I don't know why I wasn't looking forward to watching Hoi Polloi. It's not on my short list of favourite Stooge shorts, but maybe it will be now. They sure remade it often enough. Why, I recently watched Half Wits Holiday and it features many of the same scenes, of course.
So here's the set-up: two high society types are having a discussion about what makes a gentleman a gentleman. The original Nature v. nurture poser: is high society etiquette encoded in his very genetic structure (heredity), or is it more of a monkey-see monkey-do kinda situation (environment)? Learn this argument well, O Stooge novices, as the boys will revisit it time and time again. Needless to say, the argument gets quite heated between the gentlemen, so they decide to make a wager out of it. The guy who poses the environment side of the equation has to prove it by taking a dude from the gutter and transforming him into a high society type... trading places, if you will! They made the mistake of agreeing in advance that the guy will turn not one, but three bums into gents. See, when they run into the Stooges, they have to see that they're dealing with some kind of freaky unholy trinity of low class, thereby forcing them to modify the bet right then and there on the spot: triple the money and you've got a deal. Needless to say, the can fight that leads to the crossing of different life paths is pretty damn funny. And so, the Stooges training begins in earnest.
It's an uphill battle for the professor all the way, needles to say. At one point he actually blurts out his confession to the Stooges that he's got money riding on this. The Stooges don't have anything better to do anyway, and they deal with the philosophical dilemma this new knowledge poses by ignoring it. There's a dance lesson during which Curly uses his regular voice (5:43)... TWICE! Then it's time for the old Bee/Ice Cube Down the Back gag which the Stooges don't usually do in this setting. It's played to the hilt here, leading four stuntpersons to jump out a window into a snooty water fountain. Also priceless.
Act Two: what Stooge film is complete without the three of them in bed snoring? Somebody with more time on their hands make a note of that! There must be a giant Stooge-based Excel spreadsheet out there on the web SOMEPLACE!! The Professor wakes up the boys and announces that they're soon to make their high society debut. And so, the boys make their entrance at the proverbial fancy party. No pie fight this time. :( . The boys have an unsupervised debut, at which point Moe tells Larry and Curly to remember their etiquette, and gives them a good slap. "What's that for?" says Larry. "We didn't do nothin'!" pleads Curly. Moe replies, "That's in case you do and I'm not around." Moe doesn't usually give reasons, but he's a gentleman now! Still, all is not right in Moe's world, and Curly finds his fatal flaw: a loose thread in his coat...
Now, normally you'd think that the bet would be lost within ten seconds of the Stooges meeting the Heredity guy, but they've got a whole 'nother reel to kill! The Professor clearly did a terrible job, especially in regards of using one's pinky inserted into a person's nostril to escort them away. Curly meets the ugly chick (she had her back turned), Larry's shoe flies off and his dancing partner steps on his naked foot. He ends up chasing his shoe around like Indiana Jones chasing the antidote and Willy chasing the diamond. At 2:46 in the second half, Larry asks "Is there a traffic light around here?" Five seconds later, Moe and his lady dancing partner takes a terrific fall. After the fall in the next scene, she asks "What happened?"... but I bet she wasn't asking that right after she took the fall! Anyway, at 4:54, Curly's arm spins around like I don't think I've ever seen in another Stooge short. Gotta make a note of that. Curly does a painful shaving bit, there's a punchbowl, and Curly gets a spring on his ass just like in An Ache in Every Stake (on my short list of Stooge faves). In fact, the slap fight he gets in with his dancing partner's virtually identical, except for the lady. Personally, I think the lady in Ache was better; I think it was Symona Boniface. She was to The Three Stooges what Anita Garvin was to Laurel & Hardy, for all you movie SAT types out there. Also, the spring bit's different in a more painful way for Curly, in that ... oh, it's too exhausting to explain. Curly does that dance move where the lady goes out like a yo-yo, then comes back but she hits Curly in the stomach. Now, she's way bigger than Curly, so Curly gets knocked down, falls on his ass, and the wire crew pull him back up... I mean, the spring on his ass bounces him back up. Sore tail bone for Curly! And one time he doesn't even bounce back up! Also, the spring gets stuck to another dude, and he's aware of it... yet powerless to reach down and take it off his clothes. Vernon Dent didn't do any of that in Ache! A true professional.
Anyway, the Environment professor cuts a check to the Heredity dude, but don't worry. As soon as it looks like genetics and good breeding will prevail, all hell breaks loose. People start throwing punches and slaps! They start telling their fellow gentlepersons to quote unquote "Spread out"! It's a veritable perpetual motion machine of Stooge Fever! The Stooges themselves, of course, seeing everyone else acting like them, as dictated by the ancient rules of comedy, FINALLY act like gentlemen and excuse themselves from the party. And they almost get away too...
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan