Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The knucklehead doesn't fall far from the tree

TV sitcoms these days are like a family... I'm not any happier about it than you, of course. But as with any marriage, eventually comes that tragic time when you meet the rest of the family. And with sitcoms, we will also eventually have a 70s flashback, and everyone will be dressed like Saturday Night Fever and have afros and high-heeled shoes with goldfish in the heels. Even Airplane! tried to warn us. The 70s fate missed the Stooges, but with Cactus Makes Perfect, we get our first glimpse a couple branches up the Stooge family tree. And apparently longtime member of the Stooge acting troupe Monte Collins is as big a nut as they are, writing himself the ultimate Stooge role, or so we thought... SPOILER ALERT... he abandons the awful hairpiece of Woman Haters and puts on a mop of a matronly blond wig to play THE STOOGES' MOTHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Scene: A country house, with a cow and chickens in the front yard. A bumpkin house, if you please. This is the establishing shot. Cut to the kitchen, where Ma Stooge is chopping some firewood in the kitchen. And by firewood, I mean a hunk of a California sequoia. I will leave it to the rest of you to decide if it should be Ma Howard or Ma Fine. Perhaps to simplify things in a Costco-bundling sense, we'll just call Larry Fine Larry Howard for the purposes of this film review. Anyway, Ma raises the mighty hunk of wood with the ax stuck in it over 'her' head, dislodging the ax from the wood, and causing the wood to break into kindling pieces over her head, further causing Monte Collins to earn his stuntpersons union card right there in the kitchen. Ma lands with a mighty oof sound that we've heard somewhere before... oh, right! Gymkata! To rub more salt into the wound, a picture lands on Ma's head. She starts to break it, but is overcome with sentimentality by the picture: three head shots of the Stooges. The one of Curly sure looks like one of those publicity photos that don the lowliest of the public domain collections that breed like rabbits these days: I honestly don't need that many copies of Malice in the Palace!
Ma's moment of sentimentality is quickly cast aside by the sound of the boys snoring away upstairs. The boys are too asleep to hear Ma's pleas. This situation must occur quite often because the spirit of Rube Goldberg has offered an elegant solution to get those lazy loafers out of bed. There's a rope that, when pulled, makes the Stooges' mattress spin around to dump them out of bed. They're ready this time, and spin around a few times without falling out of bed. The mattress is even perpendicular to the floor at one point! No Stooges on the floor. The filmmakers went to pains to show that the boys are actually being spun around... at least, until the mattress starts spinning very very VERY VERY VERY fast! The boys are then on the floor, still asleep, all stacked nice and neat like, well... like kindling! I know, I know, but I'm comfortable enough in my heterosexuality to admit that. Larry's on top... sheesh... Anyway, Larry's on top of this sleep stack, Moe's in the middle. Larry rolls over and onto the floor. This wakes Moe up, and Moe gets mad. Moe doesn't stop to consider that maybe Larry got the worse of it, of course. Moe winds up to punch Larry... seriously? No pointer and middle fingers extended? I have to double-check that... I can't tell. He's holding his hand at a bad angle. They don't hear mom start to repeat her cry from before, but Larry figures out that, duh! She was trying to get them up. It's a race to declare first who'll get ready first. Larry wins by declaring he's going to brush his teeth. Curly comes in a distant second, but gets style points for saying "I'm going to change my socks! What an experience." Larry briefly becomes the alpha Stooge by hitting Moe with the door, and by hitting Curly with Moe by proxy.
Oh, for heaven's sake! Look at all the words and time I'm wasting on this, and I haven't even gotten to the two minute mark yet. Speaking of wasting time, here comes a part where the Stooges have to pad out the action for time: a shaving sequence. Curly starts the fun by trying to wriggle his way into the tiny bathroom that's already full to capacity with Moe and Larry. It's so crowded that Larry ends up brushing Moe's teeth. Curly has difficulty applying shaving cream, and by the third elbow hit from Moe, angrily n'yuk n'yuks because of it. Moe then takes over the shaving of Curly. I don't know how it got past the censors, but the brute force removal of a couple of Curly's nostril hairs warrants a xylophone accent. Larry gets the degrading job of hanging on to the used shaving cream with his face, even though Moe put a bib on him. Well, work's work! Some people would KILL for that job in this post-Dubya economy. Sorry, sorry, there I go again with the politics. The shaving is aborted when the audio of Ma's cry is repeated YET AGAIN. The boys remove their pajamas and go downstairs in their best casual suit and pants.
The boys slide down a pole into the kitchen. This was apparently done at 12 fps, as it appears to actually be them in lieu of bad-looking stunt doubles, and they fall on the kitchen floor in a heap, (same grunting sound!) and line up for a triple slap from Ma. But the plot must go on, as this is no ordinary day in the Stooge family kitchen. Curly gets a letter from the Inventors Association. The IA has declared Curly's Gold Collar Button Retriever to be a failure. Well, Curly's no Zeppo when it comes to inventions. Undeterred by rejection, the boys celebrate and Curly demonstrates the invention for Ma. Curly takes a gold collar button and throws it in a "random" place... in Ma's hairdo. The arrow sure enough hits Ma right above the scalp, but as with all these comedy injuries, she's okay. Just a little emotionally bruised, but it's still the last straw. The boys must leave the house, and seek their fortune in the big city. Ma offers to give them some money, then screams "YOU WOULD TAKE IT!" A very bi-polar farewell. Curly says goodbye to Bessie the cow, and gets in the way of its tongue. Ma slaps Moe, which Larry finds hilarious, so Moe slaps Larry. Eventually, they leave the confines of their front yard and end up in the big city, right in front of oncoming traffic. You gotta see it for yourself to believe it (about 5:24); they take one of the chickens with them! Sounds like an Act break to me......................


The boys wind up in the city. Fortunately for the plot, Moe moves things along by saying "We gotta get somebody to buy that gold finder. (TM)" Enter classy Brit Eddie Laughton, playing an unsimilar role in the similar gold-themed Cash and Carry. He tells the boys that he has a map to the "lost mine." Boy, the Stooges must've run afoul of their share of flim-flam men in their day. Their films are rife with 'em! Either that, or they're just trying to keep up with everyone else's flim-flam men. Curly gets the opportunity to pretend to be an adding machine. I know I keep saying this, but I think this is the first instance of that. Time to start making an Excel spreadsheet! Even though they'd only make $27 in profit, minus income taxes, Curly lets slip that he's got FIFTY dollars on him. Fifty?! That's like... fifty thousand today. "I'll take it!" says Eddie, cheerfully. Larry says "It's a deal! Pay 'im!" Knuckleheads. To rub more salt in it, Curly says "He don't know I got another fifty!" While we're unclear what exactly the first fifty was for, the second fifty is for the MAP to FIND the lost mine. Time for another time stretcher: Curly has the fifty somewhere on his person, and Moe and Larry begin their public molestations to find out. This should eat up about a minute of screen time. Seems to, anyway. The Stooges catch a cab... or should I say the cab catches them! At 6:55, some special effects magic is at work. I'm thinking they did a very slick edit, filming the scene twice: once with the Stooges, once without, making sure the cab was driving at the exact same speed both times. (Did Larry say woo-hoo at 6:50?)
Act 2.5. Scene: the desert. This is usually where they'd have words to describe the scene, but not this time. The Stooges have left the comfort of civilization behind. Goodbye, Square Deal Paints and Hardware. Goodbye, George's Lunch. Hello, buried tin cans. "That ain't no gold finder, it's a scavenger!" exclaims Moe. Of course, tin cans were just about to become worth their weight in gold, cuz of the war and all. Curly's wearing a Daniel Boone cap made out of a SKUNK, for God's sake! Meanwhile, we meet the next bad guys: Vernon Dent and Ernie Adams. They play two gold prospectors who've managed to maintain their dignity and aren't acting like gold-crazed spoiled brats like the Stooges. Vernon puts a small pouch of gold into his back pocket. Curly launches another gizmo-addled arrow and it hits Vernon right in the pouch, and in his glute as well, causing him to cry out in pain. The Stooges run up to the prospectors, get scared, then demand their arrow back. Vernon shoots Curly in the skunk cap, causing it to turn 180 degrees. The boys run off. Moe hits Curly, causing Curly to fall backwards and land ass first into a cactus. Time for another reel stretcher. Moe gets pliers and starts pulling the cactus needles out of Curly's ass one at a time. Curly's in a very, very great deal of pain. Larry starts cutting off the ends of the cactus thorns with a pair of scissors, because "they don't show!" Moe sloppily hits Larry in the face with his hand. Larry himself gets a small dose of Earth karma when he gets his own assful of cactus thorns. The comedy ante is upped when the cactus hugs larry. Iconic. Game changing.... what else? Epic? Nah, too small a scale to be epic.


SPOILER ALERT: I'm guessing that technically this is Act Three, because Curly's down to his last arrow. But Curly's smart, and he ties himself with a length of rope to his last arrow. It usually doesn't work for me; the arrow usually bounces back and hits me in the leg, but it ends up working out great for Curly, even though he ends up getting a little bit hurt after sailing through the air. We see Curly's head under a sign that says "Lost Mine." In the 1:51 region, Curly sounds a bit like Pee Wee Herman, for what that's worth. Moe and Larry try pulling Curly out of the mine entrance by his legs. Curly vehemently protests, while Larry gets lightly kicked in the chin. Larry says "We'll have to blast!" Moe agrees, but finds a crowbar and says "Maybe we can pry him out." Larry says "It'll take longer, but go ahead." Time ONCE AGAIN for YET ANOTHER Scene Stretcher. It's Curly v. Crowbar. Who do you think wins that one? Personally, I like the part at about 3:37 when Curly says "Go ahead! Keep it up!" Does that make me a bad person? I thought so. Somehow, I knew that all along.
