Oh, this one's going to be good. I can tell.
We start with Fred Kelsey yelling on the phone to a Mr. Jordan. See? What did I tell you? He's a busy businessman but the power's out in his office. We hear loud noises in the other room, where the Stooges are busy creating chaos. We hear the pipe-dropping sounds from Micro-Phonies, perhaps because Edward Bernds directed both. As a sign of the times, Kelsey says "The manpower shortage is supposed to be over!!" There's my argument: down with the New Deal. Kelsey hangs up the phone and makes the mistake of going into the next room.
I should probably point out that Kelsey's name in this one is "Smiling Sam" McGann. While we would normally think he was a gangster in any other film, he's probably just a really savvy businessman, one of those F. Scott Fitzgerald larger-than-life figures. The Stooges haven't relied too heavily on gangsters for their plots yet... have they? I haven't been paying attention.
Screenwriters, take note: it's all in the phrasing. Ask the legal department. Take, for example, when W.C. Fields is "helping" the nice older lady and her chauffeur when their car's broke down. The lady says "Give the gentleman what he asks for, James!" You can guess what happens next. In the instant case, Kelsey... I mean, Smiling Sam McGann says, "I want juice and I want it RIGHT AWAY!" Curly hands him the end of a live wire. Woo-hoo-hoo! I mean, the sparks fly, so to speak. Why does Kelsey get a special close up? That's twice now! How does he rate? As in Micro-Phonies, Kelsey says "Pick up that stuff and get to work." ... okay. Oh, I do and do for you people. Micro-Phonies, Monkey Businessmen. Now I gotta find my way back. Hard to do without bread crumbs these days. For good measure, Kelsey gets a head-ful of the pipes just like Curly. It's at times like this when the Stooges have to make amends, and Moe and Larry help Kelsey back to his office. Come to think of it, this may be the only time they've done that. Usually they just take off running.
Back to Curly. No time to heap physical abuse upon him; Moe lays out the plot, and their precarious predicament, by saying "We better get busy before he finds out we were breaker-uppers at the peanut brittle foundry!" Moe tells Larry to "trace that wire!" They can do more damage individually. Moe tells Curly, "Give me a hand." Needles to say, it doesn't go as he expects. I must've commented on that line at least a dozen times by now.
Next scene: Moe and Curly at the fuse box, and the first of many time-stretchers. Moe tells Curly to watch out, because he might get shocked. Moe then reaches into the fuse box and gets shocked. But I should probably point out the clever wordplay beforehand. Moe says "Be careful. That's intricate stuff!" but he says intricate with special comedic emphasis on the middle syllables, or the trick part. As Moe gets shocked, Curly smiles. After getting shocked, Curly laughs and says "That's pretty trick-ate!" Moe then uses a pair of pliers to tweak Curly's nose. Curly screams very operatically. Doesn't work so well in a comedy. As the pliers rest in Moe's hands, an idea occurs to him: why not use the pliers to grab the wire? Why not? Apparently he's still not properly grounded, because it doesn't work. Curly forgets to use a wooden broom handle to remove Moe and tries a bear hug instead. Back to Larry for an all-too-brief aside, as he rocks the warehouse looking for that damn wire, but he does get a shout out from Moe. Must've been in Larry's contract or something. Back to Curly, who's busy trying to win the first Darwin Awards by putting his tongue on the wire. Moe says "Hey, look out! You'll get a shock!" He seems like he's not acting there. Curly assures him that everything's all right. "Look! No shock!" says Curly. Moe tries a wire himself and doesn't get shocked. Can you guess where all this is going? Moe and Curly shake hands, completing the circuit, and both get shocked simultaneously. They also complete the Boolean 2x2 grid: neither Moe nor Curly shocked, Moe alone shocked, both Moe and Curly shocked, and... wait a second! Just as Stan Laurel doesn't usually suffer the physical abuse himself, Curly wasn't separately shocked! I guess that wouldn't be as funny as Moe. Finer minds than ours figured all this stuff out long ago, let's face it.
Meanwhile, back to Larry, who's busy trying to find that wire. I mean, he's found the wire and pulling it with all his might. What could go wrong? Next scene: frowning McGann, who just misses catching his lamp from falling off the desk and breaking. He follows it like a hawk, while his hairdo is in breakdown mode. Back to Larry who says "Hey fellas! Gimme a hand!" This all seems very familiar... Now the line is connected to the phone, and the phone heads for the wall. Kelsey says, "The line is busy!" No small actors. He pulls the phone back, bringing all three of the Stooges' heads to their side of the wall. Strong guy! That settles it. Time to really give it some muscle. They get organized, and... actually, Moe just says "Why, you..." and gives the wire a good hard tug. Not much organizing going on there. On the other side of the wall, Kelsey's stunt double falls backwards in his chair. Dat's gotta hoit! I hope the stuntmen have good health care! Probably not at Cannery Row. Having triumphed, Moe says "Once more, boys." They give the wire another tug and bring the phone through the wall. Moe gets hit by the phone... well, SPOILER ALERT. Moe gets hit with the phone base, Curly laughs, then Curly gets hit with the receiver. Good gag.
