Friday, March 08, 2013
The No. 170 Stooges' Detective Agency
Old Emil Sitka and his creepy butler are listening to the radio. Ah, the cheapskate rich and their lack of interest in the Dumont TV network. Anyway, there's a rare bit of news for the 1949-era 1 percenters: a notorious gang called the Phantom Gang is stalking prominent citizens, and they just claimed another victim! The clumsy butler, so engrossed in the broadcast, drops the tray and glass he's holding. Normally, that's a firable offense, but it's just Sitka and the butler and not a high-profile party with many prominent guests, so it passes. The butler practically declares himself the leader of the Phantom Gang right after Sitka verbally admonishes him for the dropped glass. "YOU may be next!" says the butler. Sitka's not worried, though, even though he's trying to light the match in his mouth with a cigar. Iconic.
"Where are those detectives?" asks Sitka. At least he didn't say those three detectives. See? Even the Stooges get tired of the same old setup. No sooner does Sitka finish his sentence, when a giant rock crashes through the window. Sitka has a nice reaction to this, standing up out of his chair. Hmm, Smithers! It seems a bird has become petrified and has flown through the window!
Simplicity is sometimes best in these situations. There's a note tied to the rock. Sitka grabs the rock and note out of his butler's hands... what a faker. Now, how are the 1% supposed to watch this and suspend their disbelief at the same time? Fat, obese chance.
Symmetry is oftentimes best in these situations, as it helps plant seeds in the audiences' brains. Sitka reads the note aloud, and the note says "YOU will be next!" He makes a mad dash for the phone, and tells the operator to get him the Alert Detective Agency. "How should I know the number?" Suspension of disbelief by the 1% restored.
Next scene: the door of the Alert Detective Agentcy. Say! Just like the pic. Now, from the agency's name, you probably can guess what the next gag's going to be... but you're wrong. Dead wrong. Just like I was. Which is why I'm not going to spoil it for you by describing it; also, I'm a week behind and I'm trying to catch up here. Needles to say, Dudley Dickerson does some of his best work in the scene, which is a shame in a way. Anyway, Moe asks Shemp what his watch says. Shemp replies "It don't say nothin'! You gotta look at it!" Slap. Ah, the ambiguity inherent in language. We heard the phone ringing at the beginning of the scene, and Larry eventually gets over to the phone, when he's good and ready. Oh, Moe's not even going to put up with that again. Larry gets slapped for his phone manner, and I only point it out because of the suddenness of it. Oh, that's going into the YouTube mashup! Meanwhile, on Sitka's end of the phone, things are going to get ironic at least, and deadly at worst! Geez, the guy doesn't know his own house very well.
Sitka is neutralized, and the three bad guys come into the room... hmm! Reminds me of those Bizarro Jerry episodes of Seinfeld. The butler's the smart one, saying that Sitka called the detectives just before his demise. But like Back to the Future, they own their plot holes and prepare for battle with the detectives. First with wits, then with their weapons of choice. No D&D dice here, my friends! This game's for life and death! For some reason, I don't remember the butler's creepy laugh from the remake. I must've blocked it out or something.
Next scene: enter the Stooges. The butler answers the door, and the Stooges enter like minks escaping from the cage. Moe barks out "The butler's always the suspect!!" "Suspect?" replies the complicit butler. They stop and pose for a photo taken by Shemp. Fortunately, the butler didn't have his knife on him at the time, but Larry finds a watch, which Moe promptly breaks over Lawrence's head. The butler, the guilty git that he is, is displeased ne'theless. The Stooges get invited to the next room.
Next scene: the next room. It appears to be Sitka's study. Dayamn! This one had a budget and a great set! "What a..." I'm sorry. I mean, "Wotta creepy lookin' joint!" says Moe. Shemp helps set the proper mood by saying "Swell place for a murder!" Moe and Larry coerce Shemp into thinking positive. Meanwhile, Shemp never knew what almost grabbed him. Love that gag.
Enter the femme fatale, played by the lovely-to-look-at and lovely-in-spirit Christine McIntyre. She sizes up this trio of knuckleheads right away, and goes right into her best Mae West. Shemp's smitten right away. Moe says "Hold on! We're here on business!" Shemp retorts, "I mean business!" A rejoinder even modern Maxim magazine would surely like. Sure, it's no "Your dress would look great on my floor," but still pretty good, right? Moe's about to let Shemp really have it, and I mean really have it, but Shemp's ready. He puts on a pair of glasses, but Moe doesn't even give him a chance to say the line! What a bully! Cue the sound of the biggest pane of glass you've ever heard break. Obviously, it's up to McIntyre to walk over to them.
