Friday, May 24, 2013
Bialystock and Stooges, Goddag på dig!
Boy! And you thought Variety was harsh! Of course, this harkens back to a simpler time when a bad review could make or break a Broadway play. Nowadays it's all "Broadway? What's that? Some kind of a street?" I don't know how important a good review is to a play these days, but trust me. In the era of Transformers sequels, big blockbusters hope for bad reviews. That way, they know they're going to get their target audience: teenage boys of all ages and gender identification. But for bigtime Broadway producer B. K. Doaks... ooh! Who's that based on? Who's that based on? I need to know right now!
Where was I? Oh yes. As it turns out, this newspaper's on no mere rostrum camera stand. It's being held in B.K. Doaks' hands as I live and breathe. We dolly back to see Doaks holding the paper, and he starts wadding it up in anger. He then hurls the paper into the air... and where it lands, he obviously doesn't care, he being too wrapped up in his own wrath. Fortunately for us, it lands on Moe's head. So hard, in fact, that Moe slumps into the door he's standing next to with a resounding "BONK!" Oh, this is going to get ugly spelled uglé. Unfortunately for Larry, he picks up a different bit of newspaper just as Moe's recovering. The camera dollies in slightly as Moe goes into Accusatory Mode on Larry's ass. Larry makes the mistake of sticking out his tongue when paint brushes are near and... Meanwhile, on Shemp's side of things, he's busy struggling with a tiny little squeeze tube of paint. Would'ja believe it? It's stuck! Lol. You'll never guess who gets hit with it... yup, Moe again. He gets a black question mark on his face. Here's Moe with a white question mark on his face. And it's good and proper too! It's got the dot and everything.
And so, as decreed by the laws of Stooge combat, Moe peels the black question mark off his face, while Shemp tries to supplicate himself at the tender mercies of Moe's feet. But Moe is a vengeful God, and wickedly bides his time before striking. Note the subtle shift in audio from when Shemp's talking off camera to when he appears on camera and starts going into the old "Gee, I'm sorry, Moe" bit. Ah, but to be Shemp, spending a lifetime apologizing for things he'll never be able to stop doing. But back to Moe, who seems to be channeling the spirit of Ted Healy when he comes up with this one: a story about an "old twitch." This may be the highlight of the whole film right there!
And, of course, Shemp's not as sorry as he thought he was anymore. Time to fight fire with paint... I mean, paint with paint. Shemp laughs and ducks down. So much for sorry ol' Shemp! I understand that in shop classes all across the country that week, kids took to slapping their classmates in the face with loaded paint brushes in much the same manner... okay, okay, I just made that one up. No, the Stooges never influenced a kid's behavior anytime or anywhere, and it was wrong of me to imply that. Time for the ol' "Are you ready?" bit and it's back to "work." How the Stooges got hired to do odd jobs for anyone is beyond me.
We're well overdue for some new characters to enter the foray. And so, enter the girls. The door to the stage opens and we hear distant semi-thunderous applause. And as is often the case, these girls come in threes. This time, it's Nanette Bordeaux as Lulabelle, with Blonde Showgirl and Brunette Showgirl in tow. "There they are!" says Lulabelle, pointing in the Stooges' general direction. "Let's go and have some fun with them," she says. Only in a Stooge flick. Next scene: over to the Stooges, where Larry's still busy painting, and the Horwitz brothers are still wiping the paint off their faces... that's funny! I thought it was Horowitz, or Horovitz. Go figure. Lulabelle taunts them by saying "I thought you guys had parts in this show!" Larry explains that it's only "a small bit in the Southern act of the last scene." Very specific for a Stooge short! Oh, this must be based on someone's bitter real-life experiences. But thank God for the chorus girls and the inspiration they give, even if it is phony. Nanette encourages the boys, and of course Shemp has to take it too far. Shemp quickly fires off a round of kisses up Lulabelle's arm, and she swoons as he makes with the erudition... fancy words, that is.
