Film and drama

Screen Themes: Stooges Old and New

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It’s time for some slapstick, as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a reader suggestion and checks out some Three Stooges, both in their classic form and recent re-imagination.

The Three Stooges

Directed by Lou Breslow (1934) & Jack White (1936)

Comedy trio The Three Stooges have a storied history, beginning way back in 1922 and producing content all the way up until 1970. The original trio of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard were nearly derailed before they even began, when Shemp left the group to pursue a solo career. Fortunately, he was immediately replaced by younger Howard brother Curly, and the trio went on to make over 90 short films between 1934 and 1946. After Curly suffered a stroke in 1946, Shemp returned to the fold, but many purists argue that the trio was never the same.

Selecting an episode from around 190 in total (including those with Shemp, Joe Besser and Curly Joe) was a little tricky, particularly as the plethora of "Top 10 Episodes" lists across the internet don’t seem to agree on much. I settled on Punch Drunks (1934 directed by Lou Breslow) and Disorder in the Court (1936, directed by Jack White, not that Jack White, obviously), both of which are around 17 minutes long.  

In Punch Drunks, Moe plays a dodgy boxing promoter who discovers that Curly is a born fighter, then sets about making money from his skills. Naturally, things go awry.  Disorder in the Court is your standard courtroom drama quickly derailed by the hijinks of Larry, Curly and Moe, with things getting increasingly chaotic until the trio unwittingly reveal the real killer and save the damsel in distress.

Despite the constant slapstick violence (much of it punching down, metaphorically as well as literally) there is a certain innocence to the Stooges. Much like Citizen Kane, the Three Stooges are a product of their times and seem a little rudimentary compared to the generations of artists who were inspired by them over the next century or so.

The Three Stooges

Directed by Bobby & Peter Farrelly (2012)

Somehow, I managed to miss this remake when it was released in 2012 and a quick watch of the trailer reminded me why: this movie looks bloody awful. Still, I’ve always said that I’m open to reader suggestions and it couldn’t be worse than Bird Box, so I gave it a go.

Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly first gained acclaim for gross-out comedies including Dumb 7 Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and Shallow Hal. Just recently, Peter broke away from the duo and made the Oscar-nominated drama Green Book, which either shows that directors are able to evolve or Bobby has been holding his brother back for the past 26 years.

The plot of this remake is basically the same as The Blues Brothers: after growing up in an orphanage which eventually goes bankrupt, Moe, Curly and Larry go on a quest to raise money to save their home. After wild casting rumours that included Benicio Dell Toro, Paul Giamatti, Sean Penn and Jim Carrey, the casting director settled on a cast of near-unknowns, with the most famous being Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as Larry. Hayes is accompanied by Will Sasso (Loudermilk) as Curly and voice actor Chris Diamantopoulos (Mickey Mouse) as Moe.

While the slapstick is the pretty much identical to the 1930’s version, it comes across as a lot more mean-spirited in the 21st century. There are a handful of mildly amusing moments, mostly thanks to Will Sasso really throwing himself into the role of Curly, but I found myself looking at my watch more often than I was looking at the screen.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for some old-timey fun, you could do worse than watching a couple of classic Three Stooges episodes. The production values are remarkably high, the supporting cast do an admirable job of keeping straight faces when things get weird and, if you’re a fan of the Simpsons, you’ll realise how much they stole from the Stooges…

If you want to punish yourself for something you did in a past life, feel free to watch the 2012 movie.

Three Stooges (85 years old) — 7/10

Three Stooges (7 years old) — 1/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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