence of Curly’s skull is done by none other than Tex Avery. Bernds (who also directed Return Of The Fly) would subsequently use the gorilla-brain-transplant in The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Uncivil Warbirds (1946)
Directed by Jules White

Giving the “Southern Gentleman” bit a run for its money, this entry has Moe, Larry, and Curly (all with sideburns) enlisting in the army during the Civil War. Unfortunately, Curly signs up with the South while Moe and Larry join the North. A politically incorrect highlight has the boys stealing some Union plans while in blackface (giving us one of the funniest “Southern” songs ever while they‘re at it). A few familiar faces include Theodore Lorch, Joe Palma, Cy Schindell, Blackie Whiteford, and Al Rosen.

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High
  • Political Incorrectness Level: High

Three Troubledoers (1946)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Out in the old west, the Stooges wander into a town run by resident bad guy Badlands Blackie (Dick Curtis, in a fine comical performance). Having kidnapped the father of local belle Nell (Christine McIntyre), Blackie — who has a nasty habit of killing sheriffs — is forcing Nell to marry him if she wants to see her dear ol’ pappy again. Curly soon finds himself appointed the new sheriff, with Moe and Larry as his deputies. Bernds and writer Jack White (no, not the guy from The White Stripes) do an excellent job with breathing a little fresh air into the regular tired formula here.

  • Short Rating: 5
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Monkey Businessmen (1946)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Future Stooge regular Kenneth MacDonald makes the first of many appearances as the villain in this one. Fired from their job as electricians, the boys opt for some rest at a shady establishment run by the even shadier Dr. Mallet (MacDonald). Veteran grump Fred Kelsey appears in the beginning of the film, with Cy Schindell, Wade Crosby, former Keystone Kop “Snub” Pollard bring up the rear in this fine short. Jean Willes (as Jean Donahue) plays MacDonald’s nurse, the aptly named Miss Shapely (Willes would later play a nurse again in the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers).

  • Short Rating: 4 ½
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Three Loan Wolves (1946)
Directed by Jules White

It may not be the finest short Columbia ever produced starring the Three Stooges but, while Curly’s ill health is abundant throughout the whole thing, Three Loan Wolves does offer a number of good lines as well as giving Larry a chance to strut his stuff center stage instead of being in the back for a change. Told in flashback to their adopted son Eggbert (an uncredited Jackie Jackson, who would later appear in several Ma & Pa Kettle flicks, also uncredited), Moe recounts the time that Larry accidentally accepted an infant at their pawn shop (his mother mustn‘t have been too terribly worried about her missing baby!). Tiny Brauer plays a villain here (his first of several such parts with the Stooges). A scene wherein Eggbert slaps all three of his fathers shortly before leaving for good was removed from the final print at some point in time. Be sure to enjoy Larry’s fine parental abilities as he both drinks and smokes around an infant!

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High

G.I. Wanna Home (1946)
Directed by Jules White

Returning from a stint in the Armed Forces, Moe, Larry, and Curly are shocked to discover that their fiancées have been disposed (“It’s a new American custom!”) and resort to living in an empty lot (complete with furniture). Be sure and listen for one of the crewmember’s snickering as Moe is pelted with eggs shortly before the dynamic stunt-dummy scene (which is a killer). The parrot-inside-the-cooked-goose gag was used in Crash Goes The Hash (Volume 4) from 1944 (albeit the cooked bird was a turkey in that case, but you get my drift).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Rhythm And Weep (1946)
Directed by Jules White

Having been thrown out of every theater in town, the boys decide to jump off of a roof and end it all (what a bright way to start out a short, eh?). On the rooftop, they meet three beautiful dancers (including Ruth White) and are recruited by an eccentric millionaire (Jack Norton) to star in a new stage production (how ‘bout that?). Larry’s adlib on the rooftop is a highlight.

  • Short Rating: 3½
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Three Little Pirates (1946)
Directed by Edward Bernds

One of the finest shorts the Stooges ever made — bar none. Bernds and screenwriter Clyde Bruckman thrust modern-day garbage scow workers Moe, Larry, and Curly into a suspiciously advanced 17th century Deadman’s Island, wherein Governor Vernon Dent promptly imprisons them for flirting with Christine McIntyre. This short features the now-classic “Maha Aha” routine (which I memorized in grade school and can still recite verbatim to this day).