They eventually decide to push Curly into the mine. Perhaps Act Three should start here proper. We've got about five minutes to go. Curly tells them to throw down the tools. We then see Curly caught in a barrage of falling tools. If only every Stooge film had a scene like this. Don't worry, Moe ends up getting the worst of it. After Moe and Larry join Curly at the mine floor, Moe starts getting a taste of shovel handles at 4:50, and it seems to go on forever from there. No configuration of shovel handle and Moe's face is left out. Moe finally has had enough and pretends to hit Larry then Curly with his shovel at 5:04. The pantomime on Curly is especially bad, especially if you have the sound turned down. To be fair, they had small shovels to work with, unlike Laurel and Hardy in Dirty Work.
Fortunately for the Stooges, this mine seems to be a lot more user friendly than, say, the treasure of the Sierra Madre. It had a ladder which the Stooges quickly broke, and as we'll see later on, its gold has been conveniently pre-packaged for easy dispersal. In the meantime, Moe ups the ante against himself when he calls for switching the tools of choice from shovels to picks. Concurrently, the bad guys have found the entrance to the mine that Curly found with his head a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately for the Stooges, their tool of choice for obtaining gold is neither shovel nor pick, but gun and bullet.
We see the boys at work. Curly reenacts a similar situation from A Plumbing We Will Go, taking Larry's place this time. The pick gets caught up in Moe's suspenders, and Curly keeps tugging on it until Moe tells him to let it go. Curly then quickly gets the pick snagged on a wooden beam, and Curly keeps tugging on it until the beam hits Moe in the head. Moe has clearly had enough abuse by this point, and breaks out into tears. Soon after, Curly runs afoul of a wooden handle in the mine wall. Curly really REALLY hates getting hit in the head with it. Curly pulls on it, and we hear the sound of machinery at work. As it turns out, this mine is some sort of walk-in slot machine that's easy to win. Seeing as how remote it is from civilization, that's pretty cool! I think it's supposed to be a metaphor for FDR's New Deal. The Stooges hit the jackpot, and Curly gets hit in the face with part of it. Moe digs through Larry's hair to find part of the jackpot. It's obviously the principle of the thing, and it probably won't be the last time.
And so, much like Uncle Ben, the Stooges walk out of that lost mine with a giant bag of 1933 Double Eagles, and by God, they're rich. Time for society to take their cut. It begins with those two evil Redistributionist gold prospectors who attempt to sneak up on the Stooges. Fortunately, a giant bag of gold can double as a blunt instrument to hit throne pretenders with! The boys take off running with the two desert rats close behind. The thin one trips on his own camping supplies at about 6:36.
Scene: an abandoned hotel, where cobwebs are the only guest. But somehow the spirit of the Stooges was behind its manufacture, as Moe gets hit in the face with a door right away. As with Some More of Samoa, somehow Curly magically broke free of the triumvirate, and is now doubling as the hotel clerk. The gold is "safe in the safe," but before they can divvy it up amongst themselves, the Stooges hear the bad guys approaching. They make ready for imminent ambush. In one of my favorite sequences, Curly goes to a window, looks up, and sees the two desert rats, but they're in no mood to play the Duck Soup mirror routine. Curly pulls down the curtain, but pulls so hard that it falls down completely. Curly gets a second eyeful of the desert rats, and still doesn't like what he sees. Vernon exclaims "WHERE'S THAT GOLD?" Curly pokes him in the eyes of his hat and takes off.
The Stooges have run out of options at this point, so they hide in the safe with the gold. The desert rats drill a hole in the steel door to pass dynamite through. They hit Curly in the ass with their drill for good measure. One stick of dynamite is lit and passed into the vault with the Stooges. Arguably, the battle to keep the dynamite on the other side of the vault door is a little weak, but the Stooges ultimately decide to tempt fate with the stick of dynamite with equal measure heroism and cowardice, with Curly the main baton holder, as it were. They get one false ending, but the dynamite does indeed blow up... why is it that no one ever thinks to just... I don't know... EXTINGUISH THE FUSE OF THE DYNAMITE? As for the final scene, it seems a bit anticlimactic, or perhaps it's the perfect metaphor.
After the explosion, we see the Stooges lying on the floor of the vault in a daze, their three bodies having made body-shaped impressions in the valut wall, with a brick wall behind them. Gold coins are raining down from the ceiling, and it appears that the gold has made them prisoners of fate, for with great (spending) power comes great responsibility. Or it could be that they just didn't know how to end it, so why not end it like this, and on to the next Stooge short we go. For me, I still think it's one of the greats, time stretchers and all. A vast improvement on Cash and Carry, for example.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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