So today we're debuting a new feature here on X-Ray Blues--reviews of the 190 Columbia Three Stooges shorts, in order, starting in 1934. This has absolutely fuck-all to do with science fiction, writing, or publishing, but it's my blog, so poop on you if you don't like it. Review begins below the jump.
Stooge Review #1
Title: Woman Haters
Stooges: Moe, Larry, Curly (spelled "Curley" on the title card)
Directed by: Archie Gottler
"Woman Haters" was the first Columbia short subject featuring the Three Stooges, and the Stooges' first film without Ted Healy. It's the first of 190 Stooges shorts, and the film that kicked off one of Hollywood's longest-running comic acts (the Stooges won't be officially disbanded until Moe Howard's death from lung cancer in 1975).
And it's pretty weird.
For starters, the whole thing is in verse. The short was billed as a "Musical Novelty", and every line rhymes. For the most part, it isn't actually a musical, but the lines are delivered in a kind of sing-song, spoken-word voice set to a swinging background tune.
Second, the plot: the Stooges join the Woman-Haters Club (whose chairman, incidentally, is played by Bud Jamison, who would go on to be a longtime Stooges supporting player; his specialty was accents, especially Irish ones), a social club of fancy gentlemen who have sworn off courting and marriage. Unfortunately, Larry meets a girl, played by Marjorie White, and gets engaged to be married. He promises to break it off, but chickens out and gets married anyhow. Worse, the Stooges are traveling salesmen, and Moe and Curly are booked on Larry's honeymoon train.
If you've ever seen the pilot of a television show, that's the feel this short has. The Stooges' characters are undeveloped even compared to their later 1936 shorts. The seeds are there: Moe is the bossy, abusive leader, Curly is a surreal man-child, and Larry is the straight man, but they're muted compared to the Stooges most people recognize. Larry and Curly even actually slap Moe back. Curly's physical comedy is notably restrained, as well. Many of Curly's barks, woos, and random flailings were improvised in later shorts, often because Curly had forgotten his lines; in "Woman Haters", because of its spoken-verse structure, there's no room for improvisation. Also, how many Stooge shorts had a Larry-centered plot?
"Woman Haters" is a farce that depends more on situations than slapstick for laughs. The slapstick bits, while funny, seem somewhat out-of-place. The first reel exists mostly to set up the second, where Larry is trying to hide his marriage from his friends and his membership in the club from his wife, all on the same train (in fact, they appear to be berthed in the same train car). Marjorie White plays a bigger role than most Stooge co-stars would in later films; at times, frankly, she steals the scene, especially as she winds up orchestrating the entire farce by the middle of the second reel. She has a deft comic touch and would have been fun as a recurring supporting actress. Sadly, this was to be her last role in any film; she was killed in a car wreck in 1935.
Ultimately, while "Woman Haters" is funny on its own merits and definitely a Stooges short (rather than a film where Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard happen to be playing roles--though strangely, Larry is called "Jim" and Curly is called "Jackie" in the film), it's more interesting as a historical oddity than as a film. Columbia, so far as I know, never went back to this format. There were some music-centered Stooges shorts later, but never one where the entire script was in verse. The Stooges' characters would develop remarkably fast; in the very next short, in fact, we'll see Moe, Larry, and Curly acting a lot more like the Stooges we know best.