Saturday, November 17, 2012

Million Dollar Baby Huey

What is it about boxing and new beginnings?  The Stooges' second short, Punch Drunks, also revolved around a boxing subplot.  The first Shemp short, Fright Night, does as well.  Now, the title sounds more like a Halloween pic, but perhaps they're related after all, if you think about what boxing does to the average boxer, and the shriveled-up used husks of people that they become... oh, I finally get the title!  A play on "Fight Night."  Makes sense now.


The opening credit music is held over from the last Curly shorts and has yet to evolve to the lighter, peppier version so often associated with Shemp.  First scene: Muscle Manor... I don't get it.  The Stooges are in the action right away, training their fighter "Chopper," who's sitting on a couch in the ring, lazily lifting a small dumbbell and reading the tawdry "Love Tales" magazine.  He's tired, damn it!  As are we all, guys, as are we all.
But if the Stooges have learned one thing in this life, it's that you just gotta keep going.  Persistence pays off every time.  Insistence, even!  They insist that "Chopper" must do some serious training.  "You can start on the dummy."  He gets up and goes over to Shemp.  Chopper gets a good look at Shemp's ugly kisser, is scared at first, but grabs Shemp's collar and pulls back his fist like a hammer on a pinball machine.  "Wait a minute, wait a minute!  He means the other dummy," says Shemp.  Is he not one of the gang at this point?
Next scene: the dummy proper.  One of those padded numbers on a hemispherical base.  At this point, it's time to stretch out some time.  "Chopper" gives the dummy one hit, then steps back and becomes the proxy for the audience, who is hopefully laughing at the Stooges' pained antics.  The Stooges spend a few seconds grappling with the dummy and lose.  "Chopper" declares 'Oscar the Dummy' the reigning World Champion.  It's hard to keep track of this fight, as half of it happens off camera, but Moe gets the most implied hits to the dummy, and the most on-camera hits (3).  The dummy hits Shemp six times, once while Shemp sticks out his tongue.  Ouch!!  Shemp also seems to be having sinus trouble during the fight.  Larry fails to land a punch, and gets hit twice by the dummy in spectacular fashion.  Larry's clearly the big loser this time.
And yet, "Chopper" still needs more training.  A dummy on the half-ball just won't do, however.  A real-life sparring partner is what's needed now... all turn slowly to look at Shemp, as though he were thinking "Niagara Falls!"  This is the kind of thing that can make a boxer worse, mind you.  "Chopper" is clearly a lemon of a boxer, agreeing to spar with a certified non-boxer like Shemp.  "Chopper" reassures Shemp, saying "Aw, don't be a baby!  It's all in fun!"  Shemp says "I HATE fun!!"  He's worse than Angry Smurf!
Time for an example of Shemp's strength as a Stooge.  Moe and Larry run over to Shemp's side, and Shemp says "What, are you surrounding me, fellas?"  JMHO.  Shemp gets geared up to go into the ring, which of course takes a good long while.  They put a helmet on Shemp, and he immediately says "Where'd everybody go?"  Of course, Larry gets hit on his bald head with the helmet first, for good measure and on G.P.  After that, in the grand tradition of all physical comedians, Shemp has trouble negotiating the boxing ring's ropes.  Moe and Larry use the brute force approach to remove Shemp.  Shemp's already putting his honorary stuntman status to work!  Geez Lew-weeze!
We're about overdue for a fresh wrinkle in the plot... or at least one that's had the top layer of mold brushed off.  A dame called Kitty comes in.  We know someone comes in because we hear a door opening.  Kitty seems to be a friend of Larry, as Larry rushes over to greet her, and he makes the mistake of introducing her to "Chopper."  "Chopper" falls instantly in love, and forgets about the friendly spar with Shemp.  Now he's got to prove himself by knocking out a 52-year old man.  "Chopper" gives Larry a nice big shove in the face for reminding him about the deal.  Meanwhile, Moe's lacing up Shemp's boxing gloves.  Larry helps out with the lacing, and screws that up, too... I mean, sets up the plot dominoes for later on.
The fight begins at 3:57.  Shemp tries to move in to the center of the ring, but can't for some reason.  "Chopper" moves in as well, but stops to look at Shemp's predicament in confusion.  As Shemp struggles with the glove, "Chopper" gets his killer instinct back, and moves in.  He works Shemp over like a one-man version of the Stooges' "two-men in a coat" fight sequence.  He ends up just using Shemp's head like one of those punching bags.  "Chopper" turns to flirt with Kitty.  But then... Shemp finally gets his fist loose from the tied-down glove, and hits "Chopper."  "Chopper" makes a gong noise and delicately drops to the canvas.  DOWN GOES "CHOPPER"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Unfortunately for Shemp, "Chopper" is not down for long.  "Chopper" gets up and continues wailing on Shemp, opting now for the head-gut combo, repeated often.  I'm reminded of this for some reason.  Shemp's beating culminates in the poor S.O.B. ending up upside down in the corner.  For my own sake, I hope they filmed that backwards.  And so, "Chopper" reigns triumphant, and Kitty looks on dreamily.  And "Chopper" either goes back in to finish Shemp off once and for all... or it was some sloppy editing.
