Saturday, September 15, 2012

Speaking of birds............

Time for our next Stooge short, the classic A Bird in the Head.  Again, I should probably recuse myself, as this was the second Stooge short I ever saw on the old VHS format.  But what about the feelings of those who put those tapes together?  They must've thought that this one was special, too?  The psychological warfare, the chemical warfare in the lab, the inspired performance by Vernon Dent.  Let's not waste another minute.


We start with the boys in work mode.  Well, they are getting older and they're getting tired of starting things off running from the cops.  For fans of good audio work, notice the voluptuous sounding footsteps as they walk in on the paper on the floor.  They're getting ready to wallpaper a room, but they always manage to find time and reasons for their patented physical abuse.  Moe's foot seems to get pre-hurt by the load Curly drops near it at about 0:41.  Fortunately, the "boss" comes in, a Mr. Beedle, and the Stooges calm down a bit.  Curly takes a liking to that tasty wallpaper paste, adding salt and pepper to it.  Lol.  Mr. Beedle seems concerned, asking Moe if they're sure that they're experienced paperhands.  Moe says yes in so many words, and Beedle goes on his merry way, out into the hall.  He is immediately set upon by the gaunt Nikko, saying "The Master wishes to see you."  No, not the new Paul Thomas Anderson one, but similar.
Enter Vernon Dent, the mad Professor Panzer who seems to have gotten detoured on his way from Germany to Argentina.  He has a habit of asking people what size hat they wear.  You'll find out why.  He most definitely freaks out Fred MacMurray... I mean, Mr. Beedle at about 1:37.  Panzer quickly runs Beedle through Holland... I mean, gets Beedle out of the room when Igor the Ape makes a grab for him, saying "Sorry you're leaving, Mr. Beedle..."  Pretty slick!  Nikko asks for the audience's sake what Panzer plans to do with this guy in a gorilla suit... I mean, gorilla.  Panzer is going to be famous for the first human brain transplant into a gorilla.  Sheesh!  If you want to be famous, why not run for President like Romney?  And yet, the field of interspecies brain transplants to this day languishes on the sidelines.  Go figure.  But no matter what Vernon Dent plays, be it a judge with a short fuse, a Texan who finds out he's going to be a Stooge in-law, or a mad European professor as in the instant case, he always manages to work in a "E...." wherever he can.  For example, he asks Nikko what size hat he wears, saying "E... what size hat do you wear, Nikko?" at about 2:30.  It's subtle, but hardcore Stooge fans depend upon it.
Back to the Stooges unleashing wave after wave of physical abuse upon each other.  I wonder why they never made a film where they're just sitting in chairs, reading a newspaper?  Larry ruins a perfectly good ladder on Moe's neck, while Curly runs afoul of an especially curled up bit of wallpaper.  Final score: Wallpaper 3, Curly 0.  It gets worse.  Moe trips over a plank and orders Larry to "stand it up out of the way."  Larry stands the plank up but it falls back down.  The plank must've hypnotized Larry because Larry hears the thudding of wood, but doesn't think to look behind himself to check it out.  Moe tells Larry to stand the damn plank up!  Plank: 1, Larry: 0.  The same thing happens.  Again note the voluptuous footsteps of Larry.  Plank: 2, Larry: 0.  Moe stands the plank up himself.  Now, the only thing that saved Larry was that he was well out of the plank's way when it fell.  Moe stands the plank up but stays within striking distance.  The plank, however, doesn't fall this time!  Remember that anecdote that Hitchcock told about the ticking time bomb under the table?  Same dynamic here... or maybe it's more of a Wile E. Coyote situation.  Well, Moe's about to put the hurt on Larry, but the plank comes to Larry's aid before things get too out of Moe's hand.  Moe is subdued by the plank.  Larry runs over to Curly, saying "Hey!  We better get busy, he's plenty sore."
And get busy they do, which brings us to the sequence that my family and I use to this day, usually Larry's line, believe it or not.  Curly and Larry hastily take a piece of wet wallpaper and press it to the wall... with Moe under it.  They get to the bulge in the paper with Moe and are confused.  Curly says "Hey, that piece is lumpy!"  Larry goes in for a closer look, exclaiming "Say!  This wallpaper's got eyes!"  And they say imprinting is just for ducks.  I beg to differ, scientific community.  They eventually figure out that it's Moe, and Moe gets some swift revenge, hitting the other two chuckleheads several times with the paste brush.


