Movie Reviews

DVD Review: “The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One (1934-1936)”

(Columbia. B&W. 2 Discs. Not Rated. 340 minutes. 19 episodes. Various directors.)

Why I oughta… The classic comedy group The Three Stooges existed in one form or other from 1925 to 1975. That’s 50 years of eye pokes, face slaps, knuckle cracks, and nyuk-nyuk-nyuks. The major players were Moe Howard (born Harry Moses Horwitz, 1897-1975), brothers Shemp (Samuel Horwitz, 1895-1955), and Curly (Jerome Horwitz, 1903-1952), and friend Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg, 1902-1975). Moe, Larry, and Shemp started with vaudeville comedian Ted Healy; after Shemp left the act, he was replaced by brother Jerry, who shaved his red wavy hair and was dubbed Curly. After a brief stint making shorts at MGM, the trio signed with Harry Cohn’s Columbia Pictures in 1934, where they stayed for 23 years (and reportedly never asked for a raise, figuring they were lucky to be working at all!). This collection represents their first 19 shorts, or two-reelers, at Columbia. Beautifully restored, the shorts work not only because of the Stooges, but because they featured only the Stooges (no creaky musical numbers or sappy romances which padded the feature-length efforts of, for example, the Marx Brothers or Abbott & Costello). Curly’s stroke in 1946 caused Shemp to rejoin the act; the quality of the shorts declined after Columbia downsized that department in the early 50s. Shemp died of a heart attack in 1955, replaced for three years by Joe Besser (1907-1988); Columbia’s subsidiary Screen Gems syndicated the entire Stooges film library to television, and the baby boomers rediscovered them. The last Stooge was Joe DeRita or Curly Joe (1909-1993), but after Larry’s and Moe’s deaths in 1975, that spelled the end of the act. But they live on thanks to TV, cable, and now this excellent reissue, to remind us that they were part of the cultural fabric of much of the 20th century.