Monday, August 20, 2012
Finally! An appropriate title!
The opening title cards changes style yet again, but it's now the style that will carry through the Shemp years and probably through the Joe Besser months; I have yet to study on it myself. Anyway, before there was The People's Court, judge Vernon Dent presided over the case of many a knucklehead in his time. Here, he hears testimony in the case of Larry Fine and Curly Howard vs. Moe Howard. The camera starts off on just the gavel and pulls back to reveal the Stooges crowded around the witness chair. It's bedlam in this courtroom, and the bailiff has to step in to break it up. We see Larry and Curly in bandages and with scars, and they return to where the plaintiffs sit. Actually, they sit in the front row of the very sparse audience. They don't appear to have a lawyer of their own. That's fitting somehow. Judge Dent says "Mr. Moe, you're accused of assaulting your two roommates with intent to commit mayhem." Curly says "You mean murder!" Larry adds "Yeah, and he tried to kill us too!" Moe oversteps his bounds and beats the gavel himself. Vernon throws him a disapproving look. Things go from bad to worse for Moe as he takes the State's exhibit A, an axe, and accidentally hits the bailiff on the head with the METAL END of it. "A born killer, eh?" exclaims a shocked Judge Dent. Don't worry, the axe hit the guy on the side, not the blade end. That comes later, and indeed, it's an event that spits in the face of the Hays Code in particular, and years of silver screen tradition in general, ushering in a whole new era of screen violence.
Moe changes his fortunes by telling his side of the story. "I'm a sick man, your Honor. A very sick man," says Moe as calmly and as sincerely as possible. Moe and Judge Dent bond briefly over similar surgery scars, and Moe continues to spin his tale which sounds a bit like the conceit of Laurel and Hardy's Saps at Sea. Just a teeny bit. Cross-fade to the flashback where Moe's hitting the nerve tonic pretty hard. To drive the point home about needing peace and quiet, we get an introductory episode where a black cat is "stomping around." Moe throws his head pillow at the cat and scores a nasty direct hit. The cat is none too pleased. Cue Larry and Curly's Two-Man Quartet! Larry is drunk with the thrill of performing as he does double duty on clarinet and drums. Curly hits the bass drum, and it sounds vaguely like the dozens of stomach hits that came before. Normally, this is the part that stretches out the film for time, but c'mon! Who doesn't like a good musical performance? As it turns out, much like the annoyed roommate in All the Vermeers in New York, Moe's not in the mood. Living with virtuosos isn't all arias and bravuras; there's lots of monotonous practice as well. The Stooges' performance ends in violence, thankfully, as Moe's neck gets assaulted by Curly's trombone slide in addition to the aural onslaught.
Spoiler alert: the trombone slide has considerably grown in width by the time Larry and Curly enter the room with a pissed-off Moe. It's big enough to fit around the necks of both Larry and Curly, and Moe ties it in a knot for good measure. Larry and Curly slowly untie the knot and set the plot in motion. Technical note: the Stooges experiment with frame blow-ups on this film rather than film two takes of the same action. There's a frame blow-up of Larry and Curly untying the trombone slide at 3:21, and there appeared to be a brief one of just Moe at about 2:19. Hard to believe that it's a less expensive technique, but it must've been. I know it was used in a couple places in 1979's The In-Laws, and of course a "skip print" used to zoom in on the odometer at the beginning of Used Cars.
Because Moe is sick in this one, Larry gets a chance to take a more central role in moving the plot along. After Moe drinks the nerve tonic directly from the bottle instead of trying to put it into a spoon first, Larry informs Moe that he and Curly were planning on taking a trip into the country. Much like Laurel and Hardy's Them Thar Hills. Sorry, but I can't help myself. I want to give a shout out to my sordid viewing past when we used to watch the part at 3:41 over and over, mostly because there was a glitch in the videotape at that exact spot, ruining Curly's perfectly good cough. Larry's sales job continues, and Moe's openly going for it. Curly has to break the spell, of course, but it's Larry's fault for setting up the punchline. Larry says "...and off in the distance, we hear the call of the wolf." Ah, the days before modern politics, when wolves were a more respected part of nature instead of a Republican boogey-species. Someone whistles for Curly, and Larry exclaims "Quiet, Wolf!" at 4:01 or so. See what I mean about Larry taking a more central role?
Moe enlists the other two to help him take his medicine, and it's a cross-fade right to their car in front of a cabin. Larry and Curly are unloading the car, and Curly's singing much like he will after the stroke happens. Sigh. Moe comes out of the cabin, hands shaking, and says "Grub will be ready in a minute!" He's making eggs, and in his condition they'd have to be scrambled. Larry continues his alpha-ish ways at 4:36, pushing Curly around. Curly gives payback with a shovel to Larry's head. The dinner bell tolls and they run inside. Curly exclaims "Oh, boy! Hot groceries!" THAT'S where I got that from! Shame on me. I can't remember the last time the Stooges ran over to a big table full of food. It happens quite often, but not in the last one where they're trying to catch fish. They're making up for lost time with a big table full of condiments. So far, Larry and Curly seem to only have bread to work with. Moe brings over eggs and says "And dont' touch 'em until I come back with the potatoes!"
But just before that, Larry says "There ought to be plenty of shooting around here! This is game country!" Curly asks "How do you know?" Larry says "I saw a sign that said 'Fine for hunting.'" Normally, Moe says "I think you got something there!" but this time he's on griddle duty, so Curly has to say it. And now, the part of the film that stretches the action out to two reels... Larry's got a piece of bread and dumps about twenty different bottles of stuff on it until he's damn near got a piece of French toast in his hand. No time to cook it or tools to cook it with, though, so past the gums, etc. And now, the OTHER part of the film that stretches out the action to two reels, or about 16 minutes... a bear comes up to the open window and eats the plate of eggs, starting at 5:35. Cut to Moe who's still at the oven. Cut back to the bear who's finished the eggs and wanders away from the window. So cute, even though it's a godless killing machine. Meanwhile, Larry's dumped about three pounds worth of condiments on his soggy piece of bread, but needs some sugar in addition. He goes out to the car to get it. Get it? The bear is gone, and Larry's gone. Curly's all by himself, and Moe comes up to see the empty plate where eggs once were. Get it yet? Moe starts admonishing Curly, and the bear returns to eat the potatoes. Curly's no match for Moe when it comes to a duel of words, so Curly just sticks his tongue out. Moe grabs a giant salt shaker and dumps some powder on Curly's tongue. YouTube obviously has a non-director's cut of Idiots Deluxe because the sound Curly makes at 6:22 gets repeated a second later. Not so here! On behalf of Martin Scorsese and the Film Preservation Society, I protest.
I should point out that Moe tells Curly that his word is "no good." Dude, he's pissed. Meanwhile, Larry returns with a container of sugar that looks like a modern-day container for soy milk or rice milk, what have you, and is dumping it on his piece of bread. Just as he's about to take a bite, Moe accuses him of stealing the potatoes. Larry tries to protest, but Moe grabs him by his overly curly locks, lifts him out of the chair, and orders the boys to do some cooking for a change. Moe sits down and says "Oh, my nerves!" Larry and Curly start cooking. Now, I'm no Mario Batali, but it's the kind of thing that makes you just want to cradle your face in your hands, elbows resting on the hard surface in front of you. May you be blessed with the presence of a table of some sort, because you'll definitely need it as Curly cracks eggs open with a hammer and dumps the shells into the skillet, along with the rest of the egg. Then he uses the hammer like a spatula. Oh, MY nerves! At least Larry seems to be doing a half-decent job with the spaghetti.