Cross-fade to a returning Mr. Beedle, who has trouble opening the door of the room.  Lol.  He eventually opens the door to reveal his nightmare.  Alas, he's all too awake.  This scene is unusual because the Stooges don't usually take pride in doing a crappy job on something, as they do here.  We feel Mr. Beedle's pain as he pulls pieces of crooked wallpaper from the wall that shouldn't be that easy to pull.  Ideally, wallpaper doesn't instill in you the idea to tug at it, unless you're very young like Bart Simpson.  Two ladders and a window are covered with wallpaper!  LOL.  Moe is in an unshakable state of bliss, and does all but ask to get paid.  Mr. Beedle fires the Stooges and threatens to tear them limb from limb.  Fortunately for the Stooges, Mr. Beedle is walking on invisible ice, and he slide-walks out of the room through the other door that the Stooges gladly hold open for him.
Time to run!  What Stooge film would be complete without the Stooges running from someone?  Into the laboratory they go.  Moe calls Curly a "bird brain," and... yup.  Enter Vernon Dent who takes an immediate shine to Curly's bald head.  Is Curly the small-brained Chosen One that Vernon's been lazily looking for?  Sure is!!!
Vernon gets to work applying various head tests, forgoing his usual test for hat size.  A stethoscope applied to Curly's cranium has surprisingly catchy results, as does the xylophone / hammer test.  Vernon is still quite pleased, saying that Curly's "just what I want."  Larry asks the crucial question: "What do we get?"  Curly sees through Vernon's legal-ese answer of being surrounded by luxury "as long as they live."  I found Moe's resulting exchange confusing as a youth, as he addresses Curly, then the professor in rapid succession.
Next scene: the mad professor shows the Stooges to their 'quarters', then locks them in.  As the boys look for a way out, they hear a mighty snarl from the next room, and huddle close together out of fear.  Moe tries to figure out how they got into this mess in the first place.  Well, it all started in 1934 or so... more immediately, Curly says "The man liked my looks!  N'yuk, n'yuk, n'yuk"... so vain.  Moe's reaction walks a fine line between disgust and happiness.  Then, the professor's wording is revisited... at which point, Moe panics, and the boys start with the running again.  Stage Left to the window, only to find it barred.  Stage Right to the door.  Larry tries a key, but Moe prefers the brute force method.  He tries twice to knock it down, but finds it's too strong for his meager efforts.  They walk away from the door, and the camera dollies back.  I'm telling you: this is rare!  Suddenly... it's time to switch to Pt. 2 on YouTube... I mean, suddenly... the door they were just trying to open opens!  Larry's too busy bemoaning his sorry state of affairs.  "I don't like it, if you ask me!" exclaims Larry in his frustration.  "Well, nobody asked ya!" barks Moe.  Moe takes charge of the conversation as the gorilla appears... I mean, Igor, the Beast of the Jungle.  Is this creature not deserving of his own 50's black and white B-movie?  A series, even?
As Igor approaches the Stooges, the conversation conveniently drifts towards the subject of fear.  Curly has a nice line: "It's silly to be scared!... boy, am I silly!"  And then, another one of these mistaken identity situations that the Stooges so often find themselves in.  Just the thing to stretch out the time of this pic.  Moe eventually reaches for what he thinks is Curly, but instead grabs a big handful of gorilla fur.  Moe says "Hey, Curly.... have you got a fur coat on?"  Well, it's better than the old "pink tie" routine.  You know: "Were you wearing a pink tie?  No?  Well, here's your ear back."  Effing hilarious.  Anyway, the Stooges eventually see the gorilla and, much like Leo, dives under the bed for cover.  Igor the gorilla starts going nuts at that point, jumping up and down on the bed.  It's an inspired performance, needless to say, even though it doubles as another time stretcher.  Igor's foot gets caught, and the Stooges dive out from under the bed.  Professor Panzer comes to the rescue, unlocking the door.  Now, some of you might be thinking: aren't the Stooges going to give the Professor the what-for for locking them in that room?  And you'd be right.  But, this is a Stooge short, and the two guiding principles of Stooge shorts overrule all logic: time and budget.  In this case, it's still about halfway through the pic, and we're going to stick with the devil we've met.
Next scene: The lab again.  Damn.  I so wanted to use the phrase "Meanwhile, back at the lab..."  Curly stands behind the screen of an "X-Ray Fluoroscope."  Time for some animation courtesy of the great Tex Avery, I've read someplace.  Moe stupidly grins at his own cleverness at about 3:06 or so.  There's a cuckoo clock in Curly's head.  The cuckoo's working, but for some reason, Vernon has to put a stop to it.  He hits Curly on the head nice and hard with another mallet, but only the cuckoo's affected.  Must've been a rather precise concussion. 
At this point, the Professor lays out the situation for the boys.  Larry finally gets some decent lines during this part.  When the Stooges finally put two and two together, realizing that it's Curly's brain the Professor wants... TIME TO RUN!  A mighty chase ensues.  For me, perhaps the most interesting part of it is at about 3:50 when Moe and Vernon run head on into each other.  Moe starts to run right smack into Vernon again, but turns around just in the nick of time.  Vernon barely flinches as he regains momentum... okay, maybe not.  Meanwhile, Larry runs around the X-Ray by himself.  Lol.  X-Ray: 1, Larry: 0.  Curly trips up the professor with a bottle.  As the professor flies into the air, we hear a strange twanging sound.  We've heard this in an earlier Stooge short, but other than that it's rare.  Vernon lands ass first on an open pair of dentures, crying "Ouch!" twice.  This has to be one of his best performances.  Moe looks at Vernon and says "Ha ha ha, you faw down!"  Vernon tries backing Moe against a wall, but is outmaneuvered.  Vernon hits the wall and dislodges a strange looking breakaway beaker which hits him on the head.  What a Stooge.
Next scene: the boys finally leave the lab, run back down the hall, into the room with Igor.  Moseph and Lawrence are on door duty, while Curly's away from the door.  Igor's behind Moe and Larry, and Curly points and screams "EEEEEEEEE!"  Seriously!  Just like that!  To cut to the chase... I know, I'm sorry.  I thought I liked this one; I guess I'm just not so eager to dissect it all that much.  Curly ends up alone with the gorilla.  The gorilla takes a shine to Curly.  Curly picks up on this and says "I bet you do that to all the boys, especially if you're going to get their brain!"