We hear a voice over the phone. "Hello? HELLO? Who is this?" Curly tries answering the phone, but to no avail, but we do hear the same tinny phone part over again. Moe tries, and we get some fresh dialogue. Mr. Jordan is pretty pissed. His voice turns into a chipmunk's voice, and all Moe can do is put the receiver on the floor. Which he does. Sparks starts to fly up the wire towards the receiver as though the phone is a stick of dynamite. And with that, Moe says "Well, pardners, looks like we resigned!"
We're a little early for the Act break, which should be about 5:20 or so with a 16 minute film, but these Stooge films are not cookie cutters after all! At least, in terms of time. Curly gives the plot what I like to call that big creaky left turn towards what the screenwriters have in store for us, now that the establishing episode is over. Curly declares that they need to go someplace for a long rest. Moe's got just the brochure on the warehouse crate next to him! "Rest your cares away. Mallard's Rest Home and Clinic. High altitude, low prices. No matter what you got, you'll lose it at Mallard's!" They're sold, the boys are going to Mallard's. But what will they use for money? Curly saves the day, saying he's got something saved for a rainy day: an umbrella. Moe slaps Curly on the head, and Larry takes a rather mean swipe at the top of Curly's shaved head. What an a$$#o!e. As it turns out, the umbrella's where Curly keeps a fatwa... I mean, a fat wad of bills. Thank goodness he doesn't have to spend any of it on repairs to McGann's office! They put their ears to the wall. McGann puts his fists through the wall, getting in one last hit before the plot whisks him away.
Next scene: Mallard's Rest Home & Clinic, where we see Mr. Grimble in a wheelchair. Mr. Grimble is played by 'Snub' Pollard... are you sure he's not related to Blackie Whiteford? I don't know who I'm asking; they just seem very similar to me. But let's leave that aside for now. The main thing is the introduction of Kenneth MacDonald to the fold. When the Shemp years get going, you're going to see a lot more of him, that's for sure. The guy who turns and looks is here as well. I hate to spoil it like this, but Kenneth tends to play the smarmy bad guy in these Stooge pics, and he's at his smarmy best as the head of the Mallard clinic. Great bedside manner, ruthless businessman, as it turns out. SPOILER ALERT.
He at least waits until the patient's out of the room to get back to business: "Yeah, he'll get out of here when we get the rest of his dough, and not before!" Cold-blooded. One of MacDonald's goons asks "Hey, is there anything really wrong with his foot?" MacDonald's answer says a lot about the current state of our health care system, sadly. As Cy Shindell rightly says, "What a racket!"
And then... we get a nice close-up of ... hoh boy, Nurse Shapely. Great character name. Well, she's not that shapely, but she is indeed a vision. She enters with messed-up hair, and she brushes it aside. Kind of like Renee Zellweger, but cuter. And apparently, she was in Gypsy back in the day! Very few of the Stooge character players got to mingle among the A-listers of their time. She gets the dubious honor of announcing that there are three knuckleheads waiting to get their screen time back. Boy, will MacDonald and company be pissed off when they find out they're a bunch of broke bums! Aside from Curly's roll of bills, of course.
Next scene: the goons exit, and the Stooges enter. Curly's hat seems a little taller than usual. Miss Shapely slaps Curly, and Curly gives her the ol' machine gun hat routine, as only he can. Well, it doesn't work as well with a full head of hair, apparently. Like an idiot, Larry gets his nose caught in the door as Miss Shapely closes it, and we hear a loud cracking sound, which puts one in the mind of twigs or lumber. The boys eventually make their way over to MacDonald, who says "Won't you come in?" as warmly as possible. The first thing out of his mouth is "Of course, you know our treatments are expensive!" Good Lourdes. Curly tries to pretend he's in with the Mellons and Carnegie types, but he can't snap his fingers! Moe does the snapping gesture for him; maybe Curly's on his way after all.
Of course, as Fox News isn't crazy all the time, MacDonald does a little actual doctoring... sort of. "Now, let's start with your diet," he says. "We'll begin by cutting out starches, sugars, proteins and carbohydrates." Curly asks "What do we eat?" MacDonald says "Vitamins and calories." After that, the time gets stretched by an extensively detailed itinerary. Makes me wonder what this is based upon. Maybe one of the screenwriters tried out a place like this on a lark. But even an itinerary can get a joke inserted into it in certain strategic places. Apparently, the boys get a meal as part of the deal here, and so far all that's on the menu is milk. Moe himself starts "n'yaahing" at the word. That's Curly's job, damn it! Spoiler alert: the joke is dinner; it's not milk, they drank it all for lunch.
The phony doctor describes a lot of different activities: road work, horseback riding, punching the bag, but that would require many different locations and camera setups, so it's probably not in the cards. So in the tradition of Tapeheads, it's time to stick with production values. MacDonald tells the boys that he's going to get some nurses for them. Like clockwork, they start grooming themselves and getting sufficiently immature to prepare for the beautiful ladies inherent in that promise... Curly starts hitting his head against a giant surgical lampshade. His head makes a loud dinging sound. Or maybe it's the lamp. To waste some more time before the big reveal, Larry takes Curly's temperature, and Curly ends up eating the thermometer.
And finally, the big surprise that the rest of us saw coming. It takes Larry and Curly a while, but apparently Moe figured it out much earlier. The two nurses are MacDonald's two goons from earlier. They do the old "Gentlemen!" "Who came in?" gag and off the Stooges are whisked on their slow death march away from the buxom nurses of their fantasies. Fade to black.
Fade in on an alarm clock. Five o'clock! Way too early for me. Just kidding, I'm used to it now. The three are in bed together. So gay. Of course, as usually happens, Moe gets woken up first, this time by the breathing of the other two. They're so tired, they don't even realize the alarm clock's ringing! Not good. But they'll have to be ready for an exercise regimen that includes road work. What is this, the return of the chain gang? Moe and Larry remove their nighties to reveal they're wearing their work clothes, while Curly drowns the clock in the water pitcher. Priceless. For everything else, there's MasterCard... something like that. Man, I'm glad I haven't seen one of those ads in a long, long while. They're probably all over YouTube, though.
The dialogue starts with Lawrence saying "Five o'clock. That's the time you get up to get shot at sunrise." This leads to the three of them taking a deep breath, and coughing... no, ALL THREE of them!!! Cy Schindell and the other guy come in and get the boys on track. Too much laxity.
Next scene: the gym floor, where the Stooges get treated kindly then roughly alternately by MacDonald's schizophrenic goons. One goon shows Curly how to use the bungee cord-type exercise thing. Moe and Larry sit there and watch Curly struggle. Curly gives that one big final effort, and falls backward into the wall. Moe says "Too much weight." He means on the machine. Moe and Larry start removing the weights, and throwing them behind themselves as hard as they can. The two goons get hit with the flying weights, about four apiece in total, but they're knocked out after the first couple. The third weight and beyond is just icing on the cake. Curly tries again, but now there's not enough weight, and he goes flying at about 6 fps, gently falling on a mat in front of him, and bringing the whole exercise apparatus down off the wall. Suddenly, we hear Cy Schindell speaking. In his weight-induced stupor, he blurts out the secret plan. The boys take off running, pivoting when they see a goon in the hall. Kenneth MacDonald finds George, played by Wade Crosby, sleeping. I still say it's Matt McHugh.
The two goons come to, and they and MacDonald "search the grounds" for the Stooges. Meanwhile, George goes back to sleep. How to get out of this mess? Curly's got a good idea. He's got the other two's attention, anyway. I'll do it like this:
Curly: I got an idea. We get some grease...
Moe and Larry: Yes?
Curly: We spill it on the floor...
Moe and Larry: Yes?
Curly: And we slip by!!
Moe and Larry: Yes.
I think it's a great idea. Didn't they try that on Electric Company once? ...close enough. I'm getting sidetracked again. The boys see their chance when George falls right back to sleep. They start to tiptoe by him. Suddenly... he GRUMBLES in his sleep! The Stooges stand against the wall next to George. But then... just as suddenly, Curly has to sneeze. Moe tries to hold the sneeze in by hitting Curly in the nose, then on the head. It works for a few seconds, but then Curly lets fly very loudly, knocking a vase off its place high above Curly's head, and breaking on Curly's head. George wakes up. Go figure.
And then, the satire begins. George confuses the Stooges for doctors. Moe and Larry say that Curly's sick. Here's where they make their necessary mistake, by saying "We'll have to operate!" Enter the triumphant return of Mr. ... oh, who cares. Grimble, I think it was? Newly minted doctors Moe and Larry diagnose him, telling Grimble he looks terrible. Then, economic incentive. The Stooges are suckers for that. Grimble says "I'll pay £1,000... $1,000 to whomever cures me!" Moe and Larry quickly change course. But George gets them back on track: "Wait a minute! You gotta operate on him!" (Curly) And they begrudgingly return to Curly, putting himself in mortal danger for the sake of dramatic tension. Moe says "You had to be sick, didn't ya?" as they go into the surgery room. Mallard's has everything!
Next scene: the operatin' room proper, where Moe seems to improvise a line at about 2:44. George asks Curly "Hey, can I stick around while they cut you open?" Is he selling this premise hard enough? I kinda don't think so. At this point, Moe tries to stall with some fancy double talkin', asking for those surgical implements with the funny names. It doesn't work on George, though. He starts grabbing things. This guy could be the fourth Stooge: he's as crazy as the regular three! George goes to get a second tool, giving the boys time to think. Larry finds a bottle of ether, and soaks a rag in it. Perfect! George comes back and gets a whiff of the rag. It doesn't do the trick. George waves the rag in front of Moe and Larry's probosces, and they start yawning. During all this chaos, Curly managed to grab himself a good ol' fashioned comedy mallet. Curly conks George on the head, and flicks his nose for good measure. DOWN GOES GEORGE!! Curly gets in a good pun: "I gave him either the bottle or the hammer!" Moe raises the bottle up to smack Curly, when the plot intervenes. Footprints are heard. The boys have to think of a plan. Meanwhile, we go outside to see MacDonald and his two thugs. MacDonald calls to Miss Shapely... Miss Shapely. The very idea. MacDonald asks her what happened to George, and she says that he's in the lab with the three new doctors. After a double take, the three bad guy Stooges go into the lab.
We're about due for an act break anyway, so let's have it here. Next scene: MacDonald and his two goons enter the lab. The lab looks a lot different now. Moe and Larry found themselves some surgical clothing, and there's a body on their makeshift operatin' table covered up. Is it Curly? Is it George? Damn. I'm ruining the illusion. They ruin it soon enough anyway. MacDonald for now doesn't seem to be aware that he's hired three new doctors. He tells his goons to search the grounds for the Stooges, and off they go. Curly reacts from under his sheet, and keeps having to get bonked back down. MacDonald doesn't notice. Larry notices that George is coming to. George is behind the desk, so Larry gives George a fresh bonk on the head with the mallet.
They milk the threat of surgery for all it's worth. MacDonald eventually figures out what's going on, apparently after looking at Curly's shoes. A big chase ensues after the gurney that Curly's on drops, and Curly slides to the ground. "I'll doctor you!" says MacDonald. Larry gets him in the face with a fire extinguisher that shoots water and not foam, and Moe cracks him over the head with a pitcher... or something made of glass. DOWN GOES MACDONALD! A good thing, too, because MacDonald went for the axe!
They run out of the room. Next scene: the hallway, where the action is at about 18fps or so, just fast enough to make everyone's voices a little higher-pitched. The Stooges run around Snub Pollard, spinning him around in his wheelchair, after which Snub totally falls out of it.
Next scene: the three run into a room, and Curly's the only one to notice that they're not alone... oh, right, THIS film! Time to hit them in the head again, but with black bowling pin-looking things. Another clean getaway. Time for some more running. Curly falls over Snub Pollard, and Snub's got lines this time. He's still complaining about his foot, at least until Curly hits it with his fist a couple times. The pain's gone! Snub's unable to contain neither his excitement nor his Aussie accent. Meanwhile, back to Moe and Larry, who quickly find themselves in hot water without Curly. The camera dramatically dollies back to reveal the bad guys. Good work! Moe says "I'm gonna get myself a cheap lawyer. I'm a citizen!..."
And so, the Steam Room that was mentioned earlier finally comes to pass, as Moe and Lawrence find themselves locked inside it. Will Curly save them in time? I give 'em 50-50 odds at this point. Curly walks past the door and waves at the two of them. Make that 40-60. Curly asks "What are you all steamed up about?" 30-70. Curly sings a song contemporary to his time... wonder if Wikipedia knows about it. Anyway, Curly starts turning the valve, but the arrow starts drifting from "Normal" to "Danger." This is back when things used to be labeled, and not made in China. Curly gets distracted by Miss Shapely again, and abandons his two lifelong pals. Curly and Shapely go through a door this time, and well off-camera. Lol. We hear a scream, and Curly gets socked by Shapely again. Maybe if he tries again about twenty more times, she'll give in. For now, a Curly stunt double flies through the door. And then, there's a surprise at about 7:59. I dare not spoil it further.
Curly starts walking back to save his fellow Stooges, but the door blows off the steam room. Fate has intervened. After a few edits, we get the final shot of the movie. Snub Pollard runs in from the hallway, hands Curly a big stack of money, then kicks him in the shin. After the pain, the joy of a payday. Larry says "Wow! A thousand bucks! Practically a mil!" Shyeah, right. As in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the threesome discuss what to do with the money. Curly's idea invites the most passion, but personally I think Groucho did it better in Monkey Business, when he pretends to be a doctor, saying "This man needs a long ocean voyage." It's part of the larger context. He also says "Can everyone gather around so he won't recover?" Everyone does, of course.
I guess this Stooge short's kinda mediocre, but worth it for the moment at 7:59. That's about all you can hope for these days.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan