Saturday, March 02, 2013

Ghost Talks, and you-know-what walks

I never expected any coincidences to come of concurrently reviewing Stooge shorts and Popeye cartoons, but here's one.  This week, Popeye tackles a ghost ship, and the Stooges tackle a haunted house.  Must've been a slow week at Cannery Row.


They're going to make it tough to get my usual image!  It was a dark and stormy night, and the camera pans around a large castle that's seen better days.  It's going to go from bad to worse when the Stooges arrive.  "So, this is Smorgasbord Castle!" says Lawrence.  Hmm!  I can't remember the last time the Stooges were in a rainstorm.  All that time in sunny California and there's never any rain.  They certainly don't have the budget for rainwater, that's for sure, but got it they do... Anyway, Moe and Larry enter and start lighting candles.  Shemp's got an umbrella, thank God.  Time to kill some time.  He has a little trouble getting through the door with his open umbrella, and... long story short, he ends up collecting some water in his now upside-down umbrella.  Moe tries to help him fix the umbrella and... Shemp makes the mistake of laughing, but he's all too ready to throw down.  Moe closes the umbrella and takes a swing at Shemp.  Shemp ducks out of the way and Larry ends up as collateral damage once again.  No retribution for Shemp, as Moe apparently respected that move too much.  "Cut out the clowning!  We've got work to do!" barks Larry.  Their job is to move a bunch of stuff out of the castle.  But first, the front doors open and close a little bit.  Larry grabs onto Moe in fear and... dang!  Look at that framing!  Someone's been watching Citizen Kane!  Their only regret is that they didn't use two mirrors instead of just one.  You know, to get infinite Stooges.  Something we can do without.  "What was that?" asks a frightened Moe.  Shemp launches into some Inner Sanctum radio shtick.  Shemp turns around and gets scared by himself in the mirror.  He heads for the wall, bumps into it, and gets hit on the head by a falling shield.  Moe pulls Shemp by the nose into the next room.  Sorry, I missed a detail.  Larry throws some of Shemp's words back into his face before that happens.
Next scene: the next room.  Lightning strikes, and they all get scared.  There's more candles to light.  Moe does some bitching and moaning about the haunted castle, and Larry pooh-poohs it.  Screenwriters take note.  Larry then gets shot in the ass by a crossbow-wielding suit of armour.  Shemp uses the opportunity to throw some words back into Larry's face.  Ah, tit for tat.  It never ends.
Moe's still scared, but he tries to get this crazy train back on track.  He takes a big book out of his chest pocket and starts reading the inventory of stuff they're supposed to move.  It's a list of three items, but it never hurts to have excess pages in a book just in case.  The last item on the list is the suit of armour, which promptly falls down.  The boys go and pick it up.
There's an extreme close-up of the armor's helmet.  The face part moves.  "Thank you!" says a disembodied voice.  Yup, time for the old "What're you ____ing at?" bit.  That'll eat up some more time!  The voice is Phil Arnold, in case you were wondering.  God bless you, IMDb!  I don't care if The Onion does bash you.  Anyway, back to the Stooges.  Moe asks Shemp why he was thanking him.  I kinda like Shemp's answer: "I wasn't thanking you for anything!"  Chico couldn't have zinged Groucho any better... well, maybe that's not true.
The conversation continues.  "But I did!" says the armor.  Moe pokes Shemp in the eyes for that one.  'Tis been a while since a Stooge eye poke.  I was starting to miss that!  The armor continues, saying "People have a right to talk, you know!"  Moe knocks Larry's hat off.  Lol.  Moe stops the foolishness and gets everyone back on track.  Moe and Larry leave Shemp to carry the armor by himself.  Usually they would leave Curly alone; you know how it is.  Shemp picks up the armor and it says "Please don't take me away!"  Shemp gets scared and drops the armor.  The armor lands with a mighty crash and I think it says "Ow!"  Shemp faints, landing on the nearest blanket-covered chair.
Cut to Moe and Larry working on one of those tables that's split in the middle.  Oh, you know this is going to be good.  Whose head will get stuck in it?  Probably Moe.  But before that happens, Moe looks over at the fainted Shemp, and immediately walks over to wake his lazy ass up.  Moe daintily slaps Shemp about the face.  Maybe it was painful, but there's no loud accompanying sound effects to it.  Must've been a sound editors strike that week or something.  Moe tells Shemp to go over and help Larry.  Screenwriters take note: whether he knows it or not, it's Moe's turn with the ghost-filled armor!


