Thursday, 12 December 2013

Slap Shtick

Cerebus #269 (August 2001)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Notes On Latter Days, Cerebus Vol 15: Latter Days, 2003)
...What is interesting is that the [Three Stooges] shorts, themselves are, indeed, not very good. I mean, as entertainment, if you're talking about the writing and acting - apart from the Stooges themselves who are beautifully crafted "shorthand" personalities - the shorts are terrible. The actresses especially all have that look about them: immaculate babes who are just not actresses. The Stooges shorts scream "casting couch", even for a time when all movie acting was pretty broad and pretty unrealistic. There's something "off" about each of the actresses: too tall, voice to nasal, nose tilted wrong, eyes uneven, bad posture. Amazing "casting couch" material but, I mean, Lucille Ball comes off like Katherine Hepburn in this crowd. They seem "foisted" onto the Stooges machine, as does the writing.

And machine it was. 97 shorts in thirteen year, until Curly had his stroke in the middle of filming Half-Wits Holiday in '47. And they finished the day's work without him and then brought Shemp back for Fright Night. Amazing work ethic.

I would maintain that the success of the Stooges' shorts - and unbeknownst to them, Columbia was using the shorts as leverage to get the movie houses to show Columbia's films they weren't really interested in showing, that's how wide and deep the Stooges' popularity was - was attributable to that timing, that razor sharpness and the personalities that they developed in interacting with each other. As Sterenko wrote about the 1940s Superman, he was invulnerable, even bad scripts couldn't hurt him. That was the Stooges. Most of their scripts are so badly cobbled together, so filled with non-sequiters that you would swear someone lost a page and they just kept filming anyway, taking it as a given that it really didn't matter who the girl was or why her father said that or why the chief of police waked in at that moment. It was all just so much driftwood on which to hang that immaculate ballet of Stooge timing. The script could have consisted of everyone else reading the phone book aloud and "Stooges do shtick here" and you still would have had a hit.


Michael Grabowski said...

The three wise fellowes run really didn't work all that well for me in the way the Marx & Looney Tunes-based characters did, though the ending of it did touch me a bit (being a Stooges fan but not familiar with their biography).
I think it's the voicings he gives them, the odd comibination of King James and wise guy talk. (And I wish he had called them Wise Guys instead.) But I'll have to take another look at these for the visual aspect. I definitely see Dave working out his physical comedy chops that you have spotlighted here, Tim. Thanks for
stooges week!

Anonymous said...

Maybe calling them the 3 Wise Guys would have been too on the nose? Also, I seem to remember a 3 Stooges short where they were called the three wise guys, so maybe that's why he avoided the obvious joke.

Dave's critique of the 3 Stooges' material is fairly accurate, but I would argue the following: They're just funny. They're really, really funny, and the cheap-o quality of the plots and actresses, and rickety quality of the whole enterprise meshes perfectly with the badly dressed, hideous-looking vaudevillians (is that the right term? 'Comedians' felt off) and their broad physical comedy. That kind of comedy breaks down all borders and boundaries- watching unkempt dopes hammer away at eachother's brainpans and fail at life is always funny. And those three (and Shemp, whom I also love) were master physical comedians.