Next scene: Moe's lathering up a piece of bread with way too much honey and, in my aggressive opinion, way too much ketchup! Moe says "If there's anything I like better than honey and ketchup, it's baloney and whipped cream... and we haven't got any." This has got to be one of the best Stooge scripts ever. The bear returns at 7:45 to partake of the honey in a drinking glass. This goes on for FORTY SECONDS. Talk about a time stretcher! The bear has to take a break from licking the honey to cleanse its pallet. Lol.
Screenwriters, heed this next scene well. Curly's finished with Larry's spaghetti and is heading over towards the table with it in a bowl. Curly sees the bear and, frightened, ends up unloading the spaghetti onto the plate that is Moe's head. The bear runs off with the glass of honey before Curly can point it out. Second lol. Curly suffers some of Moe's abuse, then tentatively begins to explain what happened. Finally! A funny comment! Curly tells Moe about the bear, much like George Thorogood singing "Bad to the Bone." Thanks, dmm784! Moe says "There's no bear around here!". He looks out the window and gets slapped on the head by the "bear" and offers Curly some quick retribution. "You're right! There is a bear around here!" What a script. I haven't seen anything like it since Moe's performance in Sock-a-Bye Baby. Moe gives Curly a bear trap and Larry a shotgun, and gives them their marching orders. None of this could possibly be helping his nerves. Larry and Curly tentatively head outside to confront the bear. Meanwhile, we see Moe indoors. He starts getting the shivers, so he puts on a very dark, heavy coat... wait for it! Back to Larry and Curly, who find themselves at the window that the bear so often sat for lunch. They decide to set the trap there, and camouflage it for good measure. In the long shot, they use a guy in a bear costume to sneak up on the two. In the next scene, we see Curly and the real bear! No wonder he had a heart attack. Curly ends up standing next to the bear while gathering twigs and leaves to cover the trap. Curly eventually realizes he's standing right next to the bear, and slowly builds to a full turkey gobble at about 1:14. The audio seems to get repeated a couple times. I'll leave it to finer audio scholars than myself to fully break it down.
Now, you might be asking yourselves, what's Larry up to while all this is going on? Well, he gets scared by the bear, but has a more, uh, self-preserving response. He quickly leaps up into the cabin and closes the wooden window-door behind him at about 8 fps. Curly the Automaton forgot to reprogram his LifeScript (tm) and he tries leaping through the closed window-door, but instead takes a bad bounce and... yup, you guessed it. The very bear trap that was supposed to protect now becomes that thing that punishes. In his agitated state, Curly confuses the bear trap for the actual bear. "The bear's got me!" His agony is palpable. Moe and Lawrence are safe inside, but they hear what's going on outside... but they can't see it because of the lack of windows. In perhaps one of his finest dramatic line readings ever, Moe tells Larry "Go on out and save him!" at about 1:43. Larry says "I'll go, but my heart ain't in it." Did this not inspire Woody Allen's whole life?
As often happens in these screwball-esque comedies, plot events line up just right. Moe's cuddling up in the chair in his bear-esque coat. Larry steps out, and the actual bear steps in. Moe's about to drink some more nerve tonic when he sees the bear. He quickly gets up out of the chair and hides behind it at about 12 fps, making sure to keep himself covered in his black furry coat. The bear looks around and steps out through the window. Cut to Larry and Curly, where Larry's coarsely removing the bear trap from Curly's posterior. (See? I didn't say "ass" that time!) Larry removes the trap, throws it on the ground and proceeds to scold Curly. "What's the idea of scaring us half to death?" Suck it up, man! You're a Stooge! A crocodile bit you on the ass, for God's sake! Of course, he was a slightly younger man back then, and the older you get, the more scared, apparently, if you're a Stooge. Curly states his case and Larry quickly changes his tune, turning back into a bloodthirsty game hunter. Off those two knuckleheads go to find that damn bear! However, they go the way opposite to where Curly was pointing.
Next scene: back inside, where they spy Moe crouched behind the chair in his big furry black coat. Larry shoots, and a great puff of smoke rises from the Moe-shaped lump. Moe starts crying out in pain the way he typically does, with emphasis on the letter "o". Perhaps to save time now, Larry and Curly walk towards Moe rather than run as fast as possible the other way when they realize they shot him in the ass instead of the bear. Moe takes the gun and, surprisingly, doesn't use it on the other two. Instead, it gets knocked against the floor. The gun fires, and bits of ceiling rain down upon the unlucky threesome. Some seconds later, a duck falls from the sky. Curly holds out his hand and looks up. Moe asks Curly what he's doing. Curly says "Waiting for the dressing and cranberry sauce!" Moe begins to clamp the duck's beak on Curly's nose, but it's ultimately a private moment amongst the Stooges, as we cross-fade to the next scene.
Scene: the Stooges pull up to a wooded spot in their car. Each Stooge has a big shotgun... probably not a good idea. Moe's nerves have calmed down, and he's able to enjoy this semi-natural spot Thoreau style. Ever the patriarch, Moe tells the other two to go and shoot their bear, he'll just wait in the car. Curly stokes the fire: "Oh, still afraid, eh?" Moe changes his tune right quick. "Afraid? Me afraid? Now I'm mad. It's either the bear or me!" Now I know what David Mamet used for source material when he wrote 1997's The Edge. The boys head off into the woods of the Columbia backlot, just past the barrage of "No Hunting" signs. Cue the swinging branch bit!
A few seconds after the swinging branch bit (...spoiler alert: only one! I feel cheated.) they stumble upon the bear. Moe and Larry run away, while Curly's down on all fours and spots the bear last. Curly eventually realizes he's all alone: "Hey fellas, I got the... hmmm!" You know how it is. Armed with only his frightening bark, Curly launches a vicious counterattack. The bear runs off, yelping like a puppy! Emboldened, Curly calls the other two back, and the three of them go up to a small tunnel that the bear ran into. Moe says to Curly "Well, go on in after him! What are you afraid of?" Curly says "The bear!" Curly uses the barrel of his gun to block the eye poke. Meanwhile, before that gets a chance to escalate into God knows what, Larry comes up with a half-brain idea. "Hey, wait a minute! Look at these rocks! Let's barricade the cave and... smother him to death!" Moe slaps Larry's forehead out of happiness, and off they go about the untidy business of collecting rocks. Larry tries to turn it into fun by pretending a particularly big rock is a football. He hits Moe in the back of the head. DOWN GOES MOE! Curly gets worried. Larry says "The excitement must've gotten to him!" What a way to usurp Moe's throne, clever bastid. They stretch the time out for about ten seconds picking up a passed-out Moe and carrying him over to the car. Next scene: the car, where they throw Moe into the back seat... or is it just a Moe-shaped dummy? I'll leave that for others to decide. Back to work Larry and Curly go. Curly says "Let's get the bear locked up..." We'll leave that alone for now. Meanwhile, we see the bear outside of the cave now, and at Stage Right to the boys. Larry once again tries to make this boring task fun. He throws a big rock at Curly, but he throws it too hard, and Curly falls down. Curly hits Larry in the ass with a small rock. Larry keeps the momentum going and throws another big rock at Curly. The rock hits the bear instead. The boys investigate. They assume the bear's dead and carry it to the car as well. But before that happens, another classic Stooge exchange. Larry: "Taxidermist! TAXIDERMIST!" Curly: "Taxidermist to you too!!!" What a script.
Next scene: we'll never know how long it took Larry and Curly to load the bear into the car, but we now see them driving back to civilization with Moe and the bear in the back seat. Larry marvels at their accomplishment: getting a bear without firing a single shot! Now that's what he calls hunting. Meanwhile, Moe wakes up to find he's in the back seat of the car with a bear. He leaps out of the car which, fortunately for him, isn't going that fast. We see him land and hear him say "Oh my nerves!" at about 12 fps. Either that, or he inhaled a bunch of helium to make his crash landing out of the car a little bit safer. Meanwhile, back at the car, we see the bear in the back seat hit Curly on the head with his paw. This scene from 6:43 to about 6:45 is interesting because it appears to have been shot with just a camera on a stationary tripod. Sometimes the simplest method is the best. Cue the confusion! Curly thinks Larry hit him on the head. Usually they do this bit with Moe, but the plot has thickened without him this time. Curly gets hit a second time, then Larry gets hit. Larry asks Curly what's the big idea... Curly answers "I hit you on the head because you hit me!.... I didn't hit you..." Larry's still pissed off. Even though it's too late to make a long story short... Long story short, they finally see the bear and they leap right out of the car. They look up to see the bear in the driver's seat, driving the car! And SIGNALING! The bear's new found hobby, however, is short lived, as soon after the bear begins his drive to a new inter-species superiority paradigm, there's a huge crash, and the technological dominance of Homo sapiens is once again assured its rightful place in the natural world. But the car still has sentimental value to the Stooges specifically, and all of us in general, so we cut back to the car, and the bear walking away from it on all fours. Now I know what the makers of 1993's Falling Down were inspired by when they set up that one big car crash.
Larry and Curly run up to the crash site. Curly wonders what Moe will think of all this. Larry declares that the bear ate Moe, and leads the duo in a period of mourning. They'll deal with their part in bringing Moe's demise about later on. Meanwhile, the audience knows how it went down, and we're rewarded with the return of Moe, brandishing an axe. He takes a mighty swing at Larry, but Larry steps out of the way at the last second. And so, we get to the Stooge axe swing heard round the world. We've seen our share of swinging axes in Stooge films before, but never one quite like this. Curly gets hit on the head with the blade end of the axe, and not one of the traditional non-blade sides of the axe's metal part. I hate to use the phrase "game change," but I'm sure that even the most casual Stooge fan will agree that this is an epic, iconic game-changing axe hit, and there's a reason it comes here at the climax of the film. Maybe the censors missed this one, maybe the boys realized they needed to step their game up a notch or two, maybe they were just bored... but ultimately, they take their responsibility to their fans seriously. They must've realized that it's a taboo thing, as they don't do it that often, at least with an axe. I'm thinking now about the giant saw raked over the back of Curly's head in Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise. Man, that one's pretty grisly as well. Then of course, Moe took a swing with a real axe at Curly in An Ache in Every Stake. Curly was a little more spry back then and ran out of the way just in time, of course. Maybe that's worse. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned and getting old, but I'm telling you! An axe hit on the head with the blade end is a rare thing... and, of course, Curly's head mangles it beyond usability in very strange ways. Moe looks at the axe blade in horror, and we cross-fade back to the courtroom.
Moe tells the judge that he'll have to stay in bed for another six months. Worse than 4F, I tells ya. Judge Dent finds Moe not guilty and dismisses the case. So much for trial by jury. Only in a Stooge film. Moe steps down and takes his axe with him. Cut to Larry and Curly, who are clearly unhappy with the decision. But these three have been together for a long time now, having been through the Great Depression and World War II, and since old habits die hard, they fall right back into their usual gravitational pull that keeps most of the rest of the world safely out. Moe's ready to dispense a little justice of his own and knows just how to set the stage for it and everything. Hiding Exhibit A behind his back, Moe tells Larry and Curly that he has something for him. Like Shelly Levene clamoring for fresh leads after telling Ricky Roma about his sale to the Nyborgs, Larry sets the tone by sticking out his open hands, exclaiming "GIVE IT TO US!!!" Curly follows close behind, sticking out his hands with grabbing fingers, saying "C'mon!" Moe takes another swing with his axe. In the courtroom! They must be in Texas.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan