Saturday, December 08, 2012

Hold hands, you lovebirds! or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Public Domain

How do these things happen, exactly?  Only at Cannery Row, I suppose.  There's the three or four Stooge shorts that come on every two-bit Stooge DVD: Malice in the Palace, Disorder in the Court, Sing a Song of Six Pants, and our next entry, Brideless Groom.  It's a re-telling of the age old Buster Keaton classic Seven Chances (also co-written by Clyde Bruckman) and, while it doesn't feature the awesome boulder climax, it still has its moments, and I think it may be one of my favourite Shemp shorts.  Let's take a look!


At the offices of Professor Shemp Howard, Teacher of Voice, we hear the fetching Christine McIntyre singing the last note of the number from Micro-Phonies, also directed by Edward Bernds.  It's what we call in the biz an homage.  We see Shemp conducting by himself, worthy of Leopold.  He goes over, turns a record player off, then consults with his voice student, Miss Dinkelmeyer... great comedy name!  We can see that Dinkelmeyer's got a crush on Shemp.  Ain't that always the way with the less-than-pretty girls?  Just sayin'.  Maybe she's got a little Elektra complex thrown in as well, who knows; Shemp's old enough to be her ... her grandfather, for God's sake!  Larry's asleep at the piano, and Shemp beats him like Moe's beating him!  Dayamn!  Well, Shemp's the older brother.  Ah, sibling rivalry.  Chico was a year older than Groucho, and they always made it a point to one-up each other.  Always.
Lawrence starts playing the piano... even though he seems to just be miming it.  And Dee Green... I mean, Miss Dinkelmeyer starts in with the singing.  This eats up a couple minutes.  Shemp does double take after double take in response.  The song gets stopped when Dinkelmeyer hits the high note too hard.  Ah, that takes me back to band practice.  Shemp gives her some hilarious advice, and she treats it with the gravitas it deserves.  Meanwhile, Larry instantly falls asleep again.  He gives Shemp the bird, and Shemp gives Larry some broken fingers; all quite accidental, I'm sure.  Shemp repairs Larry's hand, and gets him back to work.  Now Larry seems to be actually playing now!  Go figure.  Chico's got nothing on him.  As for Dinkelmeyer, well... this has got to be my new favourite part of the whole film.  She revs up for the big finish, then finishes.  I haven't laughed so hard in a while... now I have to let it sit for a while, of course.  You know how those things go.  I haven't been able to locate any info about Dee Green, but you've got to be pretty darn good to be so bad.  Like Jack Benny, almost!
And so, Dinkelmeyer leaves, and Shemp and Larry have some small talk.  Larry lays the groundwork for the plot, saying "How would you like to be MARRIED to a dame like that?"  Almost as if on cue, Moe makes an explosive entrance, knocking Shemp off his delicate balance.  Moe's dressed like Bogey in The Maltese Falcon or something, and has an extra-hard shell to boot.  What's the dilly-o?
Didn't we just do this plot?  Shemp's Uncle Caleb died, leaving him half a million bucks... PROVIDED they get it from Ichabod Slipp... I mean, provided that Shemp gets married.  Shemp faints in a conveniently located chair, and is awoken by Moe's codicil: Shemp gets the dough if he gets married 48 hours after the reading of the will.  The Stooges are heavy into lawyer territory now that Curls has departed.  The will was read 41 hours ago, giving Shemp seven chances... I mean, seven hours to get married.  Shemp tells Larry "It's impossible.  No woman is interested in me!"  Larry encouragingly tells him "Maybe not pal, but if you look real hard, YOU MIGHT FIND ONE INTERESTED IN HALF A MILLION BUCKS!!!!!"  The key word here is interested, obviously.  Plus, a half a million bucks was worth more back then.  Today you can barely buy a McMansion with no yard.  Shemp's got some phone numbers, and he tells Moe that there's a phone down the hall.  Moe grabs Shemp's hair about as hard as it can be grabbed, and drags him to it.  Good Lourdes!  It sounds like fabric's being torn!


Probably as good a place for an Act Break as any.  This part's going to eat up some time, anyway.  Once I began my deep study of the Stooge films, I believe it was this scene where I first realized that this was how they stretched their shoestring budgets: with long, epic gags that help add a film up to about 16 minutes in length.  I wonder if commoners ever picked up on this, or was it just the embittered industry types?  Shemp gets some nickels from the other two, and goes into the booth proper.  Moe and Larry start pacing in front of the booth as though they're at the hospital waiting for the bad news.  Shemp dials "Susquehanna 2222."  Seems strange, seeing as how he's using a dial phone.  Oh well.
Cross-fade to an hour later, as Larry helpfully points out.  Moe tries to reassure him, saying that no woman can resist Shemp when he pours on the charm.  I think Gilbert Gottfried once did a stand-up routine about this, before he went totally off the rails... damn, not easy to find on the YouTube.  Anyway, we get a sample of Shemp's charm.  A few seconds later, we get the loudest sound of a phone hanging up OF ALL TIME.  Epic!  Iconic!  Game changing!  All the louder because we hear it from the other end of the line!!!!!!!!!!  Epic!  Iconic!! G... did I say that already?  I guess I did.  Epic!
Shemp takes a break from the phone, and opens the phone booth, which sounds like someone unzipping their fly.  Moe is filled with some hope at this point.  Those hopes are dashed when Shemp says "I've got one phone number and one nickel left."  "Well, start using it!" barks Moe.  Shemp must be getting nervous at this point, for no sooner does he go to insert said final nickel, when... clank!  DOWN GOES NICKEL!  I mean, the nickel drops to the ground.  And so... time for another time stretcher!  Moe and Shemp prove that two is NOT always better than one, at least when it comes to getting a nickel off of the floor of a telephone booth.  Larry chews his nails and spits them out while all this goes on.  I'll spare you a total play-by-play, and just point out two Moe rages: rage #1, rage #2.  Oh, and Larry gets the right answer to a dumb question.
Moe ad-libs and says "There's not much time left!  You know that, dontcha?"  I guess they have other plot points to get to.  The phone booth has finally had enough, and splits apart, sparing itself from any more trauma than it's already endured.  Phone booth: 1, Stooges: 0.  The exchange between Moe and Larry is dubbed in at this point.
Cross-fade to next plot development: enter the fetching Christine McIntyre.  A bellhop is taking her luggage into her room.  He volunteers her name to the Stooges to save valuable plot time: Miss Hopkins!  Miss!  Proposin' time... but just as Shemp's on his way, Moe grabs Shemp's hair once again.  Shemp needs to dress up and clean up a little nicer for this one.  And so they do.
Next scene: Shemp borrows a gag from former co-star W.C. Fields and shaves by a mirror dangling in the middle of the room.  The other two are busy as well: Larry's ironing clothes, while Moe's doing alterations on Shemp's pants... with Shemp still in them.  Moe's using the old fashioned needle and thread; gee, I wonder what's going to happen?  Shemp shoves a dabber full of shaving cream into his left eye.  Shemp eventually says "Get a towel, Moe!  Get a towel!"  Moe obliges... must be a gag coming up.  The drawer gag?  Didn't we just do this?  Well, it's different this time because the drawers don't move by themselves.  Lawrence gets Moe's sloppy seconds, so to speak.  Were Moe a younger man, he would've been much quicker off the mark.  Back to Shemp, who's waiting for that towel.  Then, Moe makes the plot more complicated: Moe tells Shemp that he gave the story to the newspapers, probably in exhaustive detail of course.  Meanwhile, Shemp begins a particularly brutal shave regimen.  My squeamish friend would cover his eyes and hold his nose bridge in response.  Even Larry's shocked!  Larry gets distracted and irons his own hand.  What a goof.  As in It's a Gift, the mirror starts spinning, so Shemp has to walk around in circles, with Moe following at his feet like a little lap dog.  Shemp gets stabbed with the needle again, and Larry sets up some proverbial dominoes by leaving the hot iron on a chair.  The proverbial dominoes are just as quickly knocked over, thank God.  Reminds me of Helpmates.
Cross-fade: Shemp is finally ready to meet Christine McIntyre.  For the sake of moving the plot forward, she's in the room just across from his Professor's office in the hotel.  He has trepidations about the whole thing, but Moe and Shemp force him onward and forward.  McIntyre opens the door and is quite friendly!  Maybe a little too much so.  She yanks Shemp into her room at about 2:05.  Alas, she thinks Shemp is her Cousin Basil.  I guess she's a Southern gal!  She showers Shemp with kisses about the face.  Moe and Larry are outside the door, listening, the pervs.  The audio of McIntyre repeats.  Moe gets caught up in the excitement and showers Larry with some kisses of his own!  Good Lourdes.  A bellhop walks by, so Moe quickly butches it back up, saying "CUT IT OUT!" and slapping Larry in the face.
And then... the real Cousin Basil calls on the phone.  Easy come, easy go.  The kisses turn to slaps now.  This has got to be one of the all-time great McIntyre performances, with all due respect to Micro-Phonies.  Maybe it's just me.
So, Shemp gets one last giant punch, and brings down the door with him as he falls in the hall.  Miss Dinkelmeyer is seen running up the hall, and she helps bring Shemp out of his slap-induced stupor.  He does his "Oh, I'm fine" routine again.  Shemp forwards the plot by saying "All I wanted to do was propose..."  Dinkelmeyer clutches Shemp to her bosom, saying "Oh, Professor, this is all so sudden!"  She loves Shemp unconditionally, even though he treats her like crap all the time.


Scene: J.M. Benton, Justice of (the) Peace, played by Emil Sitka, playing an elderly fellow type, even though he was about 34 when he made this one.  After they're all standing inside in a nice row for the camera to see everyone, Moe lays out the situation to Emil... I mean, J.M.  Just then, the phone rings.  It's a phone call for a Mr. Howard.  Moe takes the call.  If this were an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, they'd spend a whole season on the nerve of someone having a phone call forwarded like that... Cell phones?  Haven't they heard of c... oh, right.  Anyway, the structure for mayhem is built: the other girls that Shemp called just found out about the money stipulation.  May no one mention the offices of J.M. Benton!  But we've got four and a half minutes left!  How are they going to stretch out the plot on this one?  Ah, the one ring.  Of course.  As with the nickel earlier landing on the floor of the phone booth, so too does the ring end up in an inconvenient truth... I mean, place.  The ring lands inside the piano at about 4:18.9 with a mighty clang.  I hear this is where Dave Grusin got the idea for the suspenseful music in The Firm.  1993's The Firm, that is, with Thomas Cruise Mapother the Fourth.  (Alas, YouTube won't afford me a millisecond closer.  Whoever made their first million with these hyperlinks, however, will make their second million by allowing a user to copy a video URL at a current time with such precision.)  And so, the destruction of yet another piano by the Stooges begins.  Moe gets us started by shoving Shemp's head into the matrix of wires at about 4:26 or so.  Suddenly, the film's slowed down to about 12fps so they can gently drop the piano lid on Shemp's head without too severe a concussion to the piano.  Shemp yanks out a piano wire, which snaps back and hits Moe in the face.  Lol.  Rinse and repeat: Moe shoves Shemp's head once again, and down comes the piano lid on Shemp once again.  At 5:11, Emil FINALLY tries to complain about what's happening to his piano.  Larry shoves Emil away, saying "Shut up."  Who's α-Stooge now, bitch?  Moe and Larry pull Shemp as far from the piano as they can, then decide to let him go so they can regroup.  Shemp flies towards the piano, hitting it twice with his head.  Mensa, eat your heart out!  Well, at least he's not as tangled as he and Moe were in that damn phone booth. 
And so, with a mere three minutes left, the ring is recovered.  But then, right after Sitka says "Join hands, you lovebirds," a mighty phalanx of voices rises from behind closed doors... that's so the wrong word, isn't it?  Oh well.  We've got about three minutes left, which includes about twenty seconds for the final end theme, and in rushes the scorned ladies of yester-reel, suddenly very interested in the economic incentive to marrying Shemp.  There's only five, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in 50s attitude.  Still, you gotta admire the sheer scope, and racial diversity, of Buster Keaton's original film.
Poor Miss Dinkelmeyer's outgunned on this one, and she knows it.  Then again, how about Scrambled Brains, am I right?  Anyway, Moe tries to take a bullet for Shemp... and he practically does.  He gets kicked in the shins twice, making a sped-up "Ow!" sound.  Either that, or he was huffing some helium.  Now it's Larry's turn.  The choreography is clearly not as good this time, but Larry gets a little more quality screen time: a shin kick, and they tear at his hair!  There's also a close-up of Shemp's hair getting torn, and one of the ladies holds the clump of Shemp's hair with a mixture of horror and fascination.  Or maybe it's the thrill of battle combined with wondering what kind of monster she's suddenly become.  Or maybe she's just pausing for the laugh.
Next scene: the part used in Pulp Fiction.  Shemp and Dinkelmeyer and Sitka are by the bird cage.  Sitka says... everyone together now... "Hold hands, you lovebirds!"  An instant later, Boom goes the bird cage hat for Sitka.
And now, another time-stretcher.  The α female of the shrill quintet takes Shemp over to the old-timey printing press.  No office of a Justice of the Peace is complete without one, of course.  What is it about these public domain Stooge films?  They all seem to have someone's melon getting squeezed in it!  Disorder in the Court, this one... okay, maybe just those two.  Well, Sing a Song of Six Pants probably has a similar gag, but with a clothing steamer, but we're not there yet.  You might want to skip this part.  I wish I could.  Time is stretched as Shemp's head is squeezed in the vice.  Damn!  The thing's really going down, too! 
Then, a shot of the other four women fighting.  Then, a shot of Larry getting a gun to ... not to shoot, but to hit the women on the head with the butt of the gun.  Moe gives Larry a bigger gun for the job, and off goes Larry to f... screw that up.  Actually, the women come to them!  A woman flies into the chair seated next to Benton's gun rack, and Larry starts to take a mighty swing with his gun "club."  He hits Moe with it, the woman stands up, and hits Larry with the gun right back, then apparently goes right back to fighting.  Another shot of Shemp getting his head squeezed.  Worse than Casino, I tells ya.  The clubbing routine happens again, but Moe and Larry switch places to keep things fresh.  Then, they put a bear trap in the chair.  What kind of Justice of the Peace is this?  Of course, the Stooges have their boundaries, and Moe ends up in the chair instead of one of the ladies.  He lets out a mighty scream like I've never heard him give before.  The removal of the trap takes up the rest of their time in this flick, I'm afraid.  Meanwhile, Shemp finally gives up, taps out, and is saved from the printing press.  Just after his head has been liberated, one of the ladies throws a vase, hitting Shemp in the head.  He staggers over to the knocked out Justice, who's finally awake again.  Is it 6 O'Clock yet??!!!!


The ceremony has finally been performed.  Not as off-beat as, say, Little Murders, but what can you do?  After nursing his ass wound, Moe joins Shemp by his side, as does Larry.  Timekeeper Larry says "It's six o'clock!  You're married!"  Shemp's still a little out of it from the vase and the printing press, I assume.  Moe tells Shemp, "You're married, kid!  Say something!"  He takes another look at Dinkelmeyer and... well, I won't spoil that for you.
As much as I want to give this one four stars, I can't, out of deference to Seven Chances, I'm afraid.  Three and a half, maybe.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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