Saturday, September 08, 2012

Beer Barrel Polka or Masochism Tango?

This seems very familiar... yes, unfortunately it's time to delve into our next Stooge flick, called Beer Barrel Polecats.  Like most great cartoons, great Stooge shorts take a popular expression or phrase, tweak it slightly, and name their films thusly.  Walt Disney, on the other hand, took the phrase "Mickey Mouse" and made it his bitch.  Aren't we all the better for it?  I did like that one where Mickey and Donald are in that runaway camper.  I'd review it, but Disney would demand royalties.


Where was I?  Oh yes.  Beer Barrel Polecats.  The Three Polecats... I mean, Stooges, pine for the lost Prohibition of yester-decade.  They step out of a bar / floor show and, in a clever bit of screenwriting, Larry sets the scene by saying "This is the 16th place we've been in!"  Apparently, they're unable to get drunk.  But then... after much waiting, Curly gets an idea.  Instinctively, Moe says "Shaddup, I don't want to hear it."  Then he says "What is it?"
Next scene: the boys are making their own beer.  Pardon us.  The camera pulls back as it focuses on their instruction manual.  Good focus pulling!  My complements to the cameraman.  Now... how to make the making of beer funny?  Spoiler alert: here's the strategy they employ.  Moe reads the instructions and mispronounces the words.  Sounds like he's been having a few already!  Larry takes it upon himself to correct Moe, which Moe's not too happy about, but not angry enough to beat Larry for it.  Curly's in charge of the hot water.  Will you stop thinking ahead already?  Curly goes over to the tap and starts gathering the hot water.  He has trouble folding his arms from 1:37 onward.  See?  Every stroke has a silver lining.  Back to Moe and Larry who dump giant cans of chocolate-syrup-grade malt into a giant... cylinder?  How much did all THAT stuff cost?  Wonder what other Columbia pic they stole it from?
To reiterate, putting Curly in charge of the hot... well, hot anything, really... you might as well put a pyromaniac in charge of the Fire Department.  Especially if it's privatized!  You'll have plenty of business in no time!  Anyway, Curly takes it upon himself to pour the hot water.  Needles to say, he misses his target by about a mile, and all the hot water goes right down Moe's back.  There's something gratuitous about the shot of the water pouring out of Moe's pants legs at about 2:01.  In case you're worried about Moe's safety, relax.  They were on a shoestring budget and couldn't afford that much hot water.  Curly apologizes, but it does nothing to calm down Moe.  Moe lets fly with a punch, but Curly ducks out of the way, and Moe hits Larry right in the middle of his forehead.  DOWN GOES LARRY!  Seriously, these films seem to be taking a toll on Larry.
Meanwhile, Moe puts Curly on mop duty.  Moe throws the mop to Curly and, much like in Boobs in Arms, and to a lesser extent, Dizzy Pilots, Curly starts moving the mop like a rifle.  Curly does an about face, and the camera gets slowed down to about 12 fps, meaning the action goes twice as fast.  Must've been a real mop, not a prop mop, so Moe slowly gets hit with the mop.  Moe goes in for an eye poke but the mop stops his fingers.  He then goes in for the ol' single-single which always gets the job done.  Of course, when Stan Laurel pokes Ollie in the eye in The Music Box, for example, he relies on sleight of nose for the illusion that his finger goes into Ollie's eye... I hope.  But the scene's not over yet, folks.  Larry's recovering from his punch to the forehead, only to get stabbed in the stomach with Curly's mop handle.  Curly and Larry have a Mexican standoff now.  Curly befuddles Larry by barking right in his face.  Larry gives Curly a nice meaty shove in the face, but he's standing on the mop like an idiot and he falls right on his ass.  Cross-fade to next scene... really?  That was weird!
Next scene: the violence has calmed down, and the boys are now working together on this bold brew experiment.  Moe and Curly are on pour duty, while Larry's on stir duty.  Curly dumps a can of water into the cylindrical beer cauldron and throws it away Stage Left.  Lol.  Now for the next ingredient: three cakes of yeast.  Just then, the phone rings.  It's a subtle comic dance here, but for some reason I think of the big finale of 1996's Multiplicity... is that sexist of me?  Probably.  For some reason, the problem of baboons crossing the rope bridge comes to mind, but that's only because that's all I remember of that damn Tanenbaum book.  Where were we?  So Moe puts in three cakes of yeast, then he seems to start eating the wrapping they came in.  Sounds crunchy!  Larry comes over and says that the phone call's for Moe, so Moe goes over to the phone.  Larry throws in his two cents... I mean, three yeast cakes.  This also serves to stretch out the running time of the pic, incidentally.  Curly, unaware of the whole point of homemade microbrews, throws in his three yeast cakes, STILL WRAPPED, then wads up the paper bag they were in and throws that into the brew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  WTF.  The boys go to get the beer bottles.  Cross-fade to the foreboding cauldron which starts bubbling over.  The boys return just in time to witness this mayhem, gently put down the bottles, and go over to try and quell this tempest in a teapot.  They try bailing it out like their boat from ... what was that one?  Booby Dupes!  That's it!
Cross-fade to more bailing out.  Lol.  And then... Curly's got ANOTHER IDEA!  He gets a big burlap sack and Moe starts ladling foam into it.  Moe suddenly realizes the futility of this and bonks Curly on the head... which gives Curly another idea.  Meanwhile, Larry gets a suitcase from the other room.  Moe must be tired of hitting heads because surely that's a little worse.  And then... Curly saves the day by wheeling in a bathtub.  Finally!  Someone's ripping off the Stooges for a change.  After all, you can get 50 bathtubs for $3000!  Curly's beaming with pride and calls the bathtub his "brain child."  Larry then says the best line he'll probably have in this one: "At last you got a brain, child."  Larry pours the full suitcase into the tub, and the rest follows.


For once, the Stooges eschew the standard time limits on the Three Act structure, as the drama of homemade beer has some more plot twists left.  Screenwriters take note: the way they work the over-yeasting back into the plot is nothing short of lucid genius.  At about 6:02 they... well, you really gotta see it for yourself.  Alpha-Larry starts laying into Curly, but he's no match for Curly's stomach.  Larry gets knocked Stage Right right out of camera view and... yup, much like Moe in Dizzy Pilots, Larry's body ends up in the entire brew.  Well, his legs are still dangling over the side, but Moe pulls Larry up by his armstraps and gets his shoes into the mix where they sorely belong.  Look fast, but you can see that Moe winces from the splash before laying into Curly at about 6:13.
Next scene: a few weeks later, and Curly's pounding the last bottle cap into place.  The Stooges were meant for feature length, my friends!  The apartment's positively filled with full bottles of beer, about as full as Ollie's house in Helpmates was full of empty bottles.  Then we see a rather ominous stack of beer bottles next to an open flame.  Back to the Stooges, basking in their entrepreneurial glory.  A brief massive frame blow-up of Lawrence at about 6:44 before he trots out the moldy old "burnt toast and a rotten egg" line.  See, they're already planning a celebratory lunch.  But before they count their chickens for lunch, there's a resounding BOOM! from Stage Right.  Back over to the bottles stacked up and pointed metaphorically at the Stooges, as they start shooting beer at the boys.  Guess they didn't add enough BHT or tocopherols to make their microbrew more suitable for long-term storage.  You know how it is.  Completely helpless in the face of nature's alchemy, the boys get slaughtered with onslaught after onslaught of delicious, foamy beer.  Cross-fade to next scene, where they're in jail?  That was quick.
Time for some slapdash screenwriting plastering.  The threesome is in the same jail cell because Curly tried selling a bottle of beer to a damn dirty Pinkerton.  Even in post-Prohibition the Coors and whatnots put their foot down on the little guy trying to make a few measly bucks.  Hmm!  Curly seems to have a huge spare tire under his coat... why, it's a Donkey Kong-esque beer barrel hanging from his suspenders!  Cool!  The jail time will pass by like (snaps fingers) that.  Just then, a cop takes the Stooges from their cell.  Curly says his barrel is a "goiter."  Fortunately, with his big coat, it looks a lot less barrel-like. 
Next scene: the jail photo room, where the boys are going to get yet another official jail photo taken of them.  The photographer moves the hot light closer to Curly's barrel/stomach.  Curly says "Gee, it's hot in here.  I hope the beer don't spoil!"  That's planning, innit?  Sure enough... a great rumbling rises from Curly's stomach.  "Be still, my heart," says Curly.  Lol.  The rumbling continues.  The photographer gets ready to snap the picture, but sure enough, the beer explodes before the bright light flashes.  Their picture's going to look like Niagara Falls. 
There's more.  The cop says "I'LL HANG YOU FOR THIS!"  For wacky aggravated assault with some barrel beer?  Hardly seems like the punishment fits the crime, but it'll have to, as it's time to segue into In the Sweet Pie and Pie, where Larry says "They can't hang us!"  Ooh!  Good segue!
An unintentional bonus: Curly smuggled in some saws, and when asked how, he says "I saved bottle tops!"


Now it's So Long, Mr. Chumps.  Note the Stooges new prison IDs.  Off to the rock pile.  Why, they don't even get time to play Iron Ball Bowling!  Those butchers at the editing deck...  Time to revisit their old mission of finding Prisoner #41144.  Any help, Pittacus Lore?  Oh, I guess their numbers don't go that high.
I probably didn't notice it before, but I'll mention it here.  At about 5:33, you can barely see the edit, but they swap out the paint sandwich for something less toxic... I hope.  Less toxic, but worse than Depression Era lunchmeat.  I would also like to point out 7:00 where a dude gets repeatedly hit with a paint brush, making the same thwacking noise.  Other than that, I'm just too disgusted with this Stooge lunchmeat.  They even make the mistake of not ending the film with the fake rock/real rock 4th-wall busting gag!  It's back to the original conceit.


Slightly similar to the ending of Laurel and Hardy's Pardon Us... okay, maybe not that similar at all.  And arguably, Laurel and Hardy did it better, but I might as well give the Stooges their due.  The Stooges get out of prison after many, many years (spoiler alert: 40), and you can tell, because they're acting all old and have long, grey beards.  At least Moe's is neatly trimmed... sheesh.  Warden Vernon Dent tells them goodbye personally, and he sounds like ... like... damn my feeble memory..  Walter Brennan!  That's it!  Time clearly hasn't been kind to him either.  He tells the Stooges "Hurry back!"  Lol.
As with anyone who gets out of prison, it's time to think about how to celebrate your new found freedom.  Curly starts, and expresses his wish for a nice tall bottle of beer... wrong choice.  Maybe he should've said "mug" or "pint" instead.  Either way, the damage is done.  Moe slowly pokes Curly in the eyes, and Larry slowly swings his clenched fist around to hit Curly in the stomach.  Moe and Lawrence return Curly to the jail the same way they came out.  Must be one of those funny jails.  Moe and Larry wander off Stage Right, and Moe tells Larry where they can find a couple "beautiful blondes."  They wish.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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