List of the ten best Three Stooges films from the Curly years
“Soitenly…Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk”...Why, I oughta...” If you’re a fan of vintage comedy films, you’ll know these catch phrases were often spoken by The Three Stooges.
I’ve recently spent some time watching a 13 DVD set released by Time Life in 2018 titled “The Best of The Three Stooges”. The main focus is on their Columbia Pictures short films shown in theaters from 1934 to 1945. Also included are Stooges feature films, solo efforts from Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita, cartoons, as well as a 9-part documentary series “Hey Moe! Hey Dad!” in which the “boss” Stooge’s son Paul shares behind the scenes footage and photos of the comedy team. A deluxe edition adds all of the remaining Stooges short subjects up to 1958.
Viewing the 13 DVD set's short films with Curly as the third Stooge has inspired me to look at the act consisting of the Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard trio. Listed by year, here’s my take on the ten best Three Stooges films of “The Curly Years”.
1. "Punch Drunks", 1934
Moe, Larry, and Curly wrote the story for this film, the trio’s second short subject. Moe’s a boxing manager who notices Curly gains extra strength and a knockout punch when he hears Larry play ”Pop Goes The Weasel” on his violin. Moe tells Curly he will now manage him for a boxing career, and Curly leaves his waiter job.
Curly, or “KO Stradivarius”, is successful in the ring, as long as Larry plays the song. Curly’s ring attire, by the way, features a violin on his shirt and musical notes on the back of his trunks. Unfortunately during his title fight with Killer Kilduff, Curly gets knocked out of the ring, lands on Larry, and breaks his violin. Larry goes to great effort and brings a large 1930s vintage radio playing “Pop Goes The Weasel” to ringside, but the song ends and Moe smashes the radio over Larry’s head! Larry leaves the facility to find a truck playing “Pop Goes The Weasel” over loud speakers. Larry drives the truck, with the tune playing, through a wall of the arena. Curly hears the song, and proceeds to knock out his opponent, the referee, and even Moe and Larry.
In 2002, “Punch Drunks” was honored by the U.S. Library of Congress as being a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. It’s the only Stooges film to receive the honor. Additionally, the boxing scenes were filmed at L.A.’s famed Olympic Auditorium.
2. "Men In Black", 1934
“Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard” is heard over the Los Arms Hospital loudspeaker for three new additions to the staff. Physicians Moe, Larry, and Curly have devoted their lives “To Duty and Humanity”, and have some unique ways to get to their patients inside the building. They use a bicycle built for three, small racing cars, and a horse to make their medical rounds. When asked by a fellow doctor (Bud Jamison) what The Stooges know about medicine, Larry replies “we graduated with the highest temperatures in our class”. Their method for anesthesia is to knock out the patient with a mallet. They need to brush up on their surgical skills too, as they sew their tools inside of a patient on the operating table. The Stooges might not have graduated at the top of their medical class, but they sure make the hospital a lively place.
“Men In Black” was the only Three Stooges film to be nominated for an Academy Award (in the Best Short Subject, Comedy category).
3. “Three Little Pigskins”, 1934
Gangster Joe Stack's Tigers squad are taking on the Cubs in a grudge football battle. However, Stack will lose 50 thousand dollars if his team does not come out on top. Three of his best players “have gotten plastered and landed in the ditch with a car on top of them”. A blonde haired Lucille Ball, in one of her early film roles, suggests Stack recruit three amateur players to take their place.
Meanwhile, Moe, Larry, and Curly are being paid to wear football uniforms and hold up signs promoting the Boulder Dam College versus Blue Point University game. The Stooges are mistaken for the famed “Three Horsemen of Boulder Dam”. Thinking that they’re the real Three Horsemen, Stack wants to hire them to replace his three players. He says the game will be played with no crowd in attendance, so these “amateur” players won’t be spotted. He pays them cash, and figures they wouldn’t lose their amateur status if no one sees the game.
Moe’s uniform number is H2 O2, Larry’s ½, and Curly’s ? .But, Moe,Larry and Curly don’t know how to play football. On the field, Moe tells Larry and Curly to tackle the man with the ball, “bring them down”. So, Larry and Curly tackle one of the referees. When Moe catches the football after it hits his helmet on the kickoff, he tosses the ball to Curly and The Stooges throw it to each other as if playing hot potato.The game turns into a disaster, and the gangsters aim their handguns and shoot at the Stooges behinds.
