I didn’t happen to grow up in a “Three Stooges household,”
which is to say an environment where the work of the classic comedy trio was
lionized and celebrated by my parents or older family members. (That’s right,
Mel Gibson isn’t my uncle.) Still, there’s something so downright basic —
primitive isn’t the right word, but it’s leaning in that direction, minus the
negative connotation — about all the nose-tweaking, eye-gouging, head-slapping
antics at the core of the Stooges that one can’t help but be a little bowled
over when you first see them.
Witnessing a silly Stooges sketch as a kid is like
having a window opened in your mind; it’s goofy, physical, anarchic,
mock-violent and chaotic, but somehow very particularly ordered at the same
time. The very contradictions of the world reveal themselves in these skits, if
on a wholly subliminal level. Now, with the DVD release of the superb The Three Stooges Collection: Volume One,
covering 1934 through ’36, classic film fans and those who first discovered the
troupe on television reruns can rediscover them all over again, and enjoy that
cathartic rush of wide-eyed amusement, indulgence and bewilderment.
Slapstick needn’t necessarily be brilliant in order to catch
the passing fancy of an audience — after all, how many of us have ever laughed
at someone tripping on a sidewalk or a flight of stairs, in spite of ourselves
and the general awareness of public niceties? While naysayers or nincompoops
may decry their work as down-market, key to the Stooges’ genius, however, was
their timing, which is still a sight to behold. The choreography of all the
tossed pies, half-punches, sprayed seltzer water and feigned eye gougings is like
some adolescent fantasy dance, with the air-quote violence serving as perfectly
balanced, brutish counterpoint to the equal absurdity of the mock-adult pickles
they find themselves in.
Featuring 19 digitally re-mastered two-reel shorts presented
in their original order of release, this set covers the beginning of the
group’s two-decade-plus tenure at Columbia Pictures, their original studio home.
The breadth of important Larry, Curly and Moe material here is breathtaking, and includes Punch Drunks, the only short actually
written by the Stooges, in which Curly takes quite the beating; Pop Goes the Easel, their first pairing
with frequent director Del Lord; the Oscar-nominated Men in Black; Movie Maniacs,
featuring Charlie Chaplin’s first wife, Mildred Harris; and Three Little Pigskins, featuring a young
Lucille Ball. Even casual film fans, meanwhile, will likely recognize bits from
Disorder in the Court, featuring the
famous “swearing in” scene with Curly in the courtroom, and Slippery Silks, which features the
group’s (first) infamous dessert cream fight. Three Little Pigskins ranks highly, and other favorites, in my
book, include Half-Shoot Shooters,
which finds the Stooges reenlisting in the Army after the end of World War I,
and Three Little Beers. The latter finds
the guys taking up golf, with their eyes on a cash prize; characteristic disaster
ensues, as do some good form pointers on alternate usage of one’s clubs.
Overall, this is both a great sampler set and an offering that allows one to glimpse the development of the Stooges’ personality types, seen here occasionally in their infancy, and how these would feed more and more into their routines.
Spread out over two discs and housed in a pair of slimline
plastic cases in turn stored in a sturdy, cardboard slipcover, the shorts are
presented in 1.33:1 full screen black-and-white, naturally, and look pretty fantastic. I can’t quibble too much with the lack of supplemental extras since the set’s running time totals almost six hours and, when finished, the compendium will span decades, with a completist’s attention to chronology and detail. Still, a brief academic overview of the Stooges, or at least this time period in their careers, would have been nice; as is, there are just previews for the ninth season DVD release of
Seinfeld, Bill Murray’s Meatballs,
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
and forthcoming Ray Harryhausen titles. To purchase the title via Amazon, click here. A (Movies) B (Disc)