We're close to the Act break anyway, so what the hell.  So Moe stands the armor up and it says "Thank you!  You are a gentleman!"  Back to square one again.  Moe does a double take, and he gets a close-up shot.  Oh, I know what effect's coming... yup!  Moe's hair stands up under its own power.  Rather, the power of the suction device just over his head.  According to the IMDb, a high-powered air compressor was used for the effect, which explains why they had to dub in his voice.
Gee, I just hate to see Moe in such a sorry state.  He runs over and tells Larry that the armor spoke to him.  Shemp concurs.  Larry graduates to Devil's Advocate.  Moe tries again, hitting a falsetto high note that Curly often used to.  Also, there's a slight frame blow-up, God knows why.  Larry takes it upon himself to go over to that damn suit of armor.  If only real ghosts were as agreeable about the whole "life after death" thing.  Larry has a brief conversation with the armor.  To end the conversation, the armor snaps its face guard open and shut twice.  Larry doesn't get as good an effect as Moe, but it's not bad: his hat spins around and settles back on his head.  Laurel and Hardy would be jealous.  When Larry screams, it sounds like his throat is blocked.  Strange.  And so, Larry runs over as fast as possible, and slams the table shut on Moe's neck.  They manage to get the table back open, fortunately.  Moe's about to open a six pack of whoop ass on Larry, but the armor prevents that from happening... for now.  They take turns deciding who should go get the armor.  Moe decides they should all go.  And go they do, like conjoined triplets, sneaking up on the armor.  The armor says "Have no fear, gentlemen!  I am a friendly spirit!  Come closer..."  Time to kill some time, like the apes with the monolith.  Of the many tests they try, Shemp taps out "Shave and a haircut" on the armor.  It taps back the "Two bits" part.  Shemp drops a quarter into the armor.  There's grinding noises, and a slot in the armor's stomach opens up, and many quarters spill out of it.  And I'll be damned if Shemp didn't catch them all in his hat!  Pretty fast old guy!  Moe tries the same trick, but he doesn't understand that it's a one-of-a-kind type of deal.  I should probably backtrack and mention that the armor's hand was up.  Shemp dropped in the quarter and pushed the armor's hand down.  You know, like a slot machine.  Moe tries putting the arm up.  "Give!" he says, and the armor's arm hits him on the head.  It may be a friendly spirit, but it's no doormat.  Shemp asks the spirit what his name is.  "I am the spirit of Peeping Tom," he says.  Modern audiences won't understand this part... and I barely do, but each of the Stooges takes out a cigarette and lights up.  Moe's got a pipe.  Peeping Tom explains the story of Lady Godiva, and his part in it, but he protests his innocence.  What a prude.  I mean, they can pass all the decrees they want, but people are gonna want to look at a naked chick on a horse.  I mean, she's kinda asking for it.  Anyway, Shemp tries to calm down Peeping Tom and offers him a smoke.  He doesn't say what brand, though.  The spirit coughs, saying "Sorry, I haven't had a smoke in a thousand years."  Shemp says "Think you're old enough to smoke? Heh heh heh..."  Moe hits Shemp in the proboscis for that.  The spirit continues his story.  Larry rudely interrupts him as well.  What a jerk.  Moe keeps him in line with a swift bonk in the forehead.  Serves Larry right for standing in position for it.  He was kinda asking for it.  The spirit continues, saying that he and Lady Godiva were going to be married.  Larry interrupts again.  God, what an asshole.  Moe only slaps him this time, though.  The spirit continues, and there's a flashback to the day when Godiva went on her ride... I guess.  We see a tailor in his shop, trying to thread a needle.  His shutters are closed, so he can't see.  Too engrossed in his work, he opens the shutters for more light, then goes back to threading the needle.  A mighty crowd erupts with noise.  He looks out the window and... gets hit in the face with a pie.  And so, the Stooges stain history in a new way.
This guy must not be a very good storyteller because Shemp and Larry keep interrupting him with bad puns. Moe ends up dumping his pipe out on Shemp's tongue.  The spirit eventually concludes by saying that he was sentenced to spend a thousand years inside that suit of armor... and that today is the day he is to be free, and that the spirit of Lady Godiva will meet him, and all will be right with the world and the afterlife.  Technically, that would mean that Lady Godiva did her little stunt in the year 949, but why look for historical accuracy in a Stooge film?  The Stooges, exhausted by the guy's story, now want a drink.  The suit of armor says "Make it four!"  Well, this is not your typical ghost scares the Stooges story, you gotta give it that.
Moe thinks he's dreaming, and he tells Shemp, "See if I'm awake!"  Shemp gets a pin out of his uniform and stabs Moe in the ass.  Moe's got iron in his blood, so the pin's all twisted out of shape.  Moe pounds out the NBC logo on Shemp's head for that.  That's gratitude for ya.  Fortunately for Shemp, Larry returns at that moment with the bottle from the truck, and four glasses!  Larry pulls the bottle from inside his coat and... you know, I hate to quibble, but that looks like a bottle of milk.  I thought the implication was liquor, not milk.  Why didn't they ask for cookies while they were at it?


You know, this plot stew's a little thin.  I think the screenwriters sensed that, but how to thicken it?  Cut to a shot of a frog on the floor.  The plot thickens.  The frog croaks.  Moe looks over at Shemp and says "What're you burping about?"  I mean, he says "Why don't you watch your manners?"  This is a classy film, mind you, and the word 'burp' might as well have been on George Carlin's list of seven back then.  I hate to ask this, but aren't they relying on the "What're you ____ing at?" gag a little too much?  They better not do it a third time in this one, that's all I'm saying.  Anyway, they didn't help The Spirit of Peeping Tom with his glass, so he has to drink by osmosis, and the level of the fourth glass drops rather quickly.  Normally, it's not good for a starving person to eat so quickly, but... ah, skip it.  It's a spirit.  Spirits don't starve... do they?  Moe uses this opportunity to remind the spirit that they have orders to move the stuff out of the house.  The friendly spirit turns not-so-friendly at this point, and the camera and lighting adjust accordingly to help point that out.  "If you take me, bad luck will pursue you!" he says.  Bosch!  Flimshaw!  Larry goes to pick up the "tin can" and he gets hit on the head three times by the armor's hand.  "The bad luck is beginning to start!" says Larry.  At some point, Shemp's hat fell to the ground... and I'm not interested enough to go back and figure out when, but needles to say, we get a shot of the hat on the ground, and the frog leaping into it... I mean, lifted into it with wires.  Moe and Larry leave Shemp alone again to get into more mischief.  Shemp gets his hat and puts it on his head.  The frog starts leaping around.  Shemp goes over to the statue and starts chewing him out.  Some friendly spirit!  Why couldn't he at least say "It's a frog, you idiot!" or something like that.  Shemp takes his hat off and we see the "frog" on his head.  Time for more fancy wire work: wires pull Shemp's shirt back, and the frog falls down Shemp's back.  Shemp feels the frog and starts going "Oh!.... OH! .... OH!!!!!!"  This may be the highlight of the film for me.  Well, the first time he goes "Gulp!"... something like that.  I need to rewatch it about a dozen times or so.  He does some donkey kicks, and does Curly's 360 chicken dance on the floor.
And then... this part's no good.  A close-up of Shemp's leg, and the real frog gets tugged out of it, and starts leaping away, as if suspended by wires.  Poor frog.  The ASPCA shall hear of this!!!  Moe and Larry run over and admonish Shemp for his silly behaviour.  "Six lions were tearing me apart!" says Shemp in his defense.  Moe says "Quit lyin'.  You're only stallin'!"  Worked better in You Nazty Spy, personally.  They go over to one of the other items they were supposed to move and work on that instead.  As it turns out, the chest of drawers is too heavy for the three of them... what wusses.  What do they got in there?  Lead bars?  Moe instructs them to do it piecemeal: Larry and Shemp clear the stuff off the top, while Moe opens one of the drawers and... YIKES!  A skeleton!  A whole skeleton this time, not just a skull torturing Curly with its movements.  I should've known trouble was coming, because the drawer creaked when Moe opened it.  The threesome's apparently too scared to run away, and besides.  The wire crew has to put the skeleton into position.  The skeleton starts talking.  It sounds like a black man from the South, but they're careful not to call him a "spook."  After the ordeal with the suit of armor, I guess this is a little more tolerable.  The skeleton says that his name is "Red."  Shemp observes, "Oh!  Red Skeleton!"  Red pulls off his own head and says "Catch!" to the boys, throwing it at them.  They had to split that into two scenes, as the wire crew's not that good.  Then, the skeleton walks away... at what appears to be about 12 fps.
The Stooges are glad that Red is gone.  "Boy, am I glad he's gone!" says Moe.  Then Moe remembers that he's holding Red's head and tosses it to Shemp.  Shemp screams like he's got a frog down his back, and throws Red's head to Larry.  Larry throws Red's head to the ground.  Such disrespect.  Moe says "Don't be afraid now, boys... but LET'S GET OUTTA HERE!!!"  The first good idea he's had so far.
They run to the door, but it's locked.  Larry reminds them that the Spirit of Peeping Tom locked them in.  Moe tries to break down the door... with his own head.  What a maroon.  In his afraid state, he forgot: Larry and Moe are supposed to hold Shemp or Curly, and break down the door with their head!  Duh!
Maybe it's me, but this plot's getting a little thin.  Time to add a new character into the mix.  How about another animal?  This time: an owl... yeah, I already saw that part.  Trust me, you don't want to see the sausage factory that produces these blog posts.  Too gruesome.  An owl flies in through an open window and, of course, heads to where all birds go in Stooge films: either a) inside a larger, cooked bird, or b) a tiny human skull.  I don't need to tell you which the owl puppet... I mean, the owl, goes for.  Why am I reminded of Caddyshack?
Lawrence must've read my mind!  He says "What we need is a harder head!"  Shemp volunteers, and Moe and Larry pick him up like a big piece of lumber, and start banging away at the door with their new-fangled battering ram.  Shemp's getting older, though, and cries "Uncle" after only three hits.  Shemp says "Wait a minute, fellas!  I think it's cracking!"  "What, the door?" asks Larry.  "No, my head," says Shemp.  Priceless.
In an uncharacteristic bit of wussiness, Moe cries "Listen, fellas, I wanna get outta here!" like a 50-year old infant.  Moe points to a door on the opposite wall, and off they go.  The camera dollies back!  Dude, they borrowed some serious camera equipment for this one.  They go through this other door, bashing it exactly three times, and close it behind them.  The next fright: two skeletons playing chess.  I can't tell if the noise Moe makes is more like Curly or Jack Lemmon.  "C'mon, move already!" one skeleton says to the other.  Yeah, chess'll do that to you.  It's bloodless sadism.  The wire crew takes a little pride in this part, as they maneuver the skeleton on the right to pick up a piece and move it to the left on the chess board.  The skeleton on Stage Left tells the Stooges to get lost, and they all to happily oblige.  They run and sit down on a couch in this haunted castle.  After all, there's still two minutes to go.  Time for the owl-filled skull to go to work.  "Whoo!  Whoo!" it keeps saying.  It lands on the ground with a thud, and the patented Wheel o'Feet carries it away.  Crush proof!  The Wheel of Feet takes the skull head behind the couch.  The skull ends up on the top part of the couch, two small wings sticking out of the ears.  The Stooges must have a light on the floor pointing up at them during this part.  The owl-skull "Whoo"s again, and its eyes light up!  And then... Moe starts the "What're you ____ing at" bit for AN UNPRECEDENTED THIRD TIME IN THE SAME STOOGE SHORT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I'm just sayin'.  It's cut way too short, as he turns right away to see the skull, gets scared, and they all take off running again... sorry, I miscalled it.  Got two out of three.  They sit on the couch in a big pile of scared, and the owl-skull hybrid starts to fly, fly, FLY! through the air on wings of wires.  Somewhere along the way, it acquired a sheet to enhance the ghost-like effect.  The Stooges stand up and try to shoo the apparition away.  Kudos to the crew for making the wings flap so much!  Shemp grabs a broom and tries swatting at it, but you only hurt the ones you love, and he hits Moe on the head with the broom, then Lawrence, who doesn't take it at all well.  Moe seems to think the "spook" hit him on the head.  Moe and Larry see Shemp holding the broom, but Shemp uses a clever line to avoid a hitting from Moe.  I hate to call it a lie, but legally it is.


Just then... as foreshadowed, a hot babe on a white horse enters the very room the Stooges are in at that moment.  "It's Lady Godiva!" says Shemp.  Unfortunately, this is a family-friendly picture, and Godiva's wearing a 50s era bathing suit.  Still quite scandalous, however.  "Whoa, Charger," says Godiva.  I hate to be too critical, but she gives a lackluster line reading.  On the positive side, it's Nancy Saunders, and as of this writing she's still alive!  Finally, one person the Stooges couldn't kill off!
The Stooges engage in some leers and catcalls.  Yowza yowza!  Moe gets a hold of himself and slaps the others into gentlemanly submission.  Next scene: the statue of Peeping Tom is now sitting behind Godiva on the horse.  "Giddyup, Charger," she says.  Again, still lackluster.  Interesting stylistic choice.  They watch as the horse walks out of the room.  Shemp says "Let's watch 'em ride by!" and they all run over to the window.  Now... what are the odds that this Stooge short is going to end with the three not getting hit in the face with pies?
Oh, right... my final verdict.  Even though the finale's not as action packed as the one leading up to the big revelation in When a Body Meets a Body, I was entertained ne'theless.  And this one must be good, as it was the basis for the remake called Creeps.  That'll save me some time!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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