McIntyre's now standing next to the Stooges, and she's hard at work establishing an alibi. She informs the Stooges that her uncle's disappeared! She says, "He was sitting right over there. Then suddenly... I heard a SCREAM!" The Stooges seem to buy it. Well, they got spooked, anyhow. Moe tries to calm everyone down. And by everyone, I mean his fellow Stooges. Shemp seemed a little pissed off to me, personally. Fingerprints! They're going to start looking for fingerprints! Moe drags Larry over to the desk with his sticky magnifying glass.
Now you're probably asking yourself, man! It's been a while since there's been some wanton physical violence. Are you sure this is a Stooge film? Well, don't worry, because Moe gives Larry a swift kick in the ass, saying "Get busy!" A few seconds after that, Larry violently opens a drawer and hits Moe right in the coconut. "What's the matter?" asks Larry, in a vain attempt to sound innocent. Moe points inside the drawer and tells Larry, "Get that letter!" Moe then closes the drawer on Larry's hand. Yup, this is a Stooge mystery, all right. Meanwhile, Shemp runs afoul of his camera.
It's about the five minute mark, so time for Act Two. Shemp is summoned to take some photographs of fingerprints. I'll let that sink in for all the old-timey camera nerds out there, and give them some time to adjust the tape on their broken glasses, take a deep, deep breath, and launch into "Dubious at best." The main thing to remember is, like a teen with a cell phone, Shemp gets distracted from the task at hand. In this case, by McIntyre sitting on the desk next to him. Moe eventually tries to snap him out of it. Personally, I think the scene was edited better in For Crimin' Out Loud. More emphasis on Shemp, less micromanaging from Moe. Shemp eventually gets a good laugh out of it, if only him. McIntyre tries to move the plot along and suggests that the three of them split up. Just like the Ghostbusters! They can do more damage that way. "One of you come with me," she purrs. Shemp volunteers himself, and Moe objects, of course. They fight over it, but McIntyre signals to Shemp. Shemp rules! And Shemp rubs it in as best he can. Moe and Larry head out of the office together. Moe picks up the camera, and this time he hits the musclebound lug with it. The musclebound lug falters a bit, stunned, then recovers and retreats... phooey. Time to go to the second job.
Okay, back. Next scene: Shemp and McIntyre (aka Goodrich's Niece... some part she's got!! DAMN YOU, BERNDS!!!!) go into a big sittin' room all by themselves. McIntyre says "Before we start... let's have a little drink." Needles to say, Shemp's excited by that idea. McIntyre makes him stand at one end of the room while she pours the drinks about 20 feet away. Just then... the painting behind Shemp starts to lower like a castle's drawbridge! If this were a cartoon, there'd be a cannon behind it. The painting quickly snaps back into place and Shemp turns around... but not long enough for McIntyre to slip the sleeping pill into Shemp's drink. Shemp just walks right over and sits down next to McIntyre... defying orders! Oh well. Gotta improvise sometime. Shemp gives McIntyre the perfect lead-in by saying "Yeah, I sure injoy good pictures." McIntyre says "Well, I'm sure you'll enjoy... that one!" and points to her right. Shemp looks, and plop goes the Alka Seltzer! Shemp's wise to that, though, as you can see, and plays the game right back to her. I hate to spoil how this little game of alcohol cat and mouse turns out, but I will anyway: McIntyre's quick thinking prevails. I think we had to learn that one in the Boy Scouts. And so... as in most of these private detective stories, the detective either gets slugged, which Moe already did in spades, or gets ye olde Michael Finn. In Shemp's case, both! Rather than cut to the exact moment, I'll give Shemp a two second head start. And then, the fireworks. Normally, I'd say that this is the part where they have to stretch out time to 16 minutes, but so far this flick's a pretty lean piece of beef, if I do say so myself. Anyway, Shemp and his stunt double do some flips that make that one Donald O'Connor segment in Singin' in the Rain look like a big steaming pile of... I mean, like the classic that it is. My favourite micro-edit would have to be at 1:50 where Shemp slaps himself on the back of the neck and has to move like he's going to do the flip... what can I say? I'm just a negative person, I guess. Anyway, after Shemp's done doing... whatever the hell you call that, Moe and Larry come barging in and run to Shemp's aid. Moe says "Take it easy........... kid!" Well, they couldn't afford to get it right in a second take. Instead, there it is, immortalized for all eternity, awkward pause and all.
Somewhere in the midst of all this chaos, McIntyre made her escape. Moe surmises that there's a secret panel in the room. He tells Shemp, "You take that wall!" Shemp says "Where to?" "GO AHEAD!" responds Moe. Two classics in the same film; I love it.
Okay... NOW comes the part that stretches time. Moe looks for the secret panel, tapping the wall all over, when suddenly... you know that painting that taunted Shemp earlier? Well, as it turns out... BOOM! ALL the paintings are like that. It's at this point that Moe starts to act very, very much like Curly... especially this part. Know whut I mean? For God's sake. It's just a good thing that they were brothers. And so, this gets turned into a whole thing where Shemp and Larry think Moe is crazy. I'm starting to draw a line. I mean, wasn't Shemp just poisoned? Is what Moe's saying really that hard to believe? Moe tries to prove his sanity by standing under another picture while Larry pulls the lever that Moe found... twice. Moe eventually pulls the painting off the wall, but doesn't like what he finds, and runs away screaming, taking Shemp and Larry with him in yet another case of what I like to call fear transferral. I guess they couldn't afford to do the air compression trick with Moe's hair at that crucial moment.
Next scene: the hallway, where they start to run, but at the other end is one of the bad guys from the beginning. Remember? It was a while ago. The smooth talking guy. The Stooges duck into another room before the slowpoke can draw his gun and fire a hail of sparks.
Time for Act Three, because it just feels right. Larry, after asking "Who was that guy?", votes for fleeing the house as quickly as possible. Moe reminds them that they have an obligation, nay, a contract to fulfill... but he ends up convincing himself that Larry's right. "The window!" says Larry, and off they go. Shemp sees the phone and says "Let's call the cops!" Boy, they really are desperate now! PICK ONE!!! The phone's dead. But then....... oh, no. It's time once again for the old "What're you _____ing at?" gag. It's got whiskas on it, for Cripes' Pete! It's the 7 foot tall Duke of York, Hollywood stunt man royalty. Moe eventually finds out the hard way that Nikko's been playing a mean game of arbitrage. Not bad for a muscle-bound freak! Moe turns around to slap somebody for getting hit so much, and hits a high note that I don't think I've heard before, or since... or lately. Of course, when he does his Curly, he has to use the crack in his voice.
And so, Nikko's got Moe and Larry firmly grabbed by their coats. Shemp's left with probably the only weapon a man of his age at the time has: slapping the guy on the back with both hands. Meanwhile, the leader of the Phantom Gang is at the door, listening to the commotion within. And back to the Stooges. Is this the end of the Stooges as we know it? I kinda wish it was. Alas, Shemp goes for a backup weapon: a flower vase to the head. This is not the way a movie hero's supposed to comport themselves, especially in this day and age. Aren't things so much better now? And so, with Moe and Lawrence free from Nikko's vice-like grip, the knuckleheaded trio head for the door with Ralph Dunn behind it, which is probably why the camera dwells on the door for an extra long period of time. There seem to be a lot of small time-stretchers in this one like that. For some reason, we hear a tremendous amount of broken glass.
Next scene: the chaos in the hall has settled. The Stooges are in a heap in front of Ralph Dunn, who's lying on the floor on his stomach with the door on his back, and only the door is on his back. That must be one heavy wooden door! Ralph's trying to reach for his gun, but can't, even though it looks like it's pretty well within his reach. He pretends like he can't reach it until Moe kicks it away. The Stooges don't confiscate the bad guy's gun, because a movie hero doesn't do that... but wouldn't they? I guess not. The Stooges are known for wanton random acts of violence, but they're not NRA members, for God's sake!
The three split up again, running in different directions. Isn't that what got 'em into trouble in the first place? Shemp steps on the door on his way out. Next scene: we see Moe hobbling down the hall. He's getting too old for this shi.... this shtick. Exhibit A: he stops to catch his breath. Good Lord! Is he having a heart attack? As it happens, Larry was a few seconds behind Moe, and they of course meet up at the corner of Hallway and Hallway. You'll never guess what happens next!..... That's absolutely correct! They get scared and run away! But we follow Larry this time, who does have a bit of extra brain lying around after all. He stops and realizes what he saw, and starts trying to call Moe. But just then... BOOM! There's Nikko again! Larry spies the shadow of Nikko's hand, poised for the clutching. Larry is hypnotized and can't help but look behind himself. He tries to run at the last possible second, but it's too late. Nikko's strong arms have wrapped themselves around Larry's neck, and Larry can barely get an intelligible word out of his constricted throat. Fortunately, Nikko's strangling takes a long time to kill a man, and Moe has returned, calling for Larry, having made the same realization a little bit later on about what he saw a little while earlier. Nikko relinquishes Larry, who runs away of course, and doesn't even consider that Moe might be in trouble next. Every man for himself, indeed. Nikko heads over to where Moe is... hmm! Where have I seen that haircut before? Sorry... SPOILER ALERT. Where Larry saw the shadow of Nikko's hand, Moe sees the top of Nikko's head. Usually when Moe grabs Larry's hair, it's in anger, but this time it's with joy of the thing lost and found again. That is, until he realizes it's not Larry at all, but the evil impostor. Now it's Moe's turn to get strangled... that is, until he bites Nikko's hand. Nikko screams. Nikko's hand sounds just like an apple! Weird!
And so, Moe runs back up the hall, with Nikko hot on his trail. Dayamn, but that Nikko can run! Now, this transition to the next scene's a little confusing, because now it's Shemp running away from the camera. Moe runs towards it, past Shemp, with Nikko in tow. If you're at all like me (scary thought, I know), you'll have to watch that part a couple of times. Shemp says to Nikko, "He got away from you, didn't he?" and laughs. DAMN YOU, MR. NOISY!!!!! Now it's Shemp's turn to get chased. Shemp runs past Larry and... now it's Larry's turn to get chased! I already saw ahead, so I know it's time to set up the old Barricaded Door sketch... another comedy structure that the Stooges overly relied on. And since I'm pressed for time, I'm not even going to bother with the play by play on this one... okay, I changed my mind. Nikko gives up trying to fight with Larry over the door and runs off. Larry keeps piling up furniture. Then, Moe shows up, and pushes his way in, but Larry's ready to hit him over the head with ... you know, one of those ash shovels for an old-fashioned wood stove. You know, the kind that Johnny Casper used to beat The Dane half to death with in Miller's Crossing! Larry smites Moe upon his head, then tries to apologize for it. I'm assuming this wasn't in the script; Moe says "You've been around me many years. Don't you know what I look like?!" That may be worth the price of admission right there. Does that not belong in a popular YouTube Stooge mashup? So many priceless moments, all shoved into one video turducken. That's what I want! I feel I deserve it... Anyway, Nikko comes in through the other door to torment Moe and Larry some more. This could go on for years! Or 1952, which ever comes first. Nikko gets to work right away, and marches over to Moe and Larry and grabs some heads in his giant hands.
Next scene: Shemp comes running up from down the hall and stops like a talented ballerina when he hears the familiar cries of his bosom chums in pain. He sees Nikko beating the heads of Moe and Larry together like cymbals. He brushes past Larry's now defunct barricade, grabs the stove shovel and starts wailing on Nikko's head. I tell ya darling, it's a veritable Concussion Cornucopia. (c) 1960 Norman Maurer. Shemp gives the guy a smack in the face just for good measure, and... DOWN GOES NIKKO! And he takes a chair with him, too. "I guess that's the end of Handsome Harold!" says Shemp. Shemp boasting off the port bow! Moe and Larry look at each other in puzzlement as Shemp goes into full-on Shipping News-style raconteur mode. Ironic somehow, seeing as how there's a story opening up right behind him. Why, it's the ghost of Emil Sitka! I mean, the corpse! There's life in it yet, though... or at the very least, stored potential energy, as Sitka leans up against Shemp. No noise, though, so it's a little confusing. The second time it happens, there's a familiar noise. I'm probably the only one, but I'm reminded of this here scene.
Wow! Moe and Larry must've really not been paying attention to Shemp, because Shemp has to tell them that HE JUST TURNED AROUND AND SAW THE DEAD CORPSE OF EMIL SITKA. Am I wrong? And then... the body falls. I'm sorry, this is the right scene. The Stooges run out into the hall, only to find the guy with the gun again. They run back into the room. The guy gets off a shot at the last possible second. What a goof.
Next scene: they're back in the room, and repair the barricade, when suddenly... Shemp sees that Old Man Sitka... is actually ALIVE! Hallelujah! A bit too much zombie makeup on, but alive ne'theless. Sitka lays out the scenario for the Stooges. This part was cut out of Crimin' Out Loud: Sitka tells them that, as a lover of fine music, the Phantom Gang tortured him by tying him up and forcing him to listen to singing commercials! Some things never change. The Stooges wince collectively at the thought. And yet... it's the Layer of Retro that our modern society now depends badly upon. Go figure.
Nikko comes to and opens the floodgates to let the Phantom Gang in. A big fight immediately breaks out. Shemp the Shoveler grabs his trusty shovel and hits two of the bad guys on the head. Nikko the Pounder pounds Moe and Shemp on the head with his giant fists. The Phantom Gang leader quickly recovers and holds a gun on the good guys. Sitka outwits the bad guys this time by cutting the lights. Bolts of lightning from the guns light up the room in brief flashes... dayamn! I'm a poet and I didn't know it! The creepy butler lights a match, and gets a faceful of shovel. Everyone seems to have matches at this point. Larry's got to be the highlight of this particular part.
Sitka turns the light back on. Apparently, only he knew where the secret switch was. We never did see McIntyre get hit, but she's passed out on a chair. Maybe she drank too much. Say what you will about the Stooges: they didn't believe in violence against women... well, American women, anyway. Mexican women, that's another story. The Stooges are on the floor, softly punching each other, in an arrangement that would've made M.C. Escher himself jealous. Sitka has to help them up now! Nevertheless, Sitka's impressed with the way the Stooges beat up the bad guys. He says to Shemp, "Tell me, how did you do it?" Gee, I wonder what's going to happen.................................................
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan