Thursday, January 31, 2013
A Guy named Shemp
But I digress. In Heavenly Daze, here we are at the Pearly Gates.
I'm not a particularly religious man, and I don't know who to expect at the Pearly Gates, but it would be kinda neat if it was someone either a) familiar or b) friendly. In Shemp's case, it's at least a). It's Moe disguised as Shemp's Uncle Mortimer, and Mortimer's got a desk with a phone and a seat just inside the entrance of the Pearly Gates. It must be the weekend at the Pearly Gates, as there's no one else waiting to get in. (Also, it was most likely the weekend at Columbia when they were filming this.) You'd think having a desk right there in front of the Gates wouldn't be so great, especially if you could be seen and heard by the riff raff. Part of the reason why I probably wouldn't have done well as a bus driver.
Mortimer gets off the phone with God, or God's secretary, whoever... maybe one of the Seraphim or Cherubim. Mortimer asks the secretary (Miss Jones) to bring in Shemp's Earthly Report. Oh, that can't be good. Miss Jones brings the report and flirts with Shemp quite a bit, if I do say so myself. Shemp gets a wing-boner... I mean, Shemp gets excited by Miss Jones. Time to start filling in Shemp's Heavenly Report, the part about "Conduct Unbecoming an Applicant." Uncle Mortimer reads through the report and says "I hope you brought your asbestos suit with you!" It takes Shemp a while to figure out what that means. So much for the b) part from earlier.
Uncle Mortimer tells Shemp that he doesn't know the whole story of Shemp. "I died before you were born," he says, but the report does detail the bad behaviour of Shemp and his "cousins" Moe and Larry have been "pretty bad boys." At this point, Shemp resigns himself to Hell, asking for "a pitchfork and a red Union suit." I know, I know, a bit unfair to unions, but they were more prominent back then. What Shemp doesn't realize is that Heaven has as much room for negotiation as any place on Earth. Take the wager between God and the Devil over Job, for example. Uncle Mortimer has as much power as well... say! Maybe Uncle Mortimer's actually God! Anyway, enough with the deep theological discussion. Mortimer lays out the scenario: Shemp can get into Heaven if he says he believes only in Jesu... no, that's not it. Shemp can get into Heaven if he reforms Moe and Larry. The catch: Moe and Larry won't be able to see or hear Shemp. Shemp is strangely optimistic about his chances for success. Shemp gets another eyeful of Miss Jones, and catches the train back to Earth to begin his quest. All the while, ghostly background music is playing; not usually what they're budgeted for in these things.
To kill some time, Shemp runs into a "rain cloud." Shemp tries to argue with it, but it just thunders and sprays him in the face. Never argue with a rain cloud, or wear roller skates in a buffalo herd. After getting sprayed by the rain cloud, Shemp says "What's the idea? You think you're in California?" I'm still scratching my head over that one. I guess he's referring to the occasional desert flooding or something. And I thought I knew a thing or two about comedy. Just then, two other female angels walk by, and Shemp hits on them as well, making that train whistle noise on the second one. So much for Miss Jones! Well, never eat where you ... ah, skip it. I think he's going to miss his train.
Next scene... or is this Act Two?
Scene: the office of Attorney I. Fleecem, where we hear Moe and Larry crying. Fleecem, played by the diminutive Vernon Dent, goes through the legal boilerplate that is the last will and testament. "Whereas" this and "the party of the First Part" that, sheesh. I'm glad I'm not a lawyer. They do that thing again where the camera dollies in on a door, the door opens, and action's going on behind it. It's the whole film's budget in one scene, but sometimes you just gotta be fancy. Now, amongst the boilerplate is the line "Whereas I, Shemp the Stooge, being of unsound mind, do hereby prove it by leaving all my worldly possessions to my cousins Moe and Larry. Share and share alike." In a daring plot twist, Moe and Larry don't immediately stop crying and say "Worldly possessions? Oh boy! Park Avenue! Caviar and dames!" I guess they knew he was destitute. They wring out their cry rags into a pot and a flower rises like a phoenix, aloft on wings of salty tears. Ever the thespian, Vernon picks up a sock and says "This is all of poor Shemp's worldly goods... 140 dollars, to be divided equally between you."
...I spoke too soon. The boys instantly stop crying and grab for the sock. Moe wins, and beats Larry with the sock. Moe removes a big soft roll of bills and says "Hey! There seems to be some more here!" And then... SNAP! Moe cries out in pain. At first we think it's a mousetrap, but it's only an extra-voracious set of dentures. The audio repeats briefly after about 5:19. Larry laughs and... you'll never guess what Moe does. Yup, he puts the teeth on Larry's nose and squeezes. "Laugh THAT off!" he ad-libs.
Moe starts quietly thumbing through the bills, and we get a shot of an empty corner of I. Fleecem's office. Bad filmmaking. I mean, what is this? There's nothing happening over there! The action's on Moe now, and the counting out of Shemp's bills! Duh!... oh, right. This is where Shemp's going to materialize. And he does so in a calm and dignified manner, decked out in a fancy winter coat and stylish hat. Not quite like Bogey in Casablanca, but a bit more rounded on top. Geez, Shemp must've been on downers or tranquilizers or something for that scene. I've never seen him so relaxed! Even after he gets an eyeful of Moe and Larry! Oh, this is game changing.
Meanwhile, Moe's devised a fiendish plan to count out Larry's 70, and make a few shortcuts along the way. Two shortcuts, in fact, and Larry ends up with only 13 dollars. Showmanship, baby! This isn't Sesame Street, after all! Alas, Larry was born at night, but it wasn't last night, and he knows when he's getting hoodwinked. "Hey! Your pile's bigger than mine!" he says angrily.
At this juncture, Shemp intervenes by blowing the pile of money onto the floor. Moe thinks Dent did it; after all, isn't the lawyer entitled to a third? (We'll get to that in a second...) Time for the old "What're you growling about?" routine, but with the latest new twist on it. Shemp moves the money from the floor to the desk again. Remember, they can't see or hear him. Larry divides the money this time, and he does it even faster than Moe, riffling through it like a deck of cards. Moe says "I think you gypped me!" and slaps Larry in the face. Now comes another one of those moments that could change the Stooge dynamic forever and ever and ever: Purgatory Shemp says "You've been pickin' on that little guy (Larry) long enough. It's about time you got a dose of your own medicine." And Shemp slaps Moe in the face. Remember, they can't see or hear him.... Alas, this just makes Moe angrier, and there's some more physical violence, until Dent decides he's had enough. Won't be long before all the furniture gets broken! "Hey! That's enough of this nonsense," says Dent. But that's their whole god damn raison d'être, ain't it? "Pay me my fee," says Dent. Damn; this guy's serious. His fee? $150. Figures. Moe helpfully says "All we got is $140!" I'm sorry, he says "But Shemp only left us $140!" "I'll take it," says Dent, adding "Are you sure this is all you got?" Moe and Larry turn out their pockets. Fleecem finally lives up to his name. I wonder if he's Greek or Dutch.
Dent rubs it in a little more. "Any other lawyer would've taken the case for $20!" Shemp says "Oh, is that so?" and removes the money from Dent's vest pocket, Harpo style. Dent leaves his office, with Moe and Larry still inside, saying "Don't stay in the office too long." Meanwhile, Shemp divides the money himself and gives it to Larry and Moe. Remember, they can't.... did I say that already?
