Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Three Stooges in "The Fortune Cookie"


If you and I remember correctly, the plot of Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie involved health insurance fraud.  Sorry... SPOILER ALERT.  Double Indemnity was life insurance fraud.  Here, the opening shot involves some pretty chick in a wheelchair.  Is this a Joe DeRita or Joe Besser short or what?  No, as it turns out, the Stooges live one floor below in the same apartment building.  The wheelchair chick, SPOILER ALERT, turns out to be faking, and is just biding her time with this elaborate hoax to collect a big payday from the insurance company... and thereby driving up the premiums for everyone else.  Something like that.  Cycle of life game-changing stuff.  Hey, they broke your heart so go get that M.O.N.E.Y., that's what I say!
So, the movie starts off on the day that she's going to collect.  Screenwriters, take note: start your scripts at the most interesting part of the story.  It wouldn't be so interesting if it were a week away from the big day, for example!  Her partner in crime, the surrogate for the audience, shows up, and asks her who she got for witnesses "this time."  Oh, a serial defrauder, eh?  She tells the guy that she got the three saps on the floor below as witnesses.
Cut to the three saps in bed, snoring away.  They end up harmonizing in their sleep.  Lol.  I don't think they've done that before!  After that, they roll over loudly, and reminded me of that awful two-headed purple monster that became all the rage on Sesame Street for a while.  Nobody knows its name, and I guess none of the Sesame Street staff could be bothered to think of one.  Anyway, back to the Stooges.  Mary taps on the radiator pipe, and the Stooges wake up.  "Hey, it's Mary!" exclaims Moe.  They stand up and yawn, punching Lawrence in the head in the process.  Moe gets a hammer and taps back.  Mary then taps out a Morse code message meaning "breakfast."  Larry figures that one out.  Meanwhile, Shemp's got his ear to the pipe... gee, I wonder what's going to happen?  Moe has to send a message back, and Larry tells him how to tap the pipe.  And so, with a mighty swing of the camera, Moe starts hammering on Shemp's metal head.  A variation on the ol' knocking on the door trick; you know, you're knocking on the front door of some guy's house, and you try to act all cool about it by turning and talking to your friend at the same time, when the person comes to the door and you end up knocking on their head!  At that point, you go from cool to fool!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha... where was I?  Oh yeah.  God, but blogs are so annoying.  Comic books this, video games that, and non-sequiturs galore.  Moe starts going to Shemp, "Relax, kid.  All I did was hit you in the head with the hammer like this!"  He does it again, and then Shemp takes the hammer from Moe to demonstrate... well, I dare not spoil it.  Needles to say, they're trying to subvert the audience's expectations. Especially with the next scene involving Larry, when he starts going all Moe on Moe's ass.  Oh, dude!  Talk about game changing!  Moe seems a little shocked himself, and can barely deliver his line!  Or maybe he didn't have enough water and his throat was dry.  Larry does the hand following bit on Moe, but doesn't seem to do it right somehow.  It's more of a hand-waving motion, and Larry does it as a push.  Kinda weird!  I think it's his first time doing it... and probably last.  Moe does the "See that?" routine but ends up hitting himself on the head with his own hammer.  It's all very disorientating, but the enormity of the crime is not lost on Larry and Shemp, and they run off in a sad attempt to look busy.  Larry tells Shemp, "Get busy!  Do your exercises!"  More disorientation.  Shemp starts doing toe touches, and every time he bends over it sounds like a bunch of walnuts getting cracked and shelled.  Well, he bends over one time, then Larry lifts him back up, and Shemp bends over a second time, asking someone to help him up.  Moe kicks him in the ass instead, and Shemp falls completely to the floor.  Moe whisks Lawrence away, and Shemp decides to start practicing his swimming.  And even though he's not in a pool, Shemp starts taking on water.  You'll see in a second... that is water, isn't it?  For this assault, Moe decides to find a fitting punishment, and goes over to get a hook on a pole, which he puts in Shemp's mouth to lift him up.  Sheesh.  Reminds me of something that happened to Steve-O... actually, I don't think I'll look for that one on YouTube.  Anyway, Moe gets his corporation in order, as it's time to shave.  Boy, there must've been an extreme shortage of available sets that week.  The shaving proper begins here.  If only someone had a montage of the Stooges shaving!  I know of at least one person who wouldn't be able to watch it.  Larry shaves off a big hunk of chest hair at this point... that is chest hair, isn't it?  Larry's got a funny expression on his face, and not funny ha-ha.  To put a cap on this shave-a-thon, Shemp gets hot towels out of the fridge... don't think about it.  Shemp doesn't have to get the talcum powder, though.  Moe brings it over and introduces it for everyone.  Apparently, it's called "Shlemeil #8!"  You know, they never did ask me how to spell shlemeil in all those spelling bees.  Let's do this the democratic way: shlameel gets about 6,000 hits on Yahoo!, shlemeil gets about 41,200, shlemiel gets about 38,000 and schlemiel gets exactly 134,000.  Then of course, they keep recommending this.  Time to move on.  Woody Allen must've liked this part, as there's a very, very similar scene in Annie Hall.  A bit different, however, as Shemp somehow gets a big mouthful of the talcum powder.


Now that they're dressed, they're ready to make breakfast.  This is going to take forever.  Mary taps again and they approach the assignment with a new found sense of urgency.  For some reason, the hot plate is next to the front door on the dresser.  Lol.  Shemp is on egg duty.  "Oh!  Nice fresh cackle fruit!" he says.  Or is it "cackle food?"  Kinda sounds like "cackle food" to me.  Meanwhile, Larry is the picture of domesticity as he goes through cabinets in the kitchen proper.  He finds a bowl of water... that is water, isn't it?  Back to Shemp, who's busy moving two fried eggs around in the skillet.  Supervisor Moe comes over and reminds Shemp that Mary likes 'em scrambled!  To properly correct Shemp, Moe gives him a swift kick in the ass.  (Moe has to dub in his line about a potato at this point)  But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and... yup.  Another pair of fried egg eyeglasses for Moe.  Moe sends Shemp packing and takes over the scrambled egg duty himself.  If you're either a chef or a non-chef, you might want to just skip over this part.  SHEESH!!!  Moe puts a whole paint can full of lard into the skillet, and starts grinding whole eggs in a coffee grinder.  Yup, shell and all, singing like Curly all the while.
For once, the Stooges don't have enough time, so, like the bad dream it sort of is, we cross-fade right to Mary's apartment, where Larry is clutching at his face as though he's just been slapped.  Sorry, no director's cut of these things, but he surely was just reprimanded for making a bad joke.  Moe orders Shemp to set up the portable table for Mary so she can start eating her plate of lard garnished with egg.  Time to eat up some more time!  You know, Harpo once had a similar adventure with a folding table, but it's just Shemp this time.  Shemp starts to walk away and do it, but suddenly realizes he doesn't like Moe's attitude, so he does something about it, by Gum!  Now THAT's how you do the hand gesture thing!  On overdrive, baby, like you're waving!!!  Pay attention, Lawrence.
The struggle begins.  The table needs an exorcism, apparently.  Actually, I think I'll risk skipping over this part.  Needles to say, Shemp doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he does a little of both.  Moe comes over and administers another kick to Shemp's ass, sets up the table himself, and goes away again.  The table punishes Shemp anew for that, but Shemp finds a little movie magic in his fit of frustration.
Shemp brings over the now obedient table and Moe beams with pride as he describes the breakfast to Mary: "Nice cold hotcakes smothered in vinegar!"  If I were Mary, I would not eat any food the Stooges prepared in general, and that breakfast in particular.  But that's just me.
We're about overdue for a new character to enter the fray, and thankfully, one shows up.  Enter Vernon Dent, the new adjuster from the Calamity Insurance Company.  Mary is polite to him, but Shemp's dealt with this type before.  Shemp chews Dent out good... but apparently they were good friends in real life.  Shemp puts a pair of pliers on his shoulder and dares Dent to knock them off.  I think this is the first time that's happened in a Stooge film, probably the last.  Well, Shemp was always the street wise kid.  Curly was never prone to angry fits like that.  Moe comes over, takes the pliers, hits Shemp in the head with them, and grabs Shemp's nose to drag him away from Dent.  Now it's Larry's turn.  Oh, puh-leeeeeeeeeeeeze.  And I know you were thinking it, too.  Dent's all too ready, though, and he up and pokes Lawrence in the eyes.  Just on G.P., you know.  Moe wordlessly moves Larry back over next to Mary.  Interesting moment.  Shemp goes in for a second helping and gets his foot smashed by Dent.  Moe takes charge of his corporation, and angrily tells Mary, "Mary, we got work to do.  We'll see you later!"  Moe then tells Dent to open the door for them, which he does.  Must be nice to have two Stooges you can grab by the hair now.
Next scene: the lobby of a building... hey!  Maybe it's their apartment building!  "Let's hurry this up so we (can) get back and help Mary!" says Larry.  Finally!  A purpose in life.  The Stooges, however, can never do anything in a hurry except run from the cops.  Their task is to put up a new poster.  Shemp turns to talk to Larry and hits Moe with the glue broom.  He turns again and hits Larry.  He turns again and hits Moe again!!!  Moe merely readjusts Shemp instead of outright hitting him about the face and neck.  Shemp starts applying a layer of glue and hits Moe in the stomach with the broom handle.  Moe decides to act like a boss and starts lighting up a small stogie.  Shemp hits Moe in the belly again, and ... yup, you guessed it.  DOWN GOES STOGIE!  Moe starts choking and, to add ironic insult to injury, gets a mouthful of broom handle to smoke in lieu of the cigar of yesterseconds.  Agitated, Moe says "Why you... you nitwit you!  What's the matter with you?"  In his agitated state, Moe grabs the glue brush, tells Shemp "You're absolutely useless!" and proceeds to brush Larry's face with the white glue.  There's irony in there someplace, I just can't place it.  Moe tells Larry that he's sorry, but Larry's still kinda pissed off about the faceful of glue.  Moe reiterates, saying "I said I'm sorry, so SHUT UP!"  This may go on for years!  (oh right... it has)


They eventually get the poster up, then read it to kill some time and inform the audience, too!  The camera swoops over to see Svengarlic and his agent walking into the lobby.  Business is bad, and they need to pull a David Blaine-style publicity stunt to attract the corneas of that big Public Eye.  Svengarlic agrees, but he says he has to find the right person to hypnotize.  Well, he's probably about to find three.  He overhears Shemp's latest idea: get Svengarlic to hypnotize Mary so she can walk again!  Moe poo-poohs the idea, of course, so Shemp tries to hypnotize Moe.  Time to kill some more time.
For a while, Shemp seems to hypnotize Moe.  Moe repeats everything Shemp tells him to do.  Things start to fall apart when Shemp says "You are now in Sing Sing!"  Moe picks up a chair and holds it in front of his face so it looks like he's behind bars.  Wayne and Garth couldn't do it any better.  "I am now in Sing Sing," chants Moe.  Sorry, I'm skipping ahead a little bit.  Shemp says to Moe, "You are now in Boston!"  Moe says "I am now in Sing Sing."  There's a great joke there someplace.  And you may have noticed that the camera gets in closer on Moe.  Suddenly, it's Moe who seems to be doing the hypnotizing!  I guess I might as well describe the last joke before Moe gets back to his normal self.  "You can't get him out of Sing Sing!" moans Larry.  Shemp replies, "Good, because that's just where he belongs."  Moe hits Shemp with the chair and gets back to his normal grouchy self.
At this point, Svengarlic closes in, approaching the Stooges.  Moe finishes telling the other two that all this hypnotism stuff is the bunk.  "That's where you're wrong, my friend!" says Svengarlic.  "Look me in the eye... the EYE!" says Svengarlic.  Svengarlic shows the Stooges the palms of his hands.  They have eyes drawn on them.  I guess that's where Shemp screwed up.  Svengarlic quickly hypnotizes the three and makes them jump through various hoops, mostly animal hoops.  Larry acts like a cat, and Shemp like a monkey.  Svengarlic just has Moe walk over to the other two.  You know, guys, if you hadn't wasted so much time on Mary and the poster, maybe you'd have time to have Moe act like an animal!  Or maybe that's not in Moe's contract, who knows.  The agent runs over and shakes Svengarlic's hand.  Genius!  Sensational.  All that kinda agent stuff.  Ego inflated.  Fade to black.
Fade in on stock footage of an assembled crowd.  The agent speaks to the crowd through a microphone, and from the same lobby, no less!  He directs the crowd to look up at a flagpole high up on the tall building.  Hmm!  Just like Olive Oyl was just on.  It's all related.  Thank God for government regulations that prevent this kind of public publicity stunt from happening so much these days.  Svengarlic gets the Stooges to walk out onto the flagpole.  There's a brief shot of the sidewalk for our edification.  Svengarlic tells the Stooges to start dancing.  They do.  Just then... a paperboy on a bicycle rides into the lobby.  Just go with it.  He's looking up at the Stooges and doesn't see where he's going, and... BAM!  Right into Svengarlic.  Svengarlic hits the wall, dislodging a potted plant that hits him on the head.  Just go with it.  Svengarlic is now an honorary Stooge.  You become that if you hit a wall and dislodge something that hits you on the head.  The agent goes over and tries to wake up Svengarlic, and reminds the audience that the Stooges are still up on that flagpole!  Cut to the Stooges who start to come out of the trance.  Larry asks "What's that crowd doing down there?"  Cut to stock footage of people walking by on the sidewalk below.  NOT THE CROWD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Back to the Stooges who immediately start losing their balance after that.  This is a medium shot.  Cut to a long shot of the Stooges falling and grabbing onto the flagpole with their hands.  Shemp ends up hanging onto Moe's legs.  They are in a tight spot.  There's only about a minute and a half left, which gives them plenty of time to fall..................... Moe loses his pants at this point.  And Shemp's face ain't doing too good either, frankly!


Inexplicably, they all manage to climb back up to the top of the flagpole.  At this point, it starts to crack.  Larry seems to make the same groaning noise twice.  And at this point, it snaps, sending the boys and flagpole fragment sailing into the nearest window.  They all land in a heap on the floor next to Mary and Vernon Dent, the new adjuster from the Calamity Insurance Company.
Mary shrieks and stands up.  Larry David couldn't have written it any better.  Mary's check is torn up by Dent.  "You blithering idiots!" screams Mary.  Now she sounds British!  Let's check the IMDb... the IMDb doesn't know.  Neither does Wikipedia, but it says the U.S.  Anyway, Brit or not, she's pissed and grabs the nearest thing she can find: the ball on the end of the flagpole.  She unscrews it from the pole and throws it at the Stooges.  It hits all three of them, sounding out the NBC logo.  They fall to the floor.  Alas, honesty is not always the best policy... what?  What did I say?  Three and a half stars for the clever plot.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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