But what's this?  Shemp gets back up and seems to get his second wind!  However, it's all for naught, but Moe gets to have some fun with sentences... okay, might as well spell it out for you.  Moe calls the play-by-play: "There goes Shemp with a left jab!  There goes Shemp with a right uppercut!  There goes Shemp with a haymaker!!!"    "There goes Shemp!"  Shemp may have been K.O.'d before, but this time he ends up tangled up in the ropes, with his head in a bucket.  If he gets knocked out a third time, I plain don't wanna see it.  Moe and Lawrence go to Shemp's side to bail him out a second time.  Shemp appears to be very, very tired, to say the least.  This is another one of those parts they used to stretch out the time to 16 minutes.  Why do I get the feeling that they went off script at this point?


Next moldy-old plot development... In come the Mob enforcers: the guy who looks left, and someone else.  They've got a message from "Big Mike," and you can figure what it is.  "Chopper" has to throw the fight!  Bastids.  Shemp's still got some fight left in him, saying "They can't do this to us!  I'll call the Police!  I'll call the Fire Department!  I'LL CALL THE MARINES!! I'll..."  Moe says "Shaddup!"  Shemp says "That's what I mean, I'll... I'll shaddup."  Time for Plan B.  According to Larry, they bet their "every last cent" on the "Chopper."  Plan B is debated at this juncture.  Larry's plan is the one that wins: he'll keep bringing Kitty around, and the boys will soften "Chopper" up with rich foods, like cream puffs and other pastry items.  Shemp tries to fill Curly's shoes, saying "That's a great idea!  I'm glad I came up with it..."  Something like that, to which Moe lavishes swift physical pain upon Shemp.  The very idea.  Fade to black.
Fade in on "Chopper" sitting at a table, eating rich foods and swooning over Kitty.  Kitty wasn't born yesterday, however, and says to "Chopper" "Don't you think you oughta do some training?"  Moe's the lead persuader for the rich foods-path, and persuade he does.  Why, even Kitty seems to be partaking of the fare at hand!  Kitty tries again to convince "Chopper" that he's wrong, but "Chopper" says "Aw, the way I feel now, I don't wanna hurt nobody."  My God!  My Whole Foods book is right!  Another variation of "you are what you eat" is that your mood is influenced by what you eat.
The Stooges leave the happy couple alone to talk briefly about how their plan's succeeding.  Shemp has the best part, of course.  He's holding a white piece of cake, and says "(Chopper) sure is making a pig of himself," and takes a big bite of cake.  Moe says "Look who's talkin'!" and hits Shemp in the face with a dark-colored pie.  Moe ups the ante and says "GIMME THAT CAKE!"  By that point, Shemp's only got a small piece of it left, but Moe takes that and eats it.  Shemp, even with pie on his face, gets the last laugh, of course, saying "If I only had some coffee!"
Cross-fade to the "Majestic Fight Arena."  All three of the Stooges are pacing back and forth outside as though they're waiting for the doctor to tell them some bad news.  They're pacing back and forth, and just barely missing each other, until at 0:59, when they bonk heads, but there's no noise!  How will we know if they really bonked heads without the sound effect?  Must've been an off week at Cannery Row.  Oh, and I should probably note that their footsteps sound voluptuous, much like in A Bird in the Head.  Must be soft floors!  At 1:08, Moe asks Shemp "What does your watch say?"  The answer is much like this other one.  Larry, meanwhile, is trying to gin up a whole supply of dramatic tension, and doing a fine enough job of it that Moe has to calm him down.  Only with words, though, not his fists. 
Just then... "Chopper" finally shows up, and he's pissed!  Turns out that Kitty dumped him for his opponent, "Gorilla" Watson, the guy he's supposed to take a dive to.  Probably wouldn't help to tell him that now, of course.  He's in no mood for cream puffs, either, and he takes the one that Shemp offers him and sticks it in Shemp's face.  Me myself, on the other hand, I could go for a cream puff right about now.  Maybe even a cream horn or a nice bienestich!  No nanaimos, though.  Too sweet... okay, get a hold, Movie Hooligan.  We got movies to review here.  No time for fatty, salty, sweet treats.  Aren't the movies delectable enough?  (Spoiler alert: the answer is "no")
Oh, I just hate it when Moe's anger moves the plot along.  Taking the cream puff from Shemp, he throws it, missing Shemp by a mile, but he does hit "Gorilla" Watson who just happens to be walking up.  I think he was going to laugh!  Still, the outrage is on, and "Gorilla" takes a swipe at Moe.  Moe dodges out of the way, and "Gorilla" misses him by a mile, but hits the brick wall with his fist instead. 
