The Three Stooges Collection Volume Eight: 1955-1959
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 515 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 2.0
When Sony announced in 2007 that the 190 short films which The Three Stooges made for Columbia Pictures would be released in chronological order, fans were enthusiastic but skeptical. The skepticism arose from concerns that the series would stall at some point, and that the shorts made after Curly Howard’s retirement might never see the light of day. Stooges aficionados were relieved when the shorts from the Shemp Howard era were released, but there were still concerns about Sony’s commitment to release the last eight Stooges shorts, also known as the Joe Besser period.
Well, Sony deserves a tip of the cap because we now have The Three Stooges Collection Volume Eight: 1955-1959, a three-disc collection which includes the last of the Shemp shorts and all sixteen of the Joe Besser shorts (thirty-two shorts in all). As with each of the previous seven volumes, the restored transfer are in excellent shape and probably look as good as they did in theaters more than fifty years ago. This is the line-up:
Fling in the Ring
Of Cash and Hash
Gypped in the Penthouse
Bedlam in Paradise
Stone Age Romeos
Wham! Bam! Slam!
For Crimin’ Out Loud
Rumpus in the Harem
Commotion on the Ocean
Hoofs and Goofs
Muscle Up A Little Closer
A Merry Mix-Up
Space Ship Sappy
Guns A Poppin’
Outer Space Jitters
Fifi Blows Her Top
Pies and Guys
Sweet and Hot
Flying Saucers Daily
Oil’s Well That Ends Well
Sappy Bull Fighters
Serious fans of the Stooges will see a lot of familiar story lines in this set. By the mid-fifties the market for theatrical shorts had virtually dried up, and in the end Columbia was the only studio producing them. The older Stooges shorts were not yet ubiquitous on television, so it made sense to recycle old scripts and even old footage. Nevertheless, most of the Joe Besser shorts were developed from original scripts. Shemp Howard died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1955. Reportedly, his brother Moe wanted to hire Joe DeRita (who bore a resemblance to Curly) to replace Shemp, but DeRita was under contract at the time. The part was then offered to Besser, a long-time vaudevillian who had played the role of “Stinky” in the Abbott & Costello television program.
HTF member Scott MacGillivray wrote an incisive essay about these shorts on Amazon’s site, and he kindly gave me permission to reprint his comments here:
This final volume of Stooge shorts is interesting on two levels. First, it represents the transition from the Shemp Howard years to the Joe Besser years, with many familiar plots and gags being lifted from older comedies. Some of these patchwork shorts are very clever: OF CASH AND HASH is a slick reworking of SHIVERING SHERLOCKS; CREEPS is probably better remembered than its inspiration THE GHOST TALKS. BLUNDER BOYS, an amusing parody of "Dragnet," is noteworthy for using entirely fresh material (even if the battlefield "exterior" looks like it cost five dollars to stage).
But this set is even more interesting to film buffs, as a living record of the end of an era, and as a fascinating exhibition of creative film editing. SCHEMING SCHEMERS deserves a special Oscar for the editing, with footage from three older comedies spliced into the new material. By the time Joe Besser joined the Stooges in 1956, two-reel short subjects were 99% extinct, and only Columbia and the Stooges were still making them. This actually had a liberating effect on the series. There is a new, free-wheeling, we-don't-care spirit about these last shorts that is missing from the half-hearted, script-bound remakes of the mid-fifties. The budgets are at a new low, but the Stooges are more relaxed and they improvise freely: Larry reciting Hamlet's soliloquy while chewing gum is a lunatic moment from FIFI BLOWS HER TOP; Joe scores in a shipping-room routine in MUSCLE UP A LITTLE CLOSER; Moe abandons his bossy role for dialect character comedy in SWEET AND HOT. There are many inside jokes for fans: OIL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL slips in a reference to writer Felix Adler; SAPPY BULLFIGHTERS has a poster headlining one Julio Blanco -- namely, producer-director Jules White; and more than one short shamelessly plugs Columbia's feature films then playing in theaters! The writers experiment with new ideas (including references to science-fiction and rock-and-roll), familiar ideas (the usual slapstick with pies, shotguns, and other weapons), and even ancient ideas (SWEET AND HOT sets the Stooges' act all the way back to 1934's WOMAN HATERS, with the same screenwriter again casting the trio as three unrelated characters in a musical comedy). The final Stooge short filmed, FLYING SAUCER DAFFY, was actually recorded in stereo; Columbia does have a broadcast video master in stereo, and hopefully it will be included in this DVD set.
True, you will see plenty of old material repeated throughout this set, but there are also some new routines that you'll only see here. Fully half of the Joe Besser shorts were filmed from scratch, with new, original stories and no recycled scenes. You'll also recognize Columbia regulars Emil Sitka, Gene Roth, Philip Van Zandt, Benny Rubin, George J. Lewis, Harriette Tarler, and Joe Palma supporting the Stooges. If you've never bothered much with these later Stooge shorts, give them a try. These seasoned comedians still have plenty of gas in the tank.
FLYING SAUCER DAFFY was indeed the final Stooges short to be filmed, but it was not the last one to be released. That distinction goes to SAPPY BULL FIGHTERS, a remake of 1942’s WHAT’S THE MATADOR? Incidentally, the version of FLYING SAUCER DAFFY in this set is in mono, as are all the other shorts in the collection.
To my knowledge, none of the shorts which are included in Volume Eight have ever appeared on DVD before. One of them, RUMPUS IN THE HAREM, was included in the laserdisc box set The Three Stooges Comedy Collection. While it is true that the Stooges were well past their peak when these shorts were made, the films are both rare and essential for fans. Kudos to Sony for leaving Stooges fans with absolutely nothing to complain about.
The black and white transfers have been beautifully restored and for the most part look like new. As with the previous volumes in the series, there are occasional scenes where the image goes soft, but this appears to be softness which appeared in the original elements. Contrasts are excellent, film grain is intact, and the images are virtually free of damage. All of the shorts in this set are presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. Original technical specifications for these shorts are difficult to find, but the Internet Movie Database says that some of them were originally shown at 1.37:1. I have been unable to confirm that, and in truth all of them look fine projected at 1.85:1.
The mono soundtracks are of course limited, but they are in excellent shape. The dialogue is always intelligible and the sound is free of distortion. Viewers will note that the iconic Stooges theme music, “Three Blind Mice,” which plays over the opening credits, changed when Joe Besser joined the group. Trumpets were added, followed by Joe, Larry and Moe singing “Hello…Hello…Hello!”
There are no supplements on this DVD set.
The thirty-two shorts are spread over three discs. Each disc comes in its own slimcase, and the three slimcases come in a slipcase. A brief description of each short can be found on the back of each slimcase. The artwork on the covers of the slimcases is similar to the artwork on the slipcase, except that the slimcases have different thumbnail photographs.
The Final Analysis
It seems superfluous to say that The Three Stooges Collection Volume Eight: 1955-1959 is an essential buy for anyone who has been collecting the previous seven volumes. When I reviewed the first volume of this series in 2007, I tried to encourage HTF members to support it wholeheartedly. Mission accomplished – For Duty and Humanity!
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA-2 DVD player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: June 1, 2010