Saturday, November 24, 2012
Have Title, Will Travel
I'm a little disoriented, because usually these films open with some sort of scene setting. For example, No Census, No Feeling starts off at the clearly-marked Square Deal Swap Shop, and Three Little Pirates clearly states that it takes place in 1672 on Deadman's Island. Out West offers no such comfort, except from the main title sequence, which should suggest the period and genre. We have to pick it up in bits and bobs from the opening sequence, where Shemp is being examined by Dr. Vernon Dent. I hope he's as good as his facial hair would suggest!
Diagnosis: Shemp has a bad leg. Moe's bedside manner's not exactly helping, either. (Alas, no "bonk" sound effect to accompany it) This scene is rather strange, as it involves Dr. Dent drawing a picture of Shemp's "enormous" vein in his leg. Dent says "I've never seen a vein like it in all my life!" I was expecting an exchange like this: Moe asks "Well, how long have you been a doctor?" and Dent saying "Oh, about two weeks now... I used to do horses!" Of course, horse docs used to just shoot a horse if it got ill back then. How far we've come since the Old West. Shemp's not going to lose the leg, but he does have to go out West for a couple months to be as good as new. We don't know where they are now, but it's probably not too far from the Columbia lot. Anyway, what a relief. Why, Shemp's feeling 100% better already! At least 'til that second step. This could fit right into a YouTube mashup of epic fails. Fade to black. Notice that the audio doesn't fade out as well. DAMN YOU, CANNERY ROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Next scene: the Red Dog Saloon... hey! There it is above in the jpeg! Scene after that: the boys are dressed up in the tackiest cowboy duds ever, and come charging through those swinging saloon doors. Shemp slaps his leg for good measure. He feels better already! Of course, one stray bullet and it's all for naught, but things are calm for now. But just then... some rowdy dude at the bar wants some stronger stuff than what that stingy barkeep's got. "I'm TOUGH!" he cries. Professor Moe goes to work: monkey see, Stooges do, so the boys gotta be tough, too. They're lucky they don't get shot.
First conflict: the "tough" guy at the bar says to his friend, "Shoot you for the drink!" The friend throws a coin into the air, and the "tough" guy shoots the coin. Apparently, the coin disappears, or gets embedded into the ceiling. Looks like the friend's paying. Shemp taps the "tough" guy on the shoulder, and says "Shoot you for the drink!" The "tough" guy says "Throw!" Shemp searches through his pockets, and has a bit of a struggle with it. Shemp tells the guy, "You throw!" Shemp's on the road to either toughness or rudeness, hard to say. The "tough" guy throws a coin. Shemp says "Hold it!" and the coin stops in mid-air. Shemp now struggles with drawing his gun, but he eventually removes it from the holster. Shemp takes his sweet time to aim, as well. LOL. Finally, Shemp's ready to fire and he tells the coin "Okay!" The coin drops. Shemp shoots, and a bunch of coins land on the counter in front of the barkeep. Hmmm! Looks like that guy from Spook Louder! No, apparently that was Lew Kelly. The bartender is Heinie Conklin. No relation to Chester Conklin, apparently. Anyway, back to the instant case. Shemp gives the "tough" guy the change, and the three of them down a shot of "Old Homicide." Moe and Larry feel the effects first. Shemp teases them for being such newbies, but feels the effects himself soon enough. Same thing happens when they're at sea. Shemp gets seasick last... yup, a Curly remake. Shemp says "Shoot you for the drinks!" again, but he's in no condition to try anything.
And then, the plot thickens... or just plain congeals. Fresh characters are tossed into the mix. We see a dude that looks like the arch-bad guy, or at least one or two degrees separated from the arch-bad guy. And he's got a flunkie as well. The arch bad guy calls over the fetching Christine McIntyre, playing another damsel in distress, and she's in much more distress than she was in Micro-Phonies, that much is true. The arch bad guy sends McIntyre over to the Stooges to find out who they are... or else. Another hostage crisis, apparently. McIntyre approaches, saying "Hello, boys!" And it goes south from there.