And so, here's the philosophical question: is the fight called off?  If a fight is called off in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Well, Big Mike and his two assistants think so, or they must of heard it.  They join the Stooges outside at the perfect moment, just as Moe says "I'd like to see the look on Big Mike's face when he finds out what we did!"  They do this bit quite a bit, but they cut it short this time by at least half, as there's too much plot to get to.  Big Mike and his two thugs each grab a Stooge, and whisk them off stage.  The Stooges may stand to lose money on this fight, but probably not to the tune of $100,000, like Big Mike.  The black market has spoken.  Cross-fade to exterior shot of a warehouse.


It sure seems like a lot more Stooge films take place in a warehouse than actually do.  I should know, as I've seen most of them by now... but they all have blended together into one long knuckleheaded river.  I think barns have been used more than warehouses, but perhaps that's going to change now with the rise of the automobile and the interstate highway, and the fall of the family farm.  As for the Stooges themselves, well, Big Mike's lining them up against the wall firing-squad style, and they're a far cry from Vulgaria.
As the "new" Stooge on the block, Shemp's got some more heavy lifting to do.  He becomes the Pleader-for-their-Lives in Chief, saying he's too young and good-looking to die... well, too young, anyway.  Oh for Two, Shemp my friend, Oh for Two.  His spiel, however, seems to be working on the guy who turns left, as he's in tears!  Some mobster he's turned out to be!  There's no crying in the mob.  Shemp weaves his spell for as long as he can with the "little brother this high" bit, and breaks it with the "great big brother THIS HIGH" capper.  Genius.  Good luck forgetting that one.  The scuffle begins in proper.  The audio's sped up too for good measure.  NYAAH!!! WHOA!!!!  EEP-EN-AAAH-PENANAH!!!  You get the idea.  God bless You,Tube!  My friend who doesn't like his intelligence insulted would seriously doubt that Moe had enough strength to knock a giant beefy mobster backwards, let alone get a gong sound out of it, but it is what it is.  It's on film now, and has only to be put in to the Library of Congress.  I know we're not supposed to say it, but Larry's sneaking up on the gangster chasing him is so gay.  Shemp does some mime, and gets a chance to have his own quiet episode with his respective gangster, before pulling the guy's hat down over his face and running off.
Now, using my crackerjack audio analysis skills, I've determined that the sound editors used the same 14-second clip of background noise to make it seem like there's more going on than there really is.  At 4:04, 4:18, 4:32 and 4:46, we hear the same "Whoa!" sound.  That's what I get for using Windows 95 so much.  But back to Moe trying to dodge the guy who turns left.  Moe throws two bricks into the air, and where they land he does not care, but fortunately for him, they fall on the head of the guy who turns left after he sits down to take a rest.  The bricks make a fine anesthetic, and the guy who turns left is now out cold.  He's soon joined by Big Mike, who stops to enjoy a rest as well.  Now, some of you cynical types might call this one of those times where they stretch out the film on purpose, but not me.  Anytime is the right time to use a guy who's been knocked out by two bricks as a puppet, especially the bad guy.  The only equivalent I can think of is when Harpo answers the phone in Duck Soup and uses his horns to talk... hmm!  Wonder if the YouTube's got that one...... GOD BLESS YOUTUBE!!!  If they don't have YouTube in Heaven, it's really only Hell in disguise.  Anyway, back to the Stooges... As with Waikiki Wabbit, Moe eventually loses control of his puppet, and ends up grabbing Magic Mike's... I mean, Big Mike's nose, which makes a stretching rubber sound.  Time for some more scuffling.  Big Mike's no dummy, and he ventures behind the curtain with Moe.  I was going to provide a link to Mr. Dibley's If..., but YouTube charges for that one.  DAMN YOU,TUBE!!!!  The guy who turns left, aka "Moose", gets to hit two heads for the price of one.  He ends up apologizing profusely to the second head, as it's the boss, Big Mike.  This guy's a born Stooge, I tells ya!  At 5:57, we get a small taste of why Cy Schindell's The Guy who Turns Left.  Better find a better example.  Moe has a strange reaction at the end of 5:57 and into 5:58, which gets cut out when this is shown on TBS.  After that, we get a brief second helping of Shemp starting his mime routine. 
And then, the stuff Stooge legends are made of.  It all takes place around a medium-sized stack of warehouse crates.  Larry and Moe sneak up on one another simultaneously.  Larry, however, is armed with a giant board, as decreed by the 2nd Amendment.  Larry strikes first, hitting the head he sees, and running away, laughing gleefully, no less.  He runs around the stack of boxes to find Moe, slumped on the floor, writhing in pain... damn, it's not it.  Different one.  They re-do this gag later, with better dialogue.  But Moe does describe himself as a "short, fat fella with dark hair."  Go figure.  But there's no time for Moe and Larry to beat each other up; here comes two of the mobsters!  Time for another crow's eye view of the warehouse floor, and the six of 'em running around like blooming idiots.  Shemp sneaks up on Larry in the trash bin.  Larry's unable to escape, as Shemp hits the top of the bin with the flat end of an adze.  He boasts of his accomplishment to one of the bad guys, then realizes what he's doing and runs off, the bad guy in tow.  Moe helps a dizzy Larry out of the garbage bin that he should've left him in.  They go through a heavy-looking door, with Shemp close behind, but not close enough to get through with them.  Shemp cries like a baby to be let in, but is soon surrounded by the three gangsters.  Shemp tries to launch into the "little brother this high" routine again, but Big Mike quickly puts a stop to it.  "Find something to break the door down!" says Big Mike.  Just as they all turned to Shemp early in the First Act, the three gangsters turn to Shemp late in this Third Act and use him as a battering ram to break the door down.  They dub Shemp in later saying "You're crushing my eyebrows!"  Kids: never try that at home.
And so, having used Shemp as a human battering ram, they just as quickly drop him on the ground and leave him, and go to get Moe and Lawrence.  The stuntman they drop tries covering his face so we can't tell that it's not Shemp, but the damage is done.  The real Shemp, wordlessly, picks himself up and hatches a plan of revenge against the bad guys.  In the eyes of every coward burns a straw dog... or so I'm told.  I don't know where I heard that before.  If only there were some sort of massive virtual library that could be accessed through the phone lines... anyway, much like the first ape that picks up a bone to use it to smash, Shemp too picks up an axe off the floor, and heads over to the side of the door.  The camera pans on a prominently-placed box marked "MOTH BALLS."  Good direction!  And so, like Flounder, Shemp figures out a second use for moth balls, and he grabs a few dainty handfuls of moth balls and drops them on the ground.  Eventually, though, he goes for the whole box.  You know, just to build the dramatic tension.  And furthermore, it's no longer child's play when it comes to the axe!  He's got it blade-side down now, and is ready to do some serious choppin'!  Kids: never use an axe like this on your friends. 
And so, Shemp's aim has never been truer as in this, his debut Stooge short, and he lands the first axe chop on the first unlucky bad guy's head at 8:03.  The other two bad guys must be too pumped up on adrenalin to notice this plot development, as they come through the door as unprepared for what's about to happen to them as the first guy.  Down goes the second at 8:07, and the third, Big Mike proper, at 8:09.  No hitting Moe by mistake this time.  Now is the time for heroes.
The moth balls don't discriminate between good and bad guys, however, and Larry slides around at 8:10 until running into a stack of crates.  Larry catches Moe soon after that, and soon Shemp's right there by their sides.  I've never seen comraderie like this since Blue Collar TV... is that still on the air?  Nope.  Probably for the best.  Besides, it was more of a George W. Bush-ear phenomenon anyway.  Shemp's still so excited from his triumph, he takes a swing with his trustworthy axe at the space where Moe's and Larry's heads were a second earlier!  Moe's about to give him the eye-poking of a lifetime for it, when.... footprints are heard!  It's the cops!  Finally!  We could use some non-Stooge authority figures at this point.  Stanley Blystone, I presume!  He was in one before where he played the Stooges' drill sergeant, and he'll show up later in Slaphappy Sleuths, one of my fave Shemp shorts.  But the celebration's a little premature, as one of the bad guys reaches for his gun on the floor next to him.  I think it's the third bad guy who does it.  The guy misses by a miracle mile... nah, make that a moonlight mile, and ends up shooting a prominently-labeled can of red paint.  God bless potential comedic energy, pent up in such things as moth balls and cans of red paint on high!


The bad guys get whisked quickly away after that gunshot, and the Stooges are left all alone.  Why, the ending of this film is the perfect metaphor for Death, and manifests itself in Shemp getting shpritzed with a light smattering of red paint, just like Curly before him in An Ache in Every Stake, only with ketchup, and Yosemite Sam with red ink in Hare Trigger.  A rich tradition, to be sure.  Well, YouTube don't have everything yet.  I can't help but notice that the floor seems to be covered not so much with moth balls now, but with a lot of moth ball powder.  I guess marbles do the trick better after all.  Since it's Cannery Row, the Stooges probably have to help sweep all that up before the next film starts... oh, right.  The star rating.  I'm going to say three and a half, what the hell.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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