In a trivia note, Hollywood’s Gilmore Stadium, where the game was played, was demolished in 1952 and replaced by Television City, the longtime home of CBS-TV. In December 2018, CBS sold the building to a real estate developer for 750 million dollars.
4. “Hoi Polloi”, 1935
A professor bets his associate ten thousand dollars that he can take three common men (the Stooges) and turn them into perfect gentlemen. Based on “Pygmalion”, in “Hoi Polloi” the trio receives lessons in table manners, reading, and dancing. One very funny sequence finds the Stooges being advised to follow their dance teacher, and do exactly what she does. But, a bee has entered the back of her dress, and she ends up wiggling and moving about, including doing cart wheels. The Stooges imitate what they see from the instructor.
Unfortunately, the Stooges are the Stooges, and the professor loses the bet. But, a dinner party scene provides some great slapstick moments. Moe hits Curly in the head, and with a “Curly Shuffle” all sorts of silverware drops from Curly’s tuxedo vest. Later, Moe tosses a couch spring that lands on the backside of Curly’s pants. Curly dances with a woman who towers over him. Curly’s dance partner bumps him with her stomach to the floor, and Curly bounces back up with the spring attached to his pants.
The idea for “Hoi Polloi”came from Moe’s wife, Helen. The film’s formula was so successful that the Stooges remade it in 1947 as “Half-Wits Holiday” and again in 1958 as “Pies and Guys” with Besser as the third stooge.
5. “Three Little Beers”, 1935
Moe, Larry, and Curly are deliverymen for the Panther Brewing Company. The business is having their sixth annual golf tournament for employees, with a top prize of one hundred dollars. The Stooges pass the Rancho Golf Club during their delivery rounds, and decide to go in to practice. They find out a different golf tournament’s taking place there as they arrive, but for the press only. A press pass is needed to use the course that day. The Stooges make their way to the nearby Gentlemen's Lounge. They then return to the club’s registration desk and show their newly gained round, badge like press passes. Moe’s reads PRESS, Larry’s PRESS, and Curly’s PULL.
The Stooges take to the links wearing golf related clothing “borrowed” from the locker room. Moe, Larry, and Curly manage to destroy the golf course. Curly hits a golf ball that lands in a tree. So, he takes an ax and chops down the tree. Larry finds a root in the course and pulls on it. The root seems to last for several feet, all over the green. Moe keeps hitting divot after divot, making what seems like a group of craters. When one of the course’s gardeners angrily asks Moe what he’s doing, Moe replies, “I’m getting better, see. The pieces are getting smaller”. The Stooges race back to their delivery truck as the gardener and a co-worker complain to the police. After parking the truck on a hill, beer barrels all fall out from the cargo bed, roll down the hill, and more hilarity ensues.
In 1998, a brewing company in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania named their business The Panther Brewing Company in tribute to the trio and released a Three Stooges beer.
6. “Grips, Grunts and Groans”, 1937
Curly returns to the ring, this time as a pro wrestler. The Stooges are in charge of keeping Ivan Bustoff, who’s challenging for the heavyweight title one night, away from booze. If they do so, they’ll be paid 100 dollars, later to be doubled to 200 dollars (double or nothing) ,by a group of mobsters. In the meantime, we find out that the smell of Wild Hyacinth perfume drives Curly wild.
Before the match, Bustoff gets knocked out by several barbells and a locker. Curly ends up impersonating Bustoff, and takes his place in the ring. After Curly’s opponent hits the ring post during the bout, Moe tells Curly, “Pin him down”. Curly replies “But I don’t got no pins”. Larry tells Moe, “Get him one”, which results in a Moe slap. Curly does get a hat pin from a woman at ringside, and when instructed by Moe to pin the opponent's shoulder, Curly jabs the foe's shoulder with the hat pin. He also uses the hat pin to get out of his rival’s pinning attempt, by poking the opponent’s rear end. Curly’s victorious after Moe pours a woman’s Wild Hyacinth perfume onto his brother’s (Curly’s) nose. As in “Punch Drunks”, Curly wreaks havoc in the squared circle after his win, knocking out his fellow Stooges, two policemen, and even himself with the ring bell.
7.“Violent Is The Word For Curly”, 1938
The Stooges are gas station attendants, “Super Service” is their motto, who accidentally blow up the car of three foreign professors headed to the all-girls Mildew College. Following that incident, The Stooges retreat in an ice cream truck, which coincidentally has the instructors outfits in there. The Stooges change into the educators’ caps and gowns, and are mistaken for the aforementioned professors Feinstein, Frankfurter, and Von Stupor by the Mildew College Dean.
Moe, Larry, and Curly demonstrate a unique, tackle football type version of basketball to the students. The real professors try to sabotage that by filling a basketball with nitroglycerin and other chemicals. But , their plan backfires as Curly shoots the ball over the hoop and it explodes on the instructors.
"Violent Is The Word For Curly" is probably best known for the scene in which the Stooges sing the novelty tune, “Swingin’ the Alphabet”. (B-A-bay, B-E- be, B-I-bicky bi-B-O-bow,etc.). Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe would perform it, re-titled “The Alphabet Song”, for their 1959 album, “The Nonsense Songbook”.
8. “A Plumbing We Will Go”, 1940
The last Three Stooges short filmed in the 1930s. The Stooges are accused of stealing chickens from a chicken coop. Found innocent, the trio next fish for their supper from a pet store’s fish tank. A policeman sees this, and The Stooges make their getaway in a plumber’s truck. To avoid the policeman, Moe, Larry, and Curly pose as plumbers and try to fix a leak in a mansion. As Moe says, they are “three of the best plumbers who ever plumbed a plumb”.
Naturally, the Stooges cause pandemonium trying to do the work. At one point, Curly gets stuck in a maze of pipes and the water still leaks. Water pours out from the kitchen stove after Moe works on the pipes. Water even comes through a telephone’s handset as the mansion’s owner tries to call Mr.Casey, the actual owner of the plumbing business. An interesting moment comes when the hostess in the mansion wants to show her guests a broadcast of Niagara Falls on her new television set. After Niagara Falls is shown on the screen, water gushes out of the set. If you’re looking for a Stooges film with much visual comedy, this is one of them.
9. “An Ache In Every Stake”, 1941
The Laurel and Hardy Oscar winning short subject “The Music Box” might have inspired a portion of this Stooges film. Moe, Larry, and Curly are delivering ice to a house located at the top of a long, high staircase. There’s so many levels of stairs that twice when Curly gets to the top portion, the large block of ice has turned into an ice cube.
The Stooges shenanigans cause their customer’s servants to quit, which leads to the trio cooking what's to be a special birthday dinner. A fun sight gag has Larry telling Curly to shave some ice. Curly takes a block of ice, and treats it as if it’s in a barber shop. Curly slathers shaving cream on the ice, and uses a straight razor to shave it. Next, he reads the directions on how to stuff a turkey. An ingredient is a can of peas, and Curly takes the can itself and puts it in the turkey. The recipe also says to add two potatoes, diced. Curly shakes the potatoes, and then rolls them on the kitchen table, as dice sound effects play. The potatoes are placed in the turkey.
The birthday cake The Stooges make gets deflated when Larry sticks a fork into it. So, Moe fills it with gas from the gas stove. The cake explodes when the customer’s husband blows out the candles. After the blast, The Stooges make a fast getaway on a board down the steps, and the film fades to black.
As a note, the 147 steps where “An Ache In Every Stake” was filmed are located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. They are still there today.
10. “Micro-Phonies”, 1945
The Stooges are janitors at a radio station. Pretty, blonde Alice Van Doren (Christine McIntyre) has made a recording of “Voices of Spring” for the station’s “Krispy Krunchy” radio program. Van Doren wants to hide her singing career from her disapproving father, and is using the pseudonym Miss Andrews.
The Stooges find the vinyl record, and Curly lip synchs to it dressed as “Senorita Cucaracha”.The Radio station host Mrs. Bixby (Symona Boniface) sees and hears Senorita Cucaracha and hires “her” and "Senors Mucho and Gusto” (Moe and Larry) to perform at an evening party.
At the gathering, Moe breaks the record over Curly’s noggin, and Senorita Cucaracha must now lip synch to a different disc. The Stooges are spotted by "Signor Spumoni", who had a run in with them at the radio station earlier, and he pulls the power plug from the record player. Alice makes a deal with Moe, Larry, and Curly, and she sings “Voices of Spring” behind a curtain while they mime to her serenading. Spumoni spoils that too, as he opens the curtain revealing the real singer, Alice. She explains the situation to her father, and will still sing on the radio program. The Stooges exit the party, with the guests throwing records at them.
McIntyre, by the way, appeared in 36 Stooges shorts and was a classically trained singer.
© 2019 Marshall Fish