The pissing match begins in full as Moe attempts to outdo Shemp. What a square. Larry cleverly insults Moe, using the Bard's words as fodder, and Moe and Larry proceed to fake sword-fight with two giant loaded paint brushes. The girls wisely take off running at this point, if only because their costumes are more expensive. Even Harry Cohn wouldn't be able to save the Stooges' jobs if they got paint on those! Now, here's a good psychological test for ya: if you have a friend or fiancée or even a spouse who finds this next part funny.... dump that person immediately. No hesitation, no looking back. Moe and Larry are busy fighting with paintbrushes. Larry lunges at Moe, but hits Shemp in the face instead. Larry and Moe switch positions. Moe lunges at Larry, but hits Shemp in the face instead. Again, if you know someone who finds that even remotely humorous, erase them from the book of your life... starting with me, because I just wet myself from guffawing.
Is the whole rest of this film going to be this hardly compelling "sword" fight? ...whew! Thank GOD! B. J. Doaks has returned to the fold, and he gets hit by Moe's paint brush. Ain't that always the way? When you were a kid, you'd be horsing around with your friends... at least, until someone took it too far. Then come the lectures, and everyone gets all serious. Kids just don't get to have any fun anymore. As it happens, Sitka's as nasty as the Stooges, but he's playing a serious role here, usually reserved for Vernon Dent or... someone else. "I oughta fire you... but I need you!" exclaims Sitka... I mean, V. D. Doaks. You know, I think Max von Sydow told Paul Dooley the same thing in Strange Brew.
Anyway, Doaks has got a special job for the Stooges: Doaks wants the Stooges to keep that hated Nick Barker from panning his latest show. Moe balks, however, because he doesn't want Barker to pan the Stooges' performance. Isn't this every stage actor's dilemma right there? What a quaint era when critics' opinions in the newspaper used to matter. Nowadays, the only criticism that matters is: is it cool? Is it something the bubble-gummers out there would want to go and see? Better yet, tell their friends that they saw it? Hunger Games on Broadway, or a shirtless Harry Potter, that kinda crap. With his face still fresh with paint, Doaks finds a third solution, rather than firing the Stooges for insubordination: the Stooges should disguise themselves so that Barker won't know who threw him out. Oh, and one more plot wrinkle... Barker wears disguises himself! Why, he might be disguised as a gruff Broadway producer for all we know! Sitka gives the Stooges the following instruction: "If you see ANY suspicious characters, give 'em the works!!!" Manna from Stooge heaven for the die hard fans like us. The Stooges usually give their all to each other, so this will surely pay off......
Taking deep satisfaction in their new marching orders, the Stooges salute Doaks, and end up slapping each other in the process. Doaks rolls his eyes and walks away. Now, Larry himself didn't get hit in the salute, and Shemp didn't get to hit anybody, but Larry flinches nevertheless. What a wuss.
Vertical wipe horizontally to next scene, where we see Moe changing into a cowboy outfit... a cowboy with an outrageous beard. Frisco Kid, anyone? Sheesh!!! Cut to Shemp, putting on a similar cowboy outfit. Shemp doesn't have to search for his hat, though. And then, Shemp proceeds to alienate the Spanish-American segment of his audience. He then waits until he finishes his line to get scared by his reflection in the mirror. 0 for 2, Shemp, 0 for 2. "My disguise is so good, I didn't recognize meself!" says Shemp. Okay, 1 for 3. Shemp dropped his gun so he bends over to pick it up and... BOIOIOIOING! Right in the bud. Finally, some "random" violence to keep this on track as a Stooge flick. "Ow," says Shemp. Man, but suits of armour hate the Stooges. Cut to Larry, apparently putting on an Abe Lincoln costume. Larry appears to be about two or three feet too small for the coat, lol. Larry cuts eye holes in the hat. The hat's far too big for Larry's head, and Larry's head virtually disappears under the giant stove pipe hat. Larry admires his handiwork in the mirror, then turns and scuffles out of the room like a robot, lol. Maybe his costume is an old-timey stove, who knows?
Next scene: Moe and Shemp backstage, looking for Barker. Good thing they didn't coordinate with Larry, otherwise this film might be over with too quickly. Moe and Shemp split up, and Shemp turns to see a door with writing on it. Shemp's basically illiterate, but he sort of knows how to sound out words. "Dangaroos, kippawa?" says Shemp, when in fact the door says...
A machine starts whirring as Shemp begins to open the door. Shemp opens the door and gets punched in the schnozz by a boxing gloved hand. Moe runs to Shemp's side. Next scene: Larry on patrol. This is either a bad Ed Wood pic, or... as YouTube's MrFlix1983 rightly points out, Shemp confuses Larry the Stove with Nick Barker, saying "He's disguised like a black banana!" Moe and Shemp proceed to try and render this intruder in their own private Gitmo. What could possibly go wrong?
Next scene: more warehouse crates. Gee, you'd think a theater wouldn't have so much room backstage, but I guess this was the old days. Moe and Shemp are on the ground floor, while Larry emerges from behind the crates and ends up walking one level above them. Reminds me of that old Warner Brothers cartoon... hmm! Forgot the name! Better try Yahoo... God bless the memory hole AND YouTube! Together, no more couch cushions in the ol' brain! Fair and Worm-er! Similar setup; at least, I think so. But in Larry's case, it makes more sense, as his vision is limited by the hat he's looking through. Why, that's probably not even him up there! The risk was too great for him taking a fall off those crates. Too great. Get the younger, expendable stunt double, and... WHAM! Oh, that definitely wasn't Larry.
Moe and Shemp go to investigate. Moe and Shemp quickly run past the space in the crates, lol. You know, in case somebody saw them... just then, Larry... or maybe it's another guy in the exact same outfit? Nah, this isn't a J. J. Abrams production. It's a B. A. Doaks joint. So Larry peeks around the corner. Shemp raises his club to smite Lawrence upon his stove-pipe hat, but hits Moe instead. Shemp misses Larry by a Countrywide mile and smites the floor in front of him instead. What a goof. Next scene: Moe passed out, listening to the purdy birds. Shemp turns to Moe, does a massive double take, then reprimands Moe for taking a nap. "Remind me to kill you later!" barks Moe. Just then... they hear footprints! Moe steps past the one-person-wide space between the two stacks of crates. Here comes Larry even though Moe just stepped right in front of him! Lol. Oh, the logical fallacy of it all. Dubious. Highly, highly dubious. Second time's a charm here, and the blunt instruments of Moe and Shemp do not miss their target this time. Larry's head gets double bonked, then Moe hits him a second time, and then they go to work.
Now, for the beating they lay down on this covered body, the filmmakers decided that a stunt double simply wouldn't do. For this kind of a beating, a mannequin's the only way to go. Moe and Shemp punch, while Larry's voice is dubbed in later on. The body is quickly turned upside down, its head smashed repeatedly into the floor. All that's left now is to throw it far and true... BINGO! DOWN GOES NICK BARKER! The filmmakers wisely decided to film that part at about 18 or 16 fps, but kept the sound at regular speed so they don't sound like chipmunks. If they sounded like chipmunks, we might have missed that they were talking about beloved and behated theatre critic Nick Barker.
"It's Larry!" says Moe. Good thing Larry isn't given to swift, punitive revenge like Moe. He knows his place in the pecking order. Gee, who are they going to beat up next that isn't Nick Barker? Perhaps Emil Sitka again! It figures. Sitka didn't realize the consequences of what he told the Stooges earlier about beating up any and all suspicious characters. With carte blanche like that, it's power run amok that's bound to be abused. Take Larry just now, ferinstance...... well, that was quick. Doaks gets soaked! Time for Doaks to tweak his marching orders to the Stooges, methinks.
Meantime, Shemp quickly gets a bucket of water. Buckets full of water are more common in Stooge films than even in The Wizard of Oz, for cripes pete! They revive Ron Silver... I mean, Emil Sitka, and once again go into full-on Apologize Mode. Boy, that can get annoying after a while when it's just non-stop like that. But, screenwriters take note: the Stooge screenwriters always liked to frame things to quickly drive the plot forward. Check it out: Larry says "Sorry, boss, we didn't see you!" Which leads Sitka to say "Yeah, you didn't see Nick Barker either! He already snuck in and is in the audience!"... something like that. I just don't have time anymore to do these things verbatim. Sorry.
Well, the Stooges screwed up their assignment that could've led to a promotion, and are back to the menial work of setting up props, and helping out the catering, apparently! "Don't forget the salad and the cake," says Doaks. Ugh. What could be more degrading?