  • Short Rating: 5
  • Violence Level: High

Half-Wits Holiday (1947)
Directed by Jules White

A remake of the Stooges’ 1935 short, Hoi Polloi (available on Volume 1). Professor Quackenbush (Vernon Dent) makes a wager with Professor Sedletz (Theodore Lorch) that he can turn three complete imbeciles (take a guess) into gentlemen through a change in environment, prompting Larry to shout, “There ain’t been a gentleman in our family for over fifty generations!” The scenes with the boys make-believe eating with Dent’s onscreen daughter (Barbara Slater) and reading from a children’s book never fail to crack me up. This would prove to be Curly’s final starring short — the comedian suffered another stroke during filming which forced his early retirement from film (he does not appear during the final pie fight). Symona Boniface plays a party guest and Emil Sitka officially joins the Three Stooges with this one (Sitka would go on to appear with every single incarnation of the comic trio and eventually became the Third Stooge himself in the early '70s after Larry Fine passed away, although he was never given the opportunity to perform on film, owing to the death of Moe Howard).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium

Fright Night (1947)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Not to be confused with a certain vampire film starring Chris Sarandon. The first of some seventy-something shorts to feature Shemp Howard as the Third Stooge. As boxing managers, the boys have quite a lot of trouble building up: their main (and only) boxer, Chopper (Dick Wessel), is more interested in eating and flirting with Kitty (Claire Carleton) than he is fighting. Worse than that, racketeer Big Mike (Tiny Brauer) has sent his minions (headed by Cy Schindell) to inform the Stooges that their man needs to throw the fight… or else. In real life, Shemp Howard was an avid fan of boxing — and passed away in 1955 coming home from a match.

  • Short Rating: 3½
  • Violence Level: Medium High
  • Political Incorrectness Level: Low

Out West (1947)
Directed by Edward Bernds

A vein in Shemp’s leg is-a-troublin’ him, and so, taking the advice of their doctor (Vernon Dent), the trio ventures west to the town of Coyote Pass. Trouble brews when local outlaw “Doc” Barker (Norman Willis) mistakes a drawing of Shemp’s leg for a rich gold vein. Christine McIntyre is the heroine whose beau, The Arizona Kid (future Tarzan actor Jock Mahoney), is being held captive by “Doc” Barker. Heinie Conklin appears as a bartender and Stanley Blystone makes a memorable appearance as a Calvary colonel (“Son, never in the history of motion pictures has the United States Calvary been too late!”).

  • Short Rating: 4½
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Hold That Lion (1947)
Directed by Jules White

A slippery estate agent named Slipp (Kenneth MacDonald and his wonderful voice) runs off with the boys’ million-dollar inheritance, prompting the beneficiaries of the Ambrose Rose estate to give chase on a moving train (with an escaped lion). Curly Howard makes his final film appearance as a train passenger (with hair!) and Emil Sitka plays an attorney. The footage of Curly, along with scenes of Heinie Conklin, Blackie Whiteford, and Dudley Dickerson were recycled in 1953’s second-rate Stooge outing Booty And The Beast.

  • Short Rating: 3 ½
  • Violence Level: Medium High
  • Political Incorrectness Level: Medium Low


DISC TWO

Brideless Groom (1947)
Directed by Edward Bernds

One of four Stooge shorts that fell into public domain and have been released in grainy and fuzzy VHS and DVD transfers that have plagued the home video market for the last 25 years or better. Vocal instructor Shemp learns that his rich uncle has died and left him $500,000 on the condition that he be married before 6 P.M. Although it’s a remake of a half-dozen other moving pictures (and has been remade several times since then), Brideless Groom features a frighteningly hilarious bit of Shemp shaving and Emil Sitka’s immortal phrase, “Hold hands, you lovebirds!” (which is actually inscribed on the late actor’s tombstone). The moment where actress Christine McIntyre punches Shemp through the door was actually an accidental full contact punch and resulted in Shemp’s nose being broken. Dee Green plays Shemp’s homely and tone-deaf pupil.

  • Short Rating: 3½
  • Violence Level: High

Sing A Song Of Six Pants (1947)
Directed by Jules White

Another of the public domain quadrilogy, but still a fun short. The boys own a tailor shop (Pip Boys) but are in danger of losing it all over some back due payments to the Skin & Flint Finance Company (I. Fleecum, President). Shemp’s brainless idea to catch a wanted criminal named Terry Hargan (Tiny Brauer) and collect on the reward actually comes true when the on-the-run fugitive ducks into the store to avoid a police detective (Vernon Dent).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High

All Gummed Up (1947)
Directed by Jules White

One of the greatest things about these chronological sets it that it marks the home video debuts of several titles, including this one. Larry, Moe, and Shemp run a successful drug store in town, but old man Flint (Emil Sitka) is determined to pull their lease out from under them and thrown them out so he can make some more money — the evil old man also dumps his elderly wife (Christine McIntyre) in the store, whom the boys give a room in the back. Determined to keep their lease and make Mrs. Flint young and happy again, the collective head of knuckle start brewing up a medicine that will make old people young. A lot of footage here was later reused in Bubble Trouble (1953).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium

Shivering Sherlocks (1948)
Directed by Del Lord

When a bank job is pulled, the Stooges are brought in as suspects by Capt. Mullins (Vernon Dent), to which a memorable lie detector test ensues. Discovering that the job was actually pulled by gangster Lefty Loomis (Kenneth MacDonald), the boys are let go and proceed to go to work for Gladys (Christine McIntyre), the owner of the Elite Café — which makes room for some recycled Curly-as-the-chef bits (which Shemp pulls off) and another reused gag: Moe battles a hungry oyster in his soup (which is funny, but it’s very painful at the same time to see Moe try to imitate Curly). The latter-half of this short has Larry, Moe, Shemp, and Gladys going to take a look at her old family home — which just happens to be where Lefty Loomis is hiding out.

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium
  • Political Incorrectness Level: Medium Low

Pardon My Clutch (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Quite possibly the weakest short in the whole set. Basically, Pardon My Clutch is a bastard amalgamation of several earlier Stooge shorts with a generous helping from a couple of Laurel & Hardy vehicles as well. It starts out with Shemp sick in bed, to which cousin Claude (Matt McHugh) comes over to help. Next, it turns into I Can Hardly Wait (1943, Volume 4) with Shemp’s problem turning out to be a bad tooth and then becomes a mixture of Stan & Ollie’s Them Thar Hills (1934) and Perfect Day (1929), with an ending (featuring Emil Sitka) right out of Rhythm And Weep (see Disc One).

  • Short Rating: 2
  • Violence Level: Medium

Squareheads Of The Round Table (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Perhaps shorts like Pardon My Clutch caused someone to try something different with the Stooges: Squareheads Of The Round Table kicks off a series of several pieces that were either a) set in the past, or b) just un-Stooge-like period. This one has them as three traveling troubadours that befriend Cedric the Blacksmith (Jock Mahoney again — still acting badly), who is in love with Princess Elaine (Christine McIntyre). Elaine’s father, the King (Vernon Dent, of course), wants Cedric’s head — and his evil Black Prince (Philip Van Zandt — his first of many bad guy roles) is more than willing to help.

  • Short Rating: 3 ½
  • Violence Level: High

Fiddlers Three (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Why is it that stuff that is aimed directly at the kiddies is always the creepiest for adults? One particularly haunting segment of this entry has the titular minstrels performing their interpretation of “Jack Be Quick,” to which Shemp (wearing pancake makeup and lipstick to achieve a “storytelling” quality — or so I assume) is seen jumping over a candlestick and burning his ass — causing him to look into the camera and utter a disturbing moan. That scene used to give both my ex-wife and I nightmares. Anyway, the plot here involves the dastardly scheme of magician Murgittroyd (Philip Van Zandt), who plans to kidnap the daughter of Coleslawvania’s merry ole King Cole (Vernon Dent) so that he can in turn make her reappear via “magic” and have her hand in marriage… so he can kill the king and take over the kingdom (or something like that — actually, it’s the same damn plot from the last short!). Virginia Hunter plays the princess.

  • Short Rating: 3½
  • Violence Level: Medium

The Hot Scots (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

The boys are budget detectives seeking work at Scotland Yard who wind up working maintenance in “the yard.” When the opportunity to watch over a Scottish castle while the Earl (Herbert Evans) is out arises, they jump at the chance — but soon, a masked menace starts to steal things and chase them around a lot. Christine McIntyre and Theodore Lorch co-star, with Charles Knight playing the part of Inspector McCormick from Scotland Yard.

  • Short Rating: 3½
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Heavenly Daze (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

One of the odder Stooge shorts reminds me a bit of Abbott & Costello’s wonderful The Time Of Their Lives. Shemp is dead — and his Uncle Mortimer (Moe) won’t let him into Heaven unless he heads back down to Earth and reforms his greedy scheming cousins Moe and Larry, who are planning on selling a phony invention to the DePuysters (Symona Boniface and Victor Travers). This short enables Shemp to at long last give Moe what he’s had coming for so long — as the trenchcoat-clad spirit cannot be seen or heard from mortals…but they can sure feel him. Vernon Dent plays a shifty attorney named I. Fleecum and Sam McDaniel plays the poor butler whom Shemp scares away. Marti Shelton appears as Uncle Mortimer’s angelic secretary. Supposedly, a musical segment about the Ten Commandments was cut from the final print.

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High
  • Political Incorrectness Level: Medium

I’m A Monkey’s Uncle (1948)
Directed by Jules White
Follow the daily exploits of cavemen Larry, Moe and Shemp as they hunt dangerous prey (a fish, turtle, and a duck), scout out for mates (Virginia Hunter, Nancy Saunders, and Dee Green), and fight off some rival cavemen (Cy Schindell, Joe Palma, and Bill Wallace). Later remade, recycled, and re-edited into Stone Age Romeos (1955).

  • Short Rating: 4
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Mummy’s Dummies (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

Although it’s a partial remake of 1942’s Matri-Phony (on Volume 3) with Curly, Mummy’s Dummies admirably succeeds where the earlier vehicle crashed and burned. Three used chariot salesman (“I’m Honest Moe, that’s Honest Shemp, and that — that’s Larry.”) are arrested and sentenced to death for selling a lemon to the Chief of the Palace Guards. Fortunately for them, they’re able to cure King Rootintootin (Vernon Dent) of his toothache and catch the evil Futamon (Philip Van Zandt), who has been stealing from His Majesty’s tax collections. Anyone else ever notice that Dent and Van Zandt always wound up playing the same roles when they were teamed together?

  • Short Rating: 4½
  • Violence Level: Medium High

Crime On Their Hands (1948)
Directed by Edward Bernds

The Punjab Diamond has been stolen by underworld gangster Dapper (Kenneth MacDonald) and his cronies Muscles (Cy Schindell) and Bea (Christine McIntyre). The boys are janitors at a newspaper office who get a tip from an anonymous phone call and go out to play detectives — but when Shemp accidentally swallows the diamond, Dapper decides it’s time to operate. A gorilla in a cage next door may be Shemp’s only saving grace. This take on film noir has one of the few (if not only) onscreen murders ever to take place in a slapstick Stooge short (Dapper’s henchman shoots a stoolie dead in a phone booth). Crime On Their Hands would sadly prove to be co-star Cy Schindell’s final of approximately 30 outings with the Stooges: the boxer-turned-actor contracted skin cancer in WWII but continued to work steadily in film to ensure his family was taken care of after he died (note the heavy make-up on his face in this short). Like several other Stooge regulars, Cy managed to show up in a few (post-mortem) performances in the '50s when Columbia began to rely heavily on recycled footage.

  • Short Rating: 4 ½
  • Violence Level: High

Like the previous releases, Sony has remastered these classic shorts in High Definition, with some outstanding results — the pictures are clearer and crisper than they ever were. Some of the earlier, non-chronological DVD releases contained alternate audio tracks for the shorts, but these optional soundtracks have been dumped, leaving only the original English audio. It may only be English Mono Stereo, but it won’t let you down. As with the other chronological Collection series, no subtitles are included, but the discs are Closed Captioned.

Also like the other chronological Collection series, there are no special features to be found on these discs — so once more, I‘m going to cross my fingers and pray that Sony include a disc or two devoted to extras when they released the last of these chronological sets (do you hear me, Sony?).

Either way, this is required viewing, and everyone should buy a copy.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.