Shemp messes with their minds a little more until Moe finally gets suspicious; rather, gets the feeling that supernatural forces are at work here. Only in the movies. "Shemp said he was gonna come back to Earth and haunt us!" says Moe. Now, remember what Shemp said before about Moe always picking on Larry, the "little guy"? All bets are off when Larry calls Shemp a "fathead." (Disclaimer: The Movie Hooligan is not responsible for the content of third party sites.) Larry whinily wonders why Moe hit him. In a rare bit of honesty, Moe doesn't take credit for the bit, confirming the ghost hypothesis for Larry. Moe's still unconvinced, so he dares Shemp to take a shot. And POW! Does he ever. Moe's stunt double bounces around like a superball until he smashes into the wall, dislodging a potted plant. Alas, the plot won't let Moe fade to black in peace, passed out, so he comes to, fondles his sore chin and says "I'm convinced!" Moe takes great pains to keep the plant on his head, standing up slowly. We see a "painting" of a cowboy on the wall next to Moe. Moe's convinced that Shemp's returned to haunt him, but Larry's still not, for the sake of dragging this out to a 16 minute short. "Shemp, if it's really you, do somethin' else to prove it!" shouts Larry to the rafters. The cowboy fires a few rounds, and Moe and Larry hightail it out of the offices of I. Fleecem, Attorney. They kill some time by taking turns holding each other back. Shemp indulges in a little pride of accomplishment. Fade to black.
Fade in on Moe and Larry, dressed in fancy clothes and smoking fancy cigars / cigarettes. They call each other Lordon Larryington and Sir Moe-ington... oh my God! They've turned gay! No, they're just pretending to be well-off Capitalists about to ink a deal for their latest invention. It's a fountain pen that writes under whipped cream... there's probably a thing about it on Wikipedia. Well, sometimes a true comedian has their own personal windmill to pursue. For Bob and Doug McKenzie, it was the mouse in a beer bottle that led to a whole movie. For the Stooges at this stage in their career, it's a fountain pen that writes underwater. Mocking progress, that's their stock and trade!
"Say, where's that butler of ours?" asks Moe. Hoh boy... well, he's not forced to do any Dudley Dickerson shtick... YET. The butler leaves, and Shemp arrives, shaking his head in disapproval when Moe outlines their one last big final score before retiring for good... something like that. Well, there used to be easy pickins back then, ripping off the De Puysters of old. They're smarter now, and tend to only arrow corrupt politicians into their inner social circle.
Moe and Larry walk away, and Moe says "I hope the De Puysters are impressed with our butler..." Here we go. Bug-eyed time. Shemp can't actually walk through doors, so he has to stop in front of it before he fades out, lol. So much for a lack of VistaGlide, or maybe RenderMan to make a fake door.
Now, here's something for us film nerds to jump all over. Shemp's hat and coat aren't visible when Shemp's holding on to them, but when he puts them in the butler's arms, they're visible and touchable! There's an inconsistency or two there someplace, not to mention Shemp being able to call on Uncle Mortimer for favors. Shemp's going to get Uncle Mortimer in trouble with God! Shemp makes his hat rise briefly in the air and fall back into the butler's hands. The butler only mildly freaks out, dropping the hat and coat. Crazy white people. A hundred years earlier, that'd be a whippin'. How far we've come.
Just then, Moe and Larry return with drinks in hand... gee, I wonder what's going to happen? They ask for more proof that it's Shemp, of course. Shemp obliges their curiosity with pins in the ass. The butler approaches Moe and Larry. Is it wrong of me to like this scene? Probably. The butler's played by Sam McDaniel, apparently the brother of Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel. Sam was on "I Love Lucy" but he spent one weekend slumming with the Stooges, God bless him. I kinda like the way he says "Did you say 'dead'?" Is that wrong / racist of me? Probably. He's still more low key than Dudley Dickerson, I can't help but notice.
The doorbell rings. It must be the de Puysters, as Shemp's sitting in the room with everyone... but the butler doesn't know that. Moe insists that the butler answer the door. "I'll go, but my heart ain't in it!" quips the butler.
Next scene: while the boys mop up the drinks they've spilled, the butler lets the De Puysters in. The De Puysters are played by Symona Boniface and Victor Travers, two long-suffering lifetime members of the Stooge Rolling Stock Company. The butler lets the De Puysters in, but cautiously, prompting Mr. De Puyster to say "Why, you look like you've seen a ghost!" The butler can't help but quip "Mister, you don't know the half of it!" And so, the 1989 version of We're No Angels was born.
Moe offers the De Puysters a seat. Meanwhile, Shemp scares the butler out the door by putting on Mrs. De Puysters' fur coat and walking around. Rather, through the door. Still, this scene really calls for that extra special touch that Dudley Dickerson always puts on things.
Next scene: Moe and Larry wheel out the equipment necessary to test their fountain pen that writes under whipped cream. The fountain pen is plugged in to a mixer where normally a mixing tine would go, and the mixer is set to "Low." A piece of paper is placed at the bottom of a mixing bowl, and whipped cream is poured over the paper... what a Stooge-ly setup this all is, don't'cha think? Professor Moe explains to the De Puysters: "Now turn the motor on to low... it MUST turn slowly. Otherwise, it would overflow!" Hey, he's a poet and he don't know it! Shemp knows what he has to do. And while Moe quickly tries to close the deal, saying to the De Puysters "Now, would you care to make out your check for $50,000 now or later?" ... ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Hell in the form of gobs of projectile whipped whipping cream. No one is spared its sweet, salty fury, not even poor long-suffering Mrs. De Puyster. It takes longer than she thinks, but she eventually gets hit, too. And a second time, for good measure.
Now, I hate to be cynical at an occasion like this, but screenwriters take note. Even the Stooges occasionally like to line up a few more dominoes than usual. Larry smears some whipped cream on Moe's face, and Moe naturally retaliates. So Lawrence now has a full forehead of whipped cream. After a wide shot of the bedlam, ... SPOILER ALERT... Larry gets the fountain pen stuck in his forehead, making the delightful trademark "BOI-OING!" sound. It's especially painful. Shemp beams with pride and files another report to Uncle Mortimer. Just then, the mixer explodes and catches on fire. Shemp starts screaming "Help! Help!!!!"
SPOILER ALERT: It was all just a dream. I kinda hate it when they do that. But Shemp does wake up in bed with a small fire for a companion. He mumbles himself to consciousness, then starts screaming anew, as his ass is on fire. Next scene: Moe and Larry at the breakfast table. Larry asks Moe, "Want a piece of pie?" They eventually look over at screaming Shemp, see the fire, and run to his aid. And even though Shemp's wearing an asbestos suit under his burning clothes, I'll bet it was still hot. Larry gets a bucket of water, and Moe gets the lion's share of it, of course. Moe tries to put out the fire on the bed with the head of an ax. Larry returns with a second bucket of water, but before he can douse Moe with it, Moe gives a mighty swing and hits Larry upon the head with the ax; the flat side, not with the blade. Why, that just wouldn't be as funny! Moe eventually covers up the fire with the rest of the blanket. Smart boy! He's beginning to use a bit of his brain. Meanwhile, Shemp, moving around on the floor, discovers the full bucket of water and puts out the fire on his ass the only way he knows how: he pours the water on the carpet, then sits down in it. A mighty plume of smoke rises when he sits down... does that mean that Shemp is the Devil?
The fire has stopped burning, despite Billy Joel's contentions otherwise. Larry and Moe stand over Shemp, so tall that we can't see their faces. Shemp, happy that the fire on his ass is out, tells the other two about the dream he had, but just the part about them inventing a fountain pen that writes under whipped cream. Moe takes the pie that Larry earlier offered him a piece of, and gives the whole thing to Shemp's face. "There's your whipped cream!" says Moe. Moe hands Shemp a fountain pen, saying "And there's your fountain pen!" Larry hands Shemp a piece of paper, saying "Write yourself a letter!" Shemp puts the pen to his face and begins to write "Dear Ma,..." Does this mean that the whole film wasn't a dream? Is this like The Sixth Sense, but different? Did Shemp elaborately fake his own death by falling asleep in bed? I better watch this again and look for clues.
Bad double bill with: Bedlam in Paradise
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan