Saturday, February 04, 2012

Stooges: Back to the Front

It's apparently a sequel to You Nazty Spy, even though the ending of that one was a little more than final, to put it mildly. But they were at least five months prescient, given that this was released to theaters in July 1941, and that the U.S. officially got involved that December... I forget why. Then, of course, there's The Great Dictator, but we'll review that soon enough. It's a four star classic, of course.


We start with a nice crane shot down from a sign saying "Moronica uber alles" onto a wacky trumpeteer and two guards. Again, as with Duck Soup, it's all about a fictional Germany-esque country called Moronica (good name! Fitting for the Stooges). Soon enough, we're knee deep in the plot. The Stooges have a thing about the number six and seven eighths, but I don't think they ever did the joke about why the number six was concerned about the number seven, thankfully. Abbott and Costello might have, though, when they went through their "mathemagician" phase. In this case, the deposed leader of Moronica, King Herman the Sixth (and seven/eights) still enjoys a certain degree of regality. Just then, the king's daughter shows up with the three non-Stooge knuckleheads who put the three Stooges in charge of Moronica. I prefer the setup in You Nazty Spy, where it's a cabal of wealthy industrialists that give the Stooges a job, but what the hell. You gotta do things differently. The king gets to steal Larry's shtick of hitting lumber with an ax, and causing the lumber to fly very high into the air. I like Vernon Dent's line reading of "What's the matter? Can't you take a joke?"
Cut to the Stooges in the halls of power. Moe (Hailstone) is shaving, while Curly (Herring) and Larry are playing cards. Duty calls, and Larry and Curly go to work. Moe gets carried away by "good news" and hits himself in the face with his own dabber, getting shaving cream in his eye. Curly's laugh is so nice, they repeat it twice. (Curly 3:20) The beating is delayed until a corny Seabiscuit joke. More capering until Wikipedia says the fourth wall gets broken by Curly, a rare instance. They're just trying to keep up with the Marx brothers. (Curly 4:17)


Might as well start it here, when the camera spends about 50 seconds focused on a comedy map. A shame to waste such good puns. Larry gets some screen time when he complains that Moe hasn't attacked Great Mitten sooner, but this is soon interrupted by the ritual that every Stooge film seems to have: LUNCHEON IS SERVED! There's no one to run down on the way to the table this time, but Curly gets a chance to flirt with the pretty girl. Moe always has to interrupt Curly's flirtations, but why does he always have to stand where the girl was standing? That's kinda gay! The luncheon table's a little threadbare, but there's a giant turkey to fight over. the fight escalates into a game of touch football, culminating in a Kovacs-worthy sight gag they'll use again for Loose Loot, or whichever film that was cut out of. For me, it'll always be Loose Loot.
Apparently, Act Two starts for good with the fade out, leaving Moe Hailstone crying for the lost turkey of yesterday, and fading in on King Herman's daughter sent off on her quest to infiltrate Hailstone's headquarters. She's disguised as an attractive fortune teller. There's gotta be a few! As a backup, she's given an exploding pool ball, the "orange" 13 ball. Just like Sherlock Jr.! Well, it's all Bruckman could think of. I should probably point out that the three non-Stooge knuckleheads have wacky Pig Latin names, another Stooge comedy crutch to lean too often on. Cut to the Stooges playing pool, just to drive the point home. The fortune teller arrives, and there's some delightful wordplay based on Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Then, the deception game begins, starting with a comedy telescope that can see into the vision of the Stooges strapped to a spit, rotating slowly over a fiery pit. It represents what the other Axis powers want to do to Hailstone and his two assistants. Moe orders a conference immediately... but while they're waiting, how about a little more pool? The fortune teller immediately takes the chance to plant the lucky 13 pool ball while Moe and Curly fight over who's going to break. It never fails. The ball has been planted, the game starts, and the "fortune teller" runs off at 12fps. The Stooges don't seem to notice.
And now, the trick pool ball stuff starts. I hate to spoil it with a play by play, but it's pretty cool, I hate to admit.


The Axis partners show up for the big meeting. Curly runs afoul of a prank phone call, and then the man's man shows up: the Bay of Rum. I'll never fully understand that pun, but we gotta press on anyway. Now, this is the part you young kids shouldn't watch, but the Bay of Rum has an early version of a bong. Don't worry, kids, you have the whole rest of your lives to ruin with addictive drugs, so maybe it's worth it to wait a few years while the rest of your friends have fun and bond through their use of illegal drugs, shutting you out of their social circle forever. Why not? Curly starts off with the bong as such a square but eventually gets the hang of it. Curly has the nerve to call the Bay of Rum "blubber", and the meeting begins in earnest, when Moe Hailstone passes around his manifesto to everyone at the table. Curly drops the smoking end of the bong and manages to pick up a disastrous comedy substitute: a pipe connected to some sort of portable gas stove. After sucking in a chestful of hydrogen gas, Curly ends up turning himself into a human blowtorch when he goes back to good ol' reliable cigarettes. He burns off the Bay of Rum's beard. Soon after, Moe declares that the world belongs to him. This causes an uproar. One guy in particular protests, but I can't tell if he's supposed to be Japanese; he looks kinda Mexican to me. Needles to say, a giant fight breaks out. Curly yells "SHUT UP!" at 5:31, which I found kind of interesting. Didn't seem to be in the script. As with the turkey, the fight over the world turns into a mini game of tackle football, and then briefly into two conga lines. I hate to think it was country line dancing. The struggle continues, and Larry takes a rather nasty fall on his ass. The globe breaks over Moe's head in a poof of white powder much like the pool cue broke over Curly's head, only with a great deal more powder. Before that, Moe flips the guy who turns and looks, who plays the Mussolini surrogate here. Dude, I didn't know Moe knew judo! The exploding pool ball is eventually used, but rather unexpectedly...


You know, a wise man once said "Only fools are positive." Actually, it was Moe, but the three non-Stooge knuckleheads, having returned the King to the throne, are more than just positive that the three dictator Stooges won't be returning to power, and the final shot of this one attests to that in a rather somber way. It would make a fitting end to most Stooge shorts, or an even more fitting picture to have on another one of these damn Stooge collections that prominently feature Disorder in the Court, Malice in the Palace and Sing a Song of Six Pants... you know, the public domain Stooge shorts.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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