SPOILERS ALERTS!!! Once again, maybe I'm wrong, but somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that Dutiful but Dumb is probably the best Curly short of them all. Oh sure, others have their high points, and sure, DBD is no Micro-Phonies, the greatest Curly short of them all, but if you had to pick one... and that's what film critics always have to do, pick one... if you had to go to that proverbial, apocryphal desert island you always see in one-panel cartoons, Dutiful But Dumb is the Three Stooges short I would be compelled to take. It's got everything: democracy vs. fascism, joie de nouriture, giant novelty cigars, harmonica music, and of course Curly getting strangled by the neck and having his face shoved into the vat of chemicals in which a picture is getting developed. Well, one can't help but appreciate the extra effort the boys put in on those all-too-rare occasions.
Mel Gibson apparently loves the Stooges, even though they had Jewish sympathies. But surely Mel is conflicted over the plot of this one, as they play paparazzi... and I think we all know how he feels about the paparazzi. Clearly the opposite of how Lady Gaga feels about them. In this case, the camera-wielding psychos are chasing after a poor, blameless job creator named Percival de Puyster... better check the Wikipedia entry to see who his real life equivalent is. And even though Percy seems a bit effete at times, he does have strength enough to keep a big handful of the Kodak stormtroopers out of his honeymoon suite, who clearly have wooden mallets in their hands and Priapus on their minds. Percy and his bride have an exchange worthy of S.J. Perelman: she says "Have you forgotten all your other wives?" Percy says "Completely... except on Alimony Day." But just as the woodpecker and the pine cone keep evolving to stay one step ahead of the other, the paparazzi are suddenly getting taller! Oh wait... it's just Moe sitting on Larry's shoulders. So even though it might look like Moe's grabbing his crotch to make a right turn, it's actually Larry's head. Ultimately, this new-fangled height is not enough to get the picture, and their failure is resounding.... Boy, Moe's EXTRA mad in this one!
I believe it was David Steinberg who first offered up a Stooge philosophy, strikingly similar to Orwell's theory of the three classes. Moe is the upper class, Larry is the middle class looking to trade places with the upper class, and Curly longs for equality amongst all peoples... in other words, bat$#it crazy. But Curly's not immune to the occasional risk if there's reward to be had, and... SPOILER ALERT... he becomes the Trojan paparazzi, and gets a perfect picture of the happy couple, worthy of an informal prom photo. (Curly 2:19) Curly gives a "n'yuk n'yuk" the likes of which I've never heard before. Actually, this whole film is pretty chock full of n'yuks, which is probably why it's one of my favourites.
Meanwhile, back at the lab... seriously! Okay, the darkroom, where the photo is busy developing. While we wait, Curly tells us the parable of the three watches. Moe's obviously not in the mood for it, and he waits a good long while with both fingers outstretched for the first eye poke of the proceedings. I guess he wanted to make sure to hit Curly in the forehead, but had trouble negotiating Curly's miner cap. Larry keeps the hits coming. He runs in from Stage Left and says "I can't find the negative!" Moe asks Curly "How about the positive?" Hard to say how extensive photography was among the masses at the time, but why waste a good opposite joke? As usual, Moe doesn't like Curly's answer to the question, but Curly's punishment is rather harsh, I felt, especially when I first saw this one as a tween, but I'll try to leave that out of it for now. Let's just say that Alex's beating and near-drowning in the farmyard trough in A Clockwork Orange was child's play in comparison.
Needless to say, the simple act of developing one photograph cannot be handled by the Stooges. And even the much simpler act of exiting the darkroom ends up having disastrous consequences when done by the Stooges. Of course, surely some of the other Whack Magazine employees are culpable, as they left a bunch of dry timber around for the Stooges' flint to set ablaze: there's a domino-esque line of six prints leading to the editor's desk. The assistant editor acts as the seventh domino as the Stooges violently emerge from the darkroom. Sadly, the picture that Curly took ends up looking like a picture of Curly with his face in the developer. The boys get fired on the spot and start to pack their things, when opportunity arises. The initial scenario that sets the scene has finally ended, which paves the way for the scenario that will consume the rest of the film. In a plot structure similar to We Want Our Mummy, there's a suicide mission that gets rebranded as a good job opportunity. The Stooges, of course, triumphantly accept. They leave in a hurry, and Curly knocks the dominoes... er, the prints, over again. This time, however, there's eight instead of six.
Scene: the fictional country of Freedonia... I mean, Vulgaria. There seems to be only one law in Vulgaria: no cameras. Of course, if the Stooges are able to get cameras into your country when they're illegal, well... you might as well hire them to work at Customs. As fate or the plot would have it, the Vulgarian stormtroopers, led by Lou Dobbs' great grandfather Bud Jamison, have captured another photographer, and are marching him past the Stooges at just the right moment. Moe's still in a bad mood and breaks his flash bulb over Curly's behelmeted bald head, but the Stooges put their differences aside when opportunity presents itself. An execution? What a photo op! Curly tells the intended victim to put a gun to the head of the senior arresting official. The Stooges eventually figure out what's going on and take off running. Sensing bigger game, the cops go after the Stooges and the original arrestee takes off... snapping a picture first, of course. The Stooges run quickly, but without the proper compass, and end up running into a giant Vulgarian jail cell.
