Making the Grades
Making their screen début in 1930, The Three Stooges enjoyed a lengthy career with their last foray into the movies in 1970. Their signature style included slapstick stupidity, ill-tempered treatment of each other, and a comedic violence similar to that found in animated cartoons like Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. So enduring has been their mark on cinematic history that their influence can be seen in many other productions, such as The Honeymooner’s bad attitude, and the live action antics of the Home Alone series.
Starring three plain-clothed clowns: Moe Howard, the self appointed leader—although clearly a case of the blind leading the blind, the bald Curly Howard who personifies brawn with out brains, and Larry (Larry Fine) a dope whose receding hairline is compensated for by wildly over-grown fringes. Over the years Shemp Howard, Curly Joe DeRita and Joe Besser have also filled the position of Curly. (The three Howards were brothers.)
Columbia Pictures has assembled a collection of six of their short films made during the 30’s and 40’s and titled it Cops and Robbers because the vignettes share the common denominator of bad-guy characters needing to be stopped. And who better to bungle their nefarious plans than the bumbling trio?
Calling all Curs (1939) dresses the men in surgical garb in order to play veterinarians. Their bedside manner includes the use of handyman tools, eating dog biscuits, and trying to deceive a wealthy patron when her precious pooch is stolen out of their care. To redeem themselves, the busted boys must get a leash on the dognappers.
Disorder in the Court (1936) summons the stooges to act as witnesses in a trial that’s strictly for the birds. Although their reenactment of the murder doesn’t do much to help the case for the beautiful defendant, it does give her an opportunity to strip down to her leggy dancing costume and entertain the jury. When the prosecution calls foul, the accused performer’s only hope is a talking parrot.
Dizzy Detectives (1943) has the three members of a carpentry company trading in their saws and hammers for less dangerous weapons—guns. Joining the police force the green officers tackle the case of a thieving ape-man. Someone is sure to loose their head before this string of burglaries is all tied up.
Flat Foot Stooges (1938) finds the incompetents posing as firefighters who are too busy putting the spit and polish on the fire wagon’s horses to realize a blaze has broken out in their own station. Worse yet, the chief’s daughter and the accidental arsonist are trapped within the blaze.
In Crime on Their Hands (1948), the burly janitorial crew answers the phone in the Gazette’s head office and receives an anonymous tip about a recent diamond robbery. Casting off their overalls in favor of press badges, the three set out to get the scoop on the murderous gang. Whether or not they are cut out for journalism remains to be seen after one of the stooges accidentally swallows the stolen rock.
Prominent citizens are disappearing, and the threesome must find out Who Done It (1949). Examining the home of the most recently departed, the inept detectives are distracted by a beautiful woman, poisoned drinks, and a ghoulish gangster. Can they shovel their way out of this heap of trouble?
The Three Stooges kept audiences in stitches for 40 years—but I didn’t find much to laugh at. Perhaps it was their attempt to make humor out of life threatening situations, incidents of gunplay, criminal activity, and bodily injury… not to mention a sever lack of anger management. Or maybe I’m too sensitive to the politically incorrect portrayals and treatment of animals. Then again, it might be because I have just had too much summer with bored children turning to quarreling and bickering for entertainment. Whatever the cause, I found watching three grown men slapping, hitting and punching each other every time their short-fused tempers flared (all synchronized to silly sound effects), enough to make this mother want to explode.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Three Stooges: Cops and Robbers.
What do you think accounts for the enduring popularity of The Three Stooges? Do moviemakers today still try to derive humor out of dangerous situations? Do you feel there are any potential hazards to this kind of entertainment?