Wednesday, February 08, 2012

An ache in every stake, and a finger for every eye

Or, the headline should probably reference The Music Box, but I'm still kind of a sucker for this one. Again, those repressed childhood memories. This was another one of those that the Columbia boys wisely put on VHS tape first before the less good ones. So let's dive right in.


Scene: a California summer, it's safe to assume. A man and his wife stare at the raging thermometer. The man will later go on to get mashed potatoes and a can of peas dumped on his head. And then, we see the boys, valiant stewards of capitalism, delivering ice to needy customers. Their horse pulling the carriage seems to be smarter than them, though. The horse rudely disturbs their sleep, causing Moe and Larry to tumble out of the back onto the pavement. Curly follows a little bit later, but with a block of ice on his head. They wisely put a giant plastic ice cube on the stuntman's head as they pull him out by his legs. Probably not good for a young person to see that. Now, normally this is the part where the boys stall for time dealing with something, but it seems more legitimate than the epic struggle with Curly's tight sweater a few episode back. Curly's mugging while his head's surrounded by ice makes me think that this is where Jerry Lewis was born. Curly eventually gets his head out of the ice, so Moe can hit it with heavy metal objects again. Curly has to actually do some work as well, which is almost worse than being hit in the head, but he uses the opportunity to play some milk bottle bowling. Curly has a scoreboard on the side of the ice wagon. A crucial exchange he has with Moe at this point leads to Moe taking a swipe at Curly with an actual ax. Moe ends up putting a dent in the wooden ice wagon. Probably not good for a young person to see that part either.
And now, the episode that will guide the rest of the film: Spoiler Alert. Curly, still running away from an axe-wielding Moe, runs into a cake-holding Vernon Dent. Vernon falls to the ground cake first, and damn near earns membership in the stuntpersons' union.
The boys make a fast getaway in their slow horse-drawn wagon. Next episode: we see a staircase similar to the one in The Music Box, but you can see clear sky at the top of this hill, and the hillside doesn't seem to be decked with other houses. A customer waves and asks for ten cents worth of ice. Was her line dubbed? Gee, I wonder. Curly tries to make a fast getaway but the horse refuses. Duty to the customer calls once again; lousy good-for-nothing customers. Now, this part could also be considered stalling for time, but not by me. For one, the scene required multiple camera set-ups, so it's not just a one-take number. This involves the seemingly simple act of taking a block of ice up all those damn steps. They try several times, but to no avail. It is much faster-paced than The Music Box, you gotta give 'em that. Vernon Dent once again becomes collateral damage to the Stooges, laying waste to a second cake. Curly seems to run out of things to do before reacting to the ice box falling down the stairs, but I guess it's a minor point.


Having abandoned the ice business altogether, the Stooges run into a kitchen and into a stereotypical Italian chef, played by Italian export Gino Corrado, best known for his work in Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and Micro-Phonies. He proves himself the equal of the Stooges in taking physical abuse, as he lands against the wall, falls and lands on his ass, and gets hit in the head with eight progressively larger metal cans. The Stooges find him generally amusing at about 7:10 in the proceedings. It serves as a nice break in the editing, and as a reminder of ethnic stereotyping in movies back then. And then, the knife in Curly's hat, followed by the ketchup bottle. For me, personally, after the first two instances in this one, it seemed tame in comparison, or maybe they just wore down my resistance. There's still some more capering to be had with the Italian chef, though. Curly gets the better of him; does Curly hoist the chef onto his own petard, perhaps? What's a food word that sounds close to petard or hoist, for that matter? How about moist custard... anyway, the lady of the house comes in, demands to know what's going on, causing the Italian chef to quit. The lady of the house bursts into tears, as there is now no one to make the big birthday dinner for her husband. With the Stooges already in the kitchen, this saves her the trouble of calling the employment agency and asking for a cook and two butlers, which of course happens later on in Crash Goes the Hash. There I go again, preaching to the choir. The boys volunteer to help the lady out. And then... SPOILER ALERT. As sure as eggs is eggs, guess who the lady's husband is? Yup, you guessed it! Vernon Dent... his character's name is Poindexter Lawrence? I never knew that.
And so, the Stooges go to work ruining yet another meal. Curly's on turkey duty, Moe seems to be making a cake, and Larry's tasting the punch. Larry orders Curly to shave some ice, which is DEFINITELY the part of the film that is stretched out to make it a complete 16 minute short. At least with the turkey there's some sense of plot momentum, and it does pay off later when everyone's eating, arguably. Somehow, the "Say, did you have a pink tie on?" joke doesn't hold up, but what do I know.


For once, the Stooges are actually serving a meal, instead of running to one. Curly's giving everyone just the right amount of water; he's doing this by sticking a ruler in each glass. Larry's tonging ice cubes into the glasses, and Moe's putting plates in front of everyone. Moe doesn't recognize Vernon Dent, but Vernon says to the missus, "I've seen these men someplace before, but I just can't place them." And like The Sixth Sense, this will force you to go back and check to see if that's true. Arguably, the second meeting on the flight of stairs was fleeting, but getting hit with all that ice must've caused temporary amnesia.
And so, the party guests start chewing their food, running into bits of oyster shell and the like. Classy dame Symona Boniface is a bit luckier and finds Curly's jewelry in her turkey dressing. She's not grossed out by it, anyhow.
Cut to: everyone dancing. The plotting's a little better this time, but yup, you guessed it, time for Curly to get another spring on his ass. Symona makes a good dancing partner for Curly. Meanwhile, Moe and Larry are working on the birthday cake. Larry pokes it with a meat fork and it instantly deflates. Retribution is swift. They get the idea to fill it back up again with gas, which leads to Moe's classic line: "Pump in four more slices." I'd call it iconic, but somehow it doesn't quite rise to that level, but perhaps 'game changer' is apt, seeing as how it was used later on with Shemp. We'll get to it soon enough. Curly comes back in to put frosting on the cake; Moe gets to be collateral damage once again.


More spoilers. The boys bring in the cake with their unique Birthday Cake song. Vernon blows out the candles, causing the cake to explode. The filmmakers went to a little bit of trouble to line up the explosion so that it looks like it emanates from the cake. Having been assaulted by a third cake, Vernon gets his memory back, and takes off after the boys as immediately as he can. The Stooges end the flick by sliding down the steps on a flat piece of lumber.
I dunno. Even though this is one of my childhood favourites, I still don't feel like giving it four stars. Three and a half, maybe. Maybe if it took place in a fictitious foreign dictatorship, I could give it four stars.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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