Moe and Larry hide in a nook just off the main hallway.  The professor comes to, and runs down the hall the other way.  This leads to one of the great exchanges between Moe and Larry from 4:57 on.  Everyone's favorite part, of course, is the second move Moe describes: the "infilterate" and the noise it makes.  Moe gets too carried away, and Larry has to rein him in.  Meanwhile, Curly and Igor are bonding some more.  They barely stay one step ahead of the Professor thanks to Igor's spidey sense... or something.  Curly and Igor meet up again with Moe and Larry.  Moe tries to get Curly to get rid of Igor, but Curly says "No!  He's my pal!"  Is this not one for the ages?
Apparently the Stooges just don't know when they're locked in a room or not.  The professor tells Nikko... remember him?  He's back!  "They're locked in the laboratory, the fools," the professor tells Nikko.  "I'll use the secret entrance.  Get the gun!"  As the professor prepares to wreak havoc on the Stooges, Curly and Igor are wreaking a little havoc of their own.  They're trying to find a good smelling ingredient in the lab, but can't find a one.  They treat test tubes and other miscellaneous containers like salt, throwing them as hard as they can over their shoulder.  Igor throws one, and Curly says "Hey!  You're smart!"  Moe tries to calm them down in his usual violent manner, but Igor intervenes on Curly's behalf.  Igor grabs Curly's hand and puts it to Moe's face.  Curly obliges by hitting Moe as hard as he can.  Moe tries striking back, but Igor won't have any of it.  This could change the Stooge dynamic as we know it!
Back to the professor who has his gun, and heads for the "secret entrance" to the lab.  Now, as your average hardcore Stooge fan knows, the part from about 7:03 to 7:56 was cut out of some versions of this film.  Fortunately, YouTube's got the missing footage.  It's Igor partaking of some grain alcohol.  If you have young children viewing this part, you might want to explain to them what grain alcohol is, then tell them to wait when they're older to try it.  It might work.  Curly tries to explain to Igor that it's wrong, but he drinks from the same bottle just the same, with much the same reaction of the gorilla.  So like people.  Steam shoots from Curly's ears and we hear chirping birds.  When I watched this as a kid, my viewing companions and I wondered what that chirping noise was as Vernon enters the lab.  And now we know!  What's childhood without a little mystery?
And so... the big stand-off.  If only the Stooges had their own machine guns to protect themselves... sorry, sorry.  Alas, the Stooges must rely on their lack of wits rather than be the only pistol-packing non-cowboy comedy trio in cinema history.  I still can't figure out what Curly says at 8:12 or so.  Must be a New Deal thing.  Anyway, Vernon aims and fires his first hundred bullets.  The Stooges crouch down, and bottles on shelves break.  Vernon stops firing, and moves in for a better shot.  Igor rises up and grabs the machine gun.  Reminds me!  I meant to review Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Oh, I'll never get to that one.  Vernon tries to get Igor to not fire the gun, but Igor can't help himself.  Igor starts firing that gun, and lemme tell you, hell hath no fury like a gorilla with a machine gun.  Vernon suffers some decidedly uncomic bullet wounds in his lower back, while the Stooges get comic bullets in their collective asses / lower back region.  More bottles break. 


The Stooges find an opportunity to escape, and escape the lab, while Igor keeps firing the machine gun.  We see the Stooges run down the hall.  Curly doubles back to get Igor, tired and shagged out from a long day of firing the ol' machine gun.  Curly and Igor eventually wander down the hall, hand in hand, into Stooge short history.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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