The boys are now in casual Vulgarian prison garb. Now, when I and my mates watched this when we were young, my mates noticed these three holes in the wall the Stooges are standing in front of. They're a little bit lighter than the rest of the wall, and they turn black when we hear the sound of bullets. Ah, showbiz. For some reason, I'm suddenly reminded of the ending of The In-Laws... the 1979 version. The Vulgarians honor the boys' request for one last request: just one last smoke. The cigarette companies should be all over this part, if only the boys didn't go for a cigar. According to Wikipedia, Curly pulls out a cigar "the length of a hero sandwich." Now, a hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich, but Curly indeed buys them some time, and it may be the only time Moe doesn't smash Curly's cigar.
Next scene: both executioners and victims have fallen asleep, and Curly's sleeping with a tiny piece of the cigar left in his mouth. The executioners wake up first and spot their big chance. The Stooges wake up just in time. Unfortunately, they used their last match, and Curly tries to light the cigar by inhaling on it. This backfires on Curly, some might say literally! To cut to the chase... I know, it's too late for that at this point... the executioners take their shot again, but the Stooges have a few tricks up their sleeves, and their heads tucked into the necks of their shirts. They're able to make a getaway this way, and a better one at that.
And now, we see the thing that the editors of Whack Magazine were talking about: a whiz-bang new technology that can make a gun fire by itself. The editors called it a "ray machine." The Vulgarian upper echelons refer to it as a "poofer." They've even turned it into a verb: "Proceed with the poofing!" The upper echelons, however, get wind of three picture-taking spies, so they have to leave the room. Little do they know how close these spies are, and pretty soon the Stooges end up using the "poofer" with hilarious consequences. How and why do they ever let Curly be in charge? The echelons rush back to the office, and the boys hide. As you can see from the jpeg I chose, Moe hides in the lamp, Curly the radio. Larry's the odd man out this time, but he must've found a great hiding spot not worth caring about. But let's take a brief time out for all the would-be screenwriters out there. In clearly what is an homage to the conceit of The Front Page, and the many many remakes it spawned, Curly alone has to keep the bigwigs from looking inside that radio. Cue what has to be the greatest Stooge music interlude ever, including a not-so-subtle jab at Harpo Marx. If they don't have that minute of celluloid in Heaven, I ain't going. That's all there is to it.
Oh, before I continue, I would be amiss if I didn't mention the little laugh Curly gives at 2:48. A true craftsman. Anyway, the Stooges get the best of the bigwigs and head out into the Vulgarian air in disguise. Curly gets freaked out by a bayonet and the boys run away, following Curly's lead. And all this time I thought Moe was the alpha Stooge! A cook rings a dinner bell, and the four of them run to eat. The cook ultimately can't keep up with the Stooges, and he falls, making a noise similar to the noise made a little earlier in the pic, at about 1:48 to be more precise. Someday I've got to hire someone to make these connections a little clearer, or at least YouTube can figure out how to position the films automatically with links. That'll be someone's next billion. Anyway, the scene now is a café, just your typical Vulgarian café. For me, personally, the thing that separates this Stooge short from the typical Stooge short is that it's very good about hiding its gratuitous scene stretchers. Some might complain about them spending the rest of the pic in some nondescript café, but Curly manages to make it work. First, he runs afoul of a bottle of dry ice... I mean, strong Vulgarian liquor. So strong, in fact, it makes his whole body violently dizzy, not just his head. It's classy, however; there's no vomiting. My description doesn't do it justice, of course. And then... the oyster soup arrives. Kashrut aside, it's a fun scene, and the Stooges would try it again in the later Income Tax Sappy, but with a resourceful lobster claw. To go back in history, there was a similar scene in the Hal Roach Taxi Boys short, Thundering Taxis. But the Taxi Boys aren't on DVD yet, are they? Damn straight. I hate to have that attitude, but clearly the Taxi Boys have neither the number of shorts under their belt... I mean, films to their credit, nor do they have the consistency of character that Laurel & Hardy or the Stooges has, Billy Gilbert aside. Anyway, the point being, it's hard to enjoy a bowl of milk... bowl of soup unless you got some crackers. Everybody knows that. But even oysters like crackers, too, and the war in the café is on. Curly loses several crackers to the lone live oyster in his soup, but he manages to get the better of that damn oyster a couple times. Note his gales of laughter! Some might call it prejudice, but clearly this is not your average oyster. The oyster eventually gets the better of Curly, just after Curly got the better of the oyster with the pepper-covered cracker, so Curly takes out his gun and fires just over the oyster's head several times. A sad reminder that no one wins when there's gun violence.
The three bigwigs come to, find the Stooges, and the Stooges are carried away by riflemen. The riflemen have bayonets on their rifles, and the Stooges are hanging by their belt loops from the bayonets. I probably didn't describe that quite right, but needless to say the wire technicians must've been busy that day. One of the finest Stooge shorts ever made.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan