Thursday, February 21, 2013
Ticking away with my Sanity, I've got too much Crime on my Hands
We usually start with a close-up of something in these things, but this one's a little bit different. It's a close-up of a guy holding a diamond. Why, it's Kenneth MacDonald, possibly one of the best Stooge bad guys ever! Of course, their first mistake was stealing a diamond with a name. In this case, the Punjab Diamond, the fourth largest diamond in the world. Unless they have their own diamond cutting equipment, they might have a little trouble fencing it. But for now, they spend a little time soaking it all in... especially that Christine McIntyre. I get the feeling she's not going to be doing any singing in this one. Just a feeling.
And then... the squabbling begins. The weak link in the criminal chain insists on the immediate payoff. MacDonald, the strong link, tries to explain that this is a hunk of hot ice that needs time to cool... a few weeks, a few months, probably a few years would be good. Alas, omega males tend not to listen to the reason of their superiors, so a fight breaks out. MacDonald gives the guy a mighty slap... but, that's the Stooges' slap sound effect for each other! I guess it's more than diamonds they're stealing now! Anyway, I'm assuming the guy what got slapped was Lester Allen, who plays "Runty" here. He's kinda short, you see. Runty leaves the apartment in a huff, and the big lug Cy Schindell follows after him a minute and a huff later... HAH! See how I did that?
Cut to: stock footage of newspapers being printed. Ah, the old days. The stock footage fades to a brief shot of an upscale newsroom, and then BAM! Jarring transition to the Managing Editor's office door. If I was better, I'd figure out what other Columbia film that footage was taken from. Maybe Wikipedia knows!... nah. Well, the Internet has solved all the riddles worth solving so far, anyway.
Time to introduce the Stooges. I probably don't need to tell you the joke that's coming at this point... but I'll set it up anyway. The big cheese there says "Well, men, this will be a tough assignment. Do you think you can cover it?" I don't need to say it, right? And so, J.L. Cameron hands the Stooges a torn chair cushion. A bit of the stuffing falls out, and Larry watches it fall, but to no avail. J.L. Cameron is played by C. C. Wilson. Great speaking voice. Apparently, this was his last film as well, along with Cy Schindell! Oh, how many more have to die, Stooges? How many?
Cameron makes the mistake of drawing the Stooges into the larger plot. A newspaper on Cameron's desk has the diamond theft story on the front page. Larry tries reading it upside down, but mispronounces "museum." What a maroon. Larry mispronounces it so badly that Cameron is compelled to correct him, and sternly. Cameron further makes the mistake of saying that he's got every available man covering the diamond story. The Stooges see their chance: why, they're not really upholstery men! That's just a day job from during the war because they were 4-F. They, like Jeff Gannon after them, are reporters at heart. Reportering is what they do, and they would like to reporter on this Punjab Diamond story. Shemp does a little play-acting to show his reporter chops to Cameron, saying over and over "STOP THE PRESSES! STOP THE PRESSES!" Moe obliges, picking up two iron-shaped bookends from Cameron's desk and pressing them to Shemp's head. I don't think I need to tell you what Shemp says about that. Even Larry feels the hurt of that. "Whaddaya say, will you give us a chance?" Moe asks Cameron. Cameron does what he can to get the hell out of there, and promises the Stooges to seriously consider it... sheesh.
And so... Cameron leaves the office. Now, like me, you may have thought that the Stooges were going to patch up a chair cushion for this guy, but as it turns out, his office floor looks a bit like the bottom of a mouse cage, so the Stooges are going to work on that instead. As per their usual custom, Moe places himself in between Larry and Shemp so he can more easily get hit by both. Unfortunately, no one's going to get stabbed in the butt with one of those pointy sticks that the Stooges often use to pick up garbage. I guess they got too many cards and letters about that. Instead, Shemp's reduced to throwing bits of paper behind himself... but strongly. Moe gets the brunt of that right away. Cut to a shot of Larry doing some fancy broom work... I'm LOLing already. Gee, I wonder where the heck that broom's going to end up?... BINGO! Soon after, Moe gets a second volley from Shemp. And a third. A second from Larry. And a fourth from Shemp, but at least it was small! For Shemp's Fifth, he may have crossed the line. Shemp finds an empty jar... an empty glue jar? It's got a glue lid, anyway. And... CRACK! Right over Moe's head. "Oh, Moe! I'm sorry!" says Shemp... but to be perfectly honest, he didn't sound too sorry. The whole sibling rivalry thing, you know. Moe puts a circular file over Shemp's head and retorts with "Now I'm sorrier!" then improvises a little bit just for good measure.
Just then... the phone rings. And even though the boss is out of the office, Moe's the boss for now, so he answers the phone... eventually. See, there's multiple phones on the desk. Hoo boy, this is going to be a long 16 minute short. Moe eventually gets the right phone, and it's the shrimpy guy from before! He speaks in hushed tones, but says the word "Dapper" before getting shot. As "mngentry" of YouTube fame rightly observes, I think this is the only time when someone dies in a Stooge short. Well, there have been many times when the Stooges have fallen from great heights and landed, and they should have died, but there's not usually serious film noir-style gunplay in these things. A jarring mix, to be sure, but all the greats change the game up at some point in their careers. Moe hangs up the phone and writes a note for Cameron. Oh, right... the guy gets shot twice, and Moe says "Hello?" three times. Shemp comes up, sticks out his hand and says "Hello!" Moe slaps Shemp, hangs up the phone and writes the note. I just can't do these play-by-plays like I used to. The ol' belly just ain't no account. Larry puts two and two together, and points out excitedly to Moe that this is their big chance to break into the reportering game. "You know, Porcupine, for a guy without brains you're a genius," Moe tells Larry, and doesn't slap him! This is a Stooge film, right? Shemp grabs the nearest hat he can find, and launches into his reporter shtick a second time. And this time, both Moe and Larry reach for the bookends, but Shemp stops them before they smash his face a second time. But Shemp's not done yet. Moe tells Shemp "Okay, you're a reporter... but I'm the boss!" Now it's time for Shemp to bend the fourth wall a bit, starting with "In the movies, the reporter always talks back to the boss!" He loosens his already-very-loose tie, pushes his hat back, and launches into the shtick. GENIUS! Normally I'd say that this is the part where they're stretching time, and technically it is, but I cut slack when it's this good. And unequivocally it is. Moe hits Shemp with a clay replica of a phone, and asks Larry "Say, YOU didn't see that movie by any chance, didja?" Larry kisses Moe's ass as hard as he can, but gets slapped anyway, and Moe says "That's for absolutely nothing!" Phew. This is a Stooge film after all.
Moe looks on Cameron's desk and finds two buttons that say "Press" on them. "Press badges!" says Moe, taking the badges. It was a simpler time, with a lot less paperwork. Shemp managed to find himself a sink knob with the word "Press" stenciled on to it. Out of respect and deference to Curly, they didn't use one that said "Pull." And so, off they go out into the unsuspecting world... then the phone rings again. Shemp's all over that. It's too good to ruin.
Setting: Squid McGuffey's Café. Well, it's half of a comedy name, anyhow. Way classier than Hootie McBoob, anyhow. And needles to say, there's trouble a'brewing long before the Stooges get there. One guy's a wandering booze zombie. The proprietor of the joint's apparently holding court at the bar, and he gives this zombie a good shove after it runs into him. Second challenge: a live-action J. Wellington Wimpy comes in, hiding a giant plate behind his back. He sneaks quickly up to the bar, and starts loading up his plate with sandwiches. Because his back's to the camera, they have to dub him in saying "What goes on?"... I'm sorry, here's the right linque.
The guy sneaks into an adjoining room with the sandwiches. He removes a blanket that's covering up a big box and... it's a guy in a gorilla suit, er, I mean, a gorilla. This is turning into a shaggy dog story! The guy gives the sandwiches to the gorilla, but the gorilla rudely knocks the plate out of the guy's hands, breaking the plate and spilling all the sandwiches. Mr. Squid follows the guy into this room and, as anyone would be, is shocked to find a room with a gorilla in a cage in it. Just to rub more salt into this wound, the gorilla slaps Mr. Squid on the head, knocking him unconscious. That's his name, I swear! Mr. Squid McGuffey. The other guy is Hawkins, but the IMDb doesn't have any credit for him. A damn shame. I'm positive he was a big so and so.
This "Stooge" film is turning into a bit of a Frankenstein monster: part Stooge, part Ealing. Thank God the Stooges finally show up at McGuff's place, and dressed rather dapperly if I do say so myself. They get the lay of the land, and Moe says "If anyone wants to turn back, now's the time." He then rescinds the offer once Larry and Shemp try to take him up on it, like some sort of... non-ethnic Offer Rescinder. Moe encourages the other two to act tough, so he bends the brim of his hat and starts flipping a coin. Larry does the same. Shemp can't find a coin, and the brim of his hat makes the sound of a hundred saltine crackers getting smashed when he bends it, but persevere he does ne'theless.
They take the brute force approach in questioning the bar patrons. Moe asks two guys at a table if they're Dapper. The Stooges get no verbal response, and get scared out of their wits. Moe, rather unsubtlely, drops his coin under the table. Shemp quickly dives for it, and Moe steps on his hand. Shemp yells, tries to stand up, and hits the table. Unfortunately, he doesn't upend the whole table, but he does cause the one guy to spill his beer. So far, this is the highlight of the pic. They patch things up with the two patrons, sort of, and quickly move on to the next victim.
The next victims are the bartender and Dapper. I had to double-check; it's not Squid, but a different guy. Squid's apparently still out cold in the gorilla room. "We're looking for a guy named Dapper," Moe says to the bartender. Dapper shakes his head at the bartender, and the bartender says "Never heard of him!" The Stooges ask to look around, and the bartender says okay. Once the Stooges leave, Dapper gets the bartender to send a signal to Christine McIntyre in the room with the diamond. It's much like the silent alarm technology that banks and convenience stores have, except the bad guys have it as well. McIntyre acts promptly, and quickly hides the diamond in a bowl of candy. Back to the Stooges in the hallway that Sandwich Man was in earlier. Moe's knocking on one door. Shemp knocks on another, and then Moe knocks on his door again, then Shemp again. Must be an old Vaudeville routine or something. McIntyre opens the door and Shemp knocks on her forehead twice! Oh, for shame. He's no gentleman. Sensing there's a beautiful dame in their midst, Moe and Larry quickly join Shemp, and they all slobber all over the hot and classy McIntyre. She protests, but Moe quickly pacifies her by saying "We're looking for a guy named Dapper!" She says, without pausing, "Dapper? I've never heard of him. I'm all alone." She almost had me convinced! Alas for her, the boys have to look around anyway. "Look everywhere, men!" says Moe. Shemp, however, can't stop staring at McIntyre, so Moe has to slap him on the back of the head. "Keep your mind on your business!" says Moe, just to drive the point home. Moe gives Larry an especially prolonged beating after that with the wire brush that Larry gave him. Lol; Moe knocks Larry's hat off, but it makes no noise. Seemed to hurt Larry, though!
The looking around eventually begins in proper. Shemp grabs something and goes "Look! Look!" It's a monogrammed cigarette case with the letter "D" on it. "D! That stands for Dapper!" says Larry. The jig is up. But to kill some time, the Stooges decide to wait in the room for Dapper to return to it. Shemp sits next to McIntyre, while Moe and Larry sit at the other end of the room. There's a bowl with candy in it next to them, and they just help themselves like they own the place. Monkey see, monkey do; Shemp doesn't want to feel left out, he being the only Stooge not eating candy, so he starts in on the bowl next to him. McIntyre, meanwhile, turns on the waterworks and tries to smooth talk her way out of this mess. Shemp says "With oranges, it's much harder." What the hell does that mean? And so, Shemp reaches for the diamond when going for his third candy. McIntyre looks on in horror at what's about to happen. Shemp catches the diamond in his mouth, and it makes a 'clink'ing sound. You know, if that were me, and my teeth were as bad as his probably were, and a diamond hit my tooth, I'd probably scream in pain, much like he did in the prequel to Wham! Bam! Slam! But there's no tooth pain, but a few seconds after catching the diamond, at 1:17 on the YouTube link, Shemp lets forth a mighty burp. One of the mightiest of the Stooges' burps, in fact. McIntyre screams and faints... and the picture quality gets a little crappy at this point. Gee, I hate to think of Stooge films on nitrate film stock! So disconcerting. Moe and Larry join McIntyre by her side. Shemp asks what happened. Moe, of course, says "She must've got a good look at you!" Larry brings over a glass of water, which Shemp quickly drinks. Oh, right, he's supposed to be choking on the diamond. McIntyre comes to and says "Oh, I'm fine. It's just that you policemen frighten me so." Policemen? The Stooges quickly and helpfully say that they're reporters! On their first assignment! McIntyre's demeanor quickly changes. She says "And your last!" and gives them the ol' three-way slap in the face. Even she's been doing too many of these Stooge shorts. "Muscles! Dapper!" she screams. Dayamn; she totally means business! Muscles and Dapper are waiting outside with guns drawn, and they enter right away. For once, someone other than Moe lays out the scenario. And so begins the long drawn-out process of getting that diamond out of Shemp in a cinematically acceptable way. Not like getting the compass out of Slim Pickens in 1941, mind you. Shemp tries coughing it out, but his first attempts fail. Meanwhile, Moe and Larry are sitting on the couch with McIntyre, and Moe does a massive double take when he sees how McIntyre's staring at him. If looks could kill, indeed!
Muscles starts slapping Shemp on his dust-laden back, but Dapper stops him. Dapper suggests that Moe and Larry try to get Shemp to make with the diamond. The clock is set to five minutes... which is bad because they've got about eight until the flick's over. This is no time to stand on principle: good guys v. bad kind of thing. The Stooges are in full-on Wuss Mode, and are all too willing to give the diamond back to the bad guys who stole it. If Shemp could just cough it up! He tries again, coughing and making awful slurping noises and such. No avail. Moe and Larry have to take action, and they flip Shemp much like Milton Berle and Terry Thomas flipped Ethel Merman in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when Ethel's bosom swallowed up some car keys. They hold Shemp upside down and hit his head on the floor. Damn! I bet that drew some blood, or at least some spinal fluid. Even the crooks are horrified! Moe and Larry give up on this plan, and go to Plan B: ice tongs. "Now you're getting smart!" says Dapper. Oh, puh-leeze. What does he know about smart.
Moe goes over to Shemp and says "Open your mouth." Shemp obliges, but Moe sticks his hand in, and Shemp can't help but bite down. Moe hits Shemp in the head with the tongs, then the stomach. Shemp instinctively opens his mouth, and in go the tongs. Muscles looks on in horror. The tongs get a lot longer as they do the ol' sleight of tongs magic trick. Oh, we're really killing some time now. Moe starts hitting the tongs, and it makes a horn sound for some reason. Usually we hear that noise when a nose is hit. It's disconcerting!
And so, after what seems like five minutes, Moe pulls the tongs out... but they're not holding anything! "Not even a tonsil," says Moe. "And now, I'll try!" says Dapper, standing up. They help Moe and Larry into the closet, while Cy Schindell gives Shemp a good shaking up. Well, seeing as how it's his last Stooge film ever on Planet Earth, why not? Go nuts. Maybe it's me, but MacDonald seems to have his same doctor demeanor from Monkey Businessmen. Great actor. Dapper invites McIntyre to leave the room for the gruesome operation that's about to happen.
They clear off the desk in the room, and move it towards the center. "Cut it out!" says Shemp. "That's just what we're gonna do!" says Dapper. Muscles starts to tie Shemp's feet together with rope. Cut to the inside of the closet. Moe says "They're killin' him! We gotta get out of here!" That's his job, right? It's no use. The closet's locked up tighter than Fort Knox. "We're trapped like rats!" says Larry. Gee, I wonder what Moe will say in response? Larry hits on the back wall of the closet, knocking loose a big bag of tools from the shelf on high. I think there's a Biblical lesson there for all of us: pound on the Lord's wall long enough, and he will send help from above. There's a nice shot of the tools scattered on the floor. Moe says "Where'd you get the tools?" "On the head," says Larry. Good line. Larry grabs a "turn-arounder" and starts boring a hole in the closet's back wall.
Back to Shemp who's now tied down on the desk pretty good, considering he's only got two thin ropes holding him down. They might break once they start cutting him open and he starts thrashing around like a fish out of water.
Gee, I wonder whatever became of that gorilla from the Second Act... ah! There he is! As it turns out, Moe and Larry are going to saw their way into the gorilla cage. They just don't know it yet. Larry's gone about as far as he can with boring the hole, so Moe takes over on saw duty. Moe pulls back and hits Larry in the chin. Dayamn, that looked kinda genuine... okay, maybe not. I just rewatched it a couple times. And so, it came to pass that the gorilla got stabbed in the ass by Moe's saw. And Lord, did it boing. But this is no time for the old "What are you growling about?" bit. The gorilla jumps around, then settles as far away from the wall as possible. Back to Moe who says "We'll be safe in a minute." Get it? GET IT?!!
The gorilla tries to grab the saw blade with his fingers. He successfully holds onto it eventually, prompting Moe to say "We've struck a snag!" Cut back to Shemp, where Dapper's decided to not use the tools on the table to cut Shemp open, but rather his own switchblade. Dapper knocks Shemp's head on the desk for good measure.
And now, some blatant time killing. Larry asks Moe, "How is it? Pretty tough?" Get on with it, already!! I know, I''m one to talk. Back to the gorilla, then back to Larry, who's taken over the job of sawing through the cardboard wall. They pry open a big hole in the wall, and Moe gives Larry the honor of stepping through first... where he promptly gets scared by the gorilla and leaps back inside, knocking Moe against the wall. Rinse and repeat. Moe decides to escort Larry out through the wall on the third iteration, and they both promptly get mashed down to the floor by the agitated guy in a gorilla suit. The gorilla leaps through the hole in the wall to just slightly more freedom. Meanwhile, Muscles is playing Shemp like a xylophone in the ad hoc operating room. They find what sounds like the diamond on the third hit, and Dapper starts to begin work. "Don't'cha think we ought to put him to sleep?" asks Muscles. Dapper motions to the closet. Apparently the anesthetic is in there with Moe and Larry. It is, in a way, as the gorilla hits Muscles on the head, and hard. Now, according to the IMDb, Schindell, who plays Muscles here, died of cancer, but somehow I can't help but think that that knock on the head sped up the process.
Back to MacDonald, who gives Shemp another tap to double check on the diamond's location. Then, back to the gorilla, who's staring rather directly into the camera at this point. That'll be my Christmas card next year, I think. Dapper says "Gimme the whetstone" and the gorilla obliges. Dapper hasn't turned and looked yet himself, you see. So Shemp is in double freakout mode now, with the addition of the gorilla to the comedic stew pot. Dapper sharpens his knife, saying "Now, now, relax! This isn't going to hurt you at all!" Well, they can't all be jokes. If Shemp didn't have a gag over his mouth, he could ask "Is this going to hurt?" and the other guy could say "Oh, no! I'll be fine." but this is hardly the time or the place.
Just to rub more salt into the wound, Dapper finishes sharpening his knife, and gives all of Shemp's coat buttons one fell swipe. If only the rest of the surgery would go as smoothly. "Anesthetic!" says Dapper, who's clearly seen too many of these Stooge films himself. Still unable to turn away from Shemp, Dapper says "C'mon, c'mon! Give it to me!" The gorilla's seen too many of these Stooge films as well, and knows to take that as the cue to hit Dapper with a hammer that's sort of suitable for hitting a rock with a chisel. And so, finally we have the catalyst to set Dapper in motion away from the gorilla. Dapper finally sees the gorilla, but unlike Curly or Shemp in that one rags-to-riches tale, Dapper's all too sober and he's not seeing a tiny monkey from the next room. This is the real deal, one of the two or three gorilla costumes used by the Stooges. Dapper lets out a mighty scream and throws his knife into the air, which lands next to Shemp's face. Oh, Dude! Dapper still gets the worst of it. In one mighty take, the gorilla chases him all the way around the desk and smashes him into unconsciousness in a chair next to the desk. Final length of scene: about 19 seconds! I feel compelled to point out that Dapper starts whining like a little baby, but that's how it tends to go in these things. The bad guys dole out their suffering more slowly over longer periods of time, while the revenge against them is swift, tending not to last as long.
Having vanquished Dapper, it's time for the gorilla to move on to this strange being sitting on the desk. Shemp's still wetting his pants in fear. This scene's too good to spoil. To call it a time killer would miss the point, even though it does do that as well. I think Kubrick must've seen this part before making 2001!
Back to Moe and Larry who have come to, and are trying to cut through the lock on the cage. What maroons. And, back to the gorilla in the Christmas card pose. In an early bid for 3-D, the gorilla leaps right into the camera's face. After that, we get a medium shot of the gorilla. There's no doubt anymore: the gorilla's the star of this picture. The gorilla hits Shemp on the belly and POP goes the diamond! The gorilla studies it closely. Meanwhile, Dapper and Muscles have regained consciousness, have their guns drawn and are waiting for their chance to grab the diamond back. They spring into action, but the gorilla makes them its bitch anew once again. Dummies start flying at this point. Shemp's still tied to the desk and trying to just get the hell out of there. Back to Moe and Larry who manage to cut through the iron bars. Why don't they just go through the closet? Oh, right, I'm missing the point. Larry gets hit by the iron door on the way out.
This is almost over. There's 40 seconds left! They have to wrap this up! Next scene: the ill-fated hallway, where J.L. Cameron shows up with a buncha cops. They have McIntyre in makeshift custody, as in a guy's holding on to her wrist and dragging her along. Moe and Larry emerge from the first room, and they all go into the second room. "They're murdering my pal!" says Larry... I think. It was a little garbled.
Next scene: the room is in shambles. Muscles and Dapper are out cold, and they're arranged so it looks like the room's even more in shambles than it actually is. Meanwhile, Shemp's looking at the diamond with one of those fancy lenses that people in the diamond trade use. "Fifty carats!" says Shemp. Shyeah, right, like he'd know. Shemp tosses the diamond to Cameron. Cameron congratulates Shemp, then goes right into reporter mode, asking "Did you knock out these crooks all by yourself?" Shemp takes full credit for it, at which point the gorilla stands up and says "I helped!", thereby becoming in an instant the British best friend, and adding class to this otherwise nondescript Stooge flick. I think I saw the remake of this, in which the gorilla subplot was heavily relied on, but never the original. I'll give it four stars for effort. It should be one of the greats.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan
RIP Cy Schindell, who turns and looks for the last time with the Stooges. We'll miss you, buddy!