This is one plot development I truly, honestly hate to spoil, but since I'm going over the whole film entire, I must. Needles to say, McIntyre was involved in a similar misunderstanding in that one about Curly's flycatcher. She asks the boys, "What brings you to Coyote Pass?" Shemp says, "It's my vein. Biggest vein you ever saw." See what they've done? It drags on. McIntyre asks "Where is it?" Shemp begins to point to his leg, but goes for Dr. Dent's diagram instead. I'm assuming he's not going to go into great detail about that, either. McIntyre stops him before it happens, yup. The bad guy rushes over and takes her place. His name is "Doc" Barker, and he's played by a fellow named Norman Willis. He seems very nasally to me. He also reminds me of Dick Curtis, who was apparently unavailable at the time. This "Doc" Barker's just as crazy as the Stooges, going on and on about how they'll have to use twenty men with picks and shovels or, failing that, dynamite. Despite no locations on Shemp's map, the "Doc" tells his flunkie that the vein's worth "millions." The Stooges exit left. No wonder this one's not among the classics. On the other hand, perhaps maps of gold mines were ambiguous on purpose back then. It'll leave you wondering that.
As good a place as any for an act break, as it's time for America's Next Big Plot Development. The always fetching Christine McIntyre reappears, and asks the Stooges to come with her. Next scene: a jail cell with some young handsome dude who can't act in it. His name's "The Arizona Kid," on top of everything else, or maybe he just goes by Johnny. No time for small details like that! McIntyre lays out the situation: "Doc" Barker killed McIntyre's father and stole the Red Dog Saloon from her. He probably landed the young guy in the jail cell as well! He's the proverbial Teapot Dome Scandal of the Old West: tentacles in everything... something like that.
As usual, McIntyre has to do the heavy lifting. She devises a plan... well, an outline of a plan. If they can find a key to the jail cell door, they can let "The Arizona Kid" out! Simply genius! This will transform civilization as we now know it! The Stooges punctuate her plan with "Yes"es in increasing numbers... all the way up to three! That's kinda rare.
Next scene: back on the saloon floor. McIntyre says to the Stooges, "He (Barker?) keeps the key in his coat pocket." Oh boy! Mission Impossible time! McIntyre disappears, and the Stooges exchange some light quips before the "doc" comes over. Barker invites Shemp over to their poker game. It becomes clear at this point that Barker's got a very strong back slap. Shemp roughly lands in his chair. Meanwhile, Moe and Larry supplant themselves as bartenders, and begin to mix drinks! Good thing they're the only ones in their world who understand the Pig English.
And so, the alchemy begins. Moe helpfully lists out his ingredients for us: "Old Homicide," molasses, Tabasco!!! Each ingredient is punctuated by an "Aah" from Moe. Meanwhile, Shemp's playing some serious poker. He starts by taking off his boot, revealing his comical socks that don't cover his toes. Alas, it's all part of the larger puzzle. Two bad guys flanking Shemp try passing cards to each other, but Shemp's foot intercepts the card. Shemp has a massive stroke... I mean, does a massive double take after seeing that he's now got the ace of diamonds, and he just as quickly swaps it out for the two of clubs. And by quickly, I mean rather slowly. You could learn a thing or two from all this, Phil Hellmuth! And stop consorting with your wife during gameplay so much! You're making us all sick! And, in accordance of one of Newton's Laws transposed to comedy, (the Second Law?) the bad guy does a double take of his own after seeing he's one card short of a Royal Flush.
Back to the ingredients. Larry tops the bucket off with a shpritz of sheltzer... I mean, seltzer. And then... perhaps it's all worth it to see what Moe does with two eggs. Laugh of the day that I'm not too proud of myself for. Now, even though Lawrence quite literally has egg on his face, he can still tell the truth afterwards, and notices that Moe dumps paint into the bucket. Finally! Something that usually goes into a bucket is finally in the liquor bucket! Larry says "Hey! You dumped paint in there!" Moe, drunk from his own power, dumps something else in after it. Larry asks what it was. Moe replies, "paint remover." This sounds a bit like Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, no? More timely than ever!
Back to the poker game, next hand. Everyone takes three. Barker takes one. Subtle, but we all know why, tee hee hee. Same thing happens: Shemp intercepts the ace of diamonds again, and passes on the four of spades this time. As often happens in these games, the low man needs some extra money to call. Shemp's the low man, but Barker offers to give him $5,000 in exchange for that diagram of his leg... I mean, the map to El Dorado, as it's now known. Shemp eagerly accepts. He takes the $5,000 and raises to $1,000. Prudent!
Back to Moe and Larry. Moe grabs a boot, and Larry pours some of the foggy bucket concoction into it. And back to the poker game! Barker's changed his fortunes and now has a king-high straight... and he says it, too! Meanwhile, Shemp has intercepted the last ace, and with four aces he wins the pot.... for now.
Back to Moe and Larry, who are finally pouring their poison into mugs and are getting ready to take it over to the table. Moe asks for a bottle of sasparilla... it's for Shemp! And of course... Moe gets distracted on his way over to the table and gets some liquid spilled on his shirt. He puts down the tray of glasses, and rather instantly forgets which glass is which. No time to inspect the glasses too closely, as Barker barks out for a drink. See how I did that? You could cut the dramatic tension with a knife. Moe places the glasses down in front of Shemp. Shemp and Moe exchange signals about which drink's for Shemp. Unfortunately for Shemp, all Moe can do is silently shrug. To make matters worse, McIntyre comes over and one of the boys offers her a drink. IS IT THE SASPARILLA? Also, how do you spell sasparilla? Blogger Spell Check doesn't seem to like my spelling... how about sarsaparilla? Ah. That's more like it. Thank you, Yahoo! Search Results. Where were you when I needed you for my spelling test back in the day? Epic! Iconic! Game changer!
Anyway, back to the movie. McIntyre drinks the drink, says "Thank you. Excuse me," and walks away. And they say there's no good parts for women in movies. Bosh, I say! Bosh... did she drink the whole thing? Dang, she did! What a lush! Shemp holds his ears while she drinks, making that time-tested gulping sound only Columbia shorts seems to have. And now, it's Barker's turn. He takes a big gulp and sits back down. Everything seems fine, until the sizzling sound starts, lasts a few seconds, and then boom! of the bass drum. He's been poisoned! Either that, or it had too much Tabasco in it. Barker starts screaming "Water!! WATER!!" Not so funny. Even though he's the bad guy and deserves it. Never mind, it's downright hilarious. It gets better. Shemp runs to get water, and goes over to the industrial-strength fire hose they've got in the Old West bar. He runs over with it, and his stunt man takes a triple-lutz-worthy fall in the process. Eventually, the hose turns on, and Barker gets water on every part of his body, instead of a simple drink of it like he asked for in the first place. Moe and Larry spring into action: "Quick! Get that wet coat off, you'll catch pneumonia!" Genius! They quickly find the keys and toss them to McIntyre, who runs off with a winning smile on her face. How she got stuck in Stooge shorts I'll never know, but God bless her for doing so. She goes to release Johnny, who's itching for revenge. As always, she has to be smarter than the rest, and tells Johnny to fetch the U.S. Cavalry. And so he does.... is he doing an impression of John Wayne?
Anyway, back to the thoroughly drenched "Doc" Barker and his three droogs. Gunshots are heard. It's Johnny firing as he escapes, the big dummy! Barker quickly puts two and two together, and looks over at Moe and Larry, with Shemp by their side... holding Barker's coat!!! Barker says "Ickey-may!!" and the scuffling begins. Perfect time for an act break.
Alas, it's a short-lived scuffle. The Stooges go behind the bar, are surrounded, then leap over the bar and out. Larry, however, doesn't make it, the big porcupine-haired doofus. "We'll take care of your pals later. Lock him in The Arizona Kid's room!" Larry couldn't be more scared!
Next scene: back at the jail cell. Not only is Larry locked up tight, but he's going to get shot at sundown! Still, all the bad guys have to leave now. In economy of gesture, the camera pans left, and McIntyre, Moe and Shemp emerge from behind some warehouse crates. Didn't we just see them in Fright Night? Well, maybe they're different ones, who knows. They go over to free Larry from his dungeon, and wonder aloud how The Arizona Kid's doing.
Next scene: The Arizona Kid walks into the local branch of the U.S. Cavalry and tells them about the trouble in Coyote Pass. Apparently, the Kid isn't a fugitive from the law after all! That helps. The Cavalry is instantly dispatched, and you know why? Because the Kid says so, that's why! It gets better, or worse, depending on your point of view. The Arizona Kid says to Stanley Blystone, "Colonel, I hope you're not too late." Blystone says "Son, never in the history of motion pictures has the United States Cavalry been too late." I'll give you all time to slap your forehead.
Back to the Stooges, hard at work on freeing Larry without the aid of a key. McIntyre excuses herself so the boys can start hitting each other again instead of the jail cell door. Moe gets to hit them both with the chisel hammer this time. McIntyre reemerges in the main room of the saloon. We can hear the clanging sounds, but a little bit quieter now. Lol. She goes over to the piano man and says "Play something, I feel like singing." She and Ana Gasteyer have the prettiest singing voices ever. I guess technically this is one of those parts that stretch out for time, but I don't notice it! It's all too exciting!!! Meanwhile, back to the boys who are doing more damage to each other than to the jail cell door. Here's the part that inspired Quentin Tarantino and the ear removal scene from Reservoir Dogs. Fortunately for us, the Stooges don't do it as tastefully. And now, time for some stock footage of the U.S. Cavalry. I get the feeling we'll see it a few more times before the pic's over.
Cut between McIntyre and the Stooges. I think McIntyre needs to sing a louder song... and she knows it!
I KNEW IT!!!
Anyway, back to the liberation of Larry. As it turns out, the cell is directly underneath where Barker's sitting. We know this, because Barker gets hit with one of the jail's iron bars that the Stooges just cut loose. Barker and the boys head downstairs. Barker's a little slow but there's no stopping him once they get going. Larry is removed by C-section from the jail cell. Success! Time to go... at least, until Barker and his troupe of hooligans shows up. Moe says to them, "We don't need any help, fellas... NYAAAH!!!" The second scuffle begins.
Next scene: another chase through the rolling fields of warehouse crates. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, this looks awfully similar to the chase we just saw in the last film, Fright Night. And you'd be all too right, except for one crucial difference: there's a few barrels added to the mix this time. You know, the Old West! Great production design. Movie making is a team sport, my friends. Don't forget that.
Two of the bad guys run into each other. Moe and Larry help pick them up and help dust them off, then run away at about 18 fps or so. Now, maybe it's just me and my jaded ears, but the audio here sounds like the audio there!
Tis a short scuffle, and the Stooges are quickly cornered. Shemp grabs a stick of dynamite and holds it on high... and the fuse is lit by a lantern over his head. The bad guys quickly disperse. The Stooges rejoice in their small victory, then remember Nell! I mean, McIntyre. They go to join her, while Shemp continues to hold the lit stick of dynamite.
Next scene: the main floor of the bar. The bad guys all hide behind the bar. The Stooges emerge through the door without fighting over who goes first. Everyone sees the stick of dynamite and runs. Everyone except the three Stooges, that is. It eventually gets down to Moe saying "What are you hissing at?" They've done this bit many, many times, but I think this is the first time they've done it with a lit stick of dynamite. They figure it out when Shemp holds up his hand and says "Listen, you..." and they finally realize that there's a lit stick of dynamite in their midst! The game of hot potato begins, and goes on a little too long. How come no one ever thinks to just, I don't know... put out the fuse with their fingers? Turns out it's a good thing they don't, because one of them throws the dynamite behind the bar, and all the bad guys get all blowed up. Blowed up good! Blowed up REAL GOOD! Heh heh heh...
The Cavalry finally show up... or, at least, The Arizona Kid and Stanley Blystone. Blystone assesses the situation and says "You mean we made this nasty trip for NOTHING?" Guess it's someone else's job to take care of the bad guys. Blystone dismisses the Cavalry, and they show the stock footage of the Cavalry in reverse. Blystone does a double take in response. But love conquers all, including the meta-jokes and the rampant fourth-wall-breaking of this pic, ending on a shot of McIntyre and the Arizona Kid embracing. As usual, you can't go wrong wearing a time-tested genre thin, but there's some pretty good stuff here! Three and a half stars.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan