I’ve written before about the sort of direct-line connection between base-level slapstick and the the things that first tickle our funny bones, and few acts embody that synergistic relationship with more commitment, fervor and longevity than the Three Stooges. To that end, The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Two gathers more slap-happy
hijinks from the lovable Larry, Curly and Moe, in the form of 24 chronologically
arranged, digitally re-mastered short films, from 1937 to 1939. This
latest volume follows the success of the first set of Stooges film shorts, from 1934-36, released last year by Sony, and comes in advance of more like-minded releases.
It goes without saying that the Three Stooges are one of the most important screen comedy teams of the 20th century, and an inspiration to generations of screen comics that followed. After their initial retirement late in the 1950s, television reruns helped reintroduce them, at home and abroad, to a new generation of kids and adults alike, and their enthusiastic reception certainly indicates an abiding love for anarchic silliness.
At the time of the material here, the vaudeville-born Stooges were no longer some mere novelty act seeking attention in the still nascent world of filmed entertainment; they had achieved fame, and their countrywide personal appearances, of which there were many, were frequently mobbed. Naturally, even with such mainstream embrace (or perhaps because of it), there were cultural warriors who viewed the Stooges’ eye-poking, head-slapping, pie-tossing antics as too violent, and crusaded to have them banished. Thankfully, their efforts didn’t succeed.
With the guys’ rapport now even more settled upon, Larry, Curly and Moe were able to focus a bit on coming up with some rich scenarios to serve as backdrops for their antics, cranking out a new short film every six-and-a-half weeks or so. 1937’s slate consists of Grips, Grunts and Groans; Dizzy Doctors, one of many hospital-set shorts; Three Dumb Clucks; the bizarre and hopelessly dated Back to the Woods, in which the Stooges are exiled from England and sent to protect colonists from “savage” Native Americans; Goofs and Saddles; Cash and Carry; the racetrack-set Playing the Ponies, in which a prize horse is powered by hot peppers; and The Sitter Downers, a domestic-leaning sketch in which the Stooges attempt to build a house to satisfy their future father-in-law. The films from 1938 are: Termites of 1938; Wee Wee Monsieur; Tassels in the Air; Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb, one of many Stooges shorts to assay issues of class; Violent is the Word for Curly; Three Missing Links; Mutts to You; and Flat Foot Stooges. Finally, 1939’s slate consists of Three Little Sew and Sews, in which the Stooges become seamen tailors; We Want Our Mummy; A Ducking They Did Go; Yes, We Have No Bonanza; the island-set Saved By the Belle (of which surely Mario Lopez is a fan); Calling All Curs; the hilariously named Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise; and Three Sappy People, in which the boys are mistaken for respected psychiatrists.
The across-the-board value here is of a high quality, with only a couple of the forced “genre” offerings (Western-inflected Yes, We Have No Bonanza, for instance) coming across as forced. Calling All Curs, Grips, Grunts and Groans and Three Little Sew and Sews all score particularly high marks. Three Sappy People, meanwhile, remains one of the more popular syndicated Stooges efforts, if chiefly for its cream pie shenanigans. Frequently plumbing class friction for laughs, the Stooges seem best when placed out of sorts and forced to madly improvise in order to maintain the plausible cover of their scenario or promise, and there are plenty of examples of that here.
Presented in full screen with an English language mono audio track, The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Two looks pretty great, all things considering (only contrast levels would be a point to quibble on), and if the sound design isn’t something to stand up against the comparatively brawny mixes of movies of today, it certainly serves the relatively meager demands here, with just a slight bump in volume level over similar mono mixes. The films are housed on two dual-layered discs in slimline cases that are in turn stored in a nice cardboard slipcover.
Apart from a small handful of unrelated preview trailers (like from the first volume: Seinfeld, Meatballs and… Close Encounters of the Third Kind?), there is unfortunately no supplemental material, a fact established by the first release in the series. This cuts two ways; the sheer volume of material (including five more shorts than in the first volume) makes for plenty of entertainment, and its straightforward cataloging is invaluable, but just a brief talking-head retrospective or two would help contextually root the material for a lot of younger viewers for whom the term “classic comedy” perhaps only means Eddie Murphy, circa Raw. To purchase the set via Amazon, click here. A (Movies) B- (Disc)