There isn’t a whole lot of middle ground when it comes to Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard.
Either you think the Three Stooges are hilarious (meaning you’re probably a regular guy) or you think they’re utterly stupid (meaning you’re a woman … or one of those guys).
So…half of you could not care less about the release of the massive 20-disc “The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection.” But for the other half it’s a sort of comedy Second Coming.
(A confession: I’m one of those guys. The Stooge magic never worked on me — or at least it hasn’t since the fifth grade.)
Well, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, you’ve got to give props to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for putting together 60-plus freakin’ hours (and three decades) of nonstop nyuk nyuk, eye poking, head-thumping and face slapping.
What you’ve got here are 190 shorts (or, more accurately, a handful of basic slapstick routines recycled through 190 scenarios so similar it’s impossible to tell them apart), two feature films from the late ‘50s (“Have Rocket, Will Travel” and “Rockin’ in the Rockies”) and, of particular interest to hardcore Stooge fans, three discs of rare and unreleased content centering on various solo short subjects by the boys.
Here’s the scary part: As overwhelming as this set is, it’s incomplete. This collection only covers the Stooge’s years at Columbia Pictures. They also made movies for Fox, Universal and MGM.
Included are the Stooges’ only Oscar-nominated short, 1934’s “ Men in Black,“ in which the boys are incompetent MDs in a hospital (“Calling Dr. Howard. Dr. Fine. Dr. Howard.”) and, from the same year, “Punch Drunks,” chosen in 2002 for preservation by the U.S. Film Registry as being (and the Stooges would’ve loved this) “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
There are also three examples of the animated Three Stooges shorts Columbia made in the late ‘50s to capitalize on the trio’s newfound popularity once their old work began appearing on TV.
I’m not sure exactly how you’re supposed to watch all this. Maybe one short every day. God knows it would be impossible to plow through all this material without taking frequent breaks. There’s just not much variety here, with most shorts indistinguishable from the ones that precede and follow it.
We’re talking production-line filmmaking: Threadbare values, interchangeable supporting players, no-name directors. Only a couple of their shorts were in color.
It would all be kind of depressing, except that Moe, Larry and Curly (the latter replaced over the years by Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe “Curly Joe” De Rita) every now and then come up with something so absurd, lunatic and anarchistic that you’ve just gotta smile. Their main forte was sight gags, but every once in a rare while (particularly in the shorts with Shemp), the boys took a stab at verbal wit.
The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection retails for $100, but you can get it at amazon.com for $64.95. At that price every man cave should have this boxed set.