Moe makes his angry face and looks at Larry and Shemp. Just as Doaks would like to fire the Stooges, does not Moe want to fire Larry and Shemp if he could? "Maybe heels... change his mind if we're good in the show," says Moe. Way to screw up that line reading, Moe. Still, it was the best take they had time for. Kubrick wasn't making these, after all!
Now, remember, future leaders of men and other dictators: take a page from the Book of Moe... subordination. The farming out of the tasks. Don't sweat the small stuff. Moe tells Shemp to get the cake, and Larry to get the salad. Look at the hope in and the happiness on Moe's face after giving those orders. Tis only right that the Universe entire would conspire against him to bring his expectations back down to planet Earth. Ah, gravity. Man's oldest, most silent nemesis. Keeping all objects and all hopes for a better life firmly in its grasp, at 9.8 meters per second squared. Alas, it was Moe's job to buy the cake and the salad, as Moe's underlings inform him. Note the smug satisfaction in their voices as Moe's house of cards so quickly crumbles at his tired feet. To let off some of his eternal steam, Moe slaps the NBC logo out of Shemp's and Larry's faces. Well, that's different, anyway!
And then, with Moe's face still quivering with anger, he gets a faraway look in his eye. What's he looking at? Did Nick Barker suddenly appear backstage to get that beating he was supposed to? Did the girls return? Is that Senator Nixon coming round the corner with the Pumpkin Papers? No... Moe was simply gazing into his mind's eye to see a horrible sight. "All the stores are closed!" says Moe. "We'll have to whip up a cake and salad ourselves!" And then, Moe says "SCHNOZZ!" Moe grabs Shemp's schnozz, and Shemp grabs Larry's schnozz, and off they go, Stage Left. Too much game changing in this one. Usually, Moe does all the grabbing himself, but once again he farms it out to subordinates. Leadership. Too many homebuyers, not enough Realtors (TM); shyeah, that's the ticket.
Next scene: the kitchen proper... sheesh. Can I skip this one, teach? Good Lord. Well, maybe they'll DQ something different this time, who knows. Larry's on salad duty, and ... he seems to be slathering a leaf of lettuce with shaving cream? Then attaching them on a clothesline with clothespins. I hope they tell their customers up front that they made the food themselves. Hopefully everyone's already learned that lesson. Meanwhile, Shemp's struggling with a very very large bag of flour. Let's see... how on earth is this going to get dumped on someone's head? ....genius. The old-fashioned way, that's how. Also, didn't they just have a big scientific study that shows that multi-tasking doesn't work? That and this scene prove it conclusively. "Take it easy, Moe," says Shemp. Isn't that the one or two things you never say to someone who's angry? That or "calm down." And so, once again, Shemp finds himself having to clean up Moe. Well, it should be easier than paint, anyhow. Shemp goes to work on Moe with a feather duster. See?
Back to Larry who's now cutting the lettuce into a bowl with a rusty pair of scissors. Upton Sinclair's second worst nightmare. Back to Moe who tells Shemp "I don't know what I would've done without you.... but I do know what I'M GONNA DO WITH YOU!" Moe then lays an epic beatdown on Shemp. When it's over, Shemp begs for mercy, and starts a flour fight with Moe. You know, it did seem like they could've made about five or six cakes with all that flour, but that was but an idle dream. At least half of it is now fated to end up on the floor. They end the scene on this note.
Next scene: several days and several actual chefs later, Moe's ready to get the cake out of the oven... gee, that's a rather thin cake! I never figured the Stooges for a torte. Moe tells Shemp to get "the rest of the layers." Gee, you'll never guess in a million years what's going to happen next. Never. Especially if this is the first Stooge film you've ever seen... Shemp makes it a little bit different as he takes a small pinch of feathers out of the broken circular potholder and blows on them. The feathers scatter like the gossip in Doubt. Screenwriters take note: that's how you set up the phony cake scene! Shemp casually tosses the broken circular potholder away and... yup, right in the tin it goes. Bulls-eye! Shemp brings over the white frosting. All eyes are now glued to the unholy cake like a ticking time bomb under the table that Hitchcock talked about. A brief glimpse of Larry putting the final ruining touches on his scissor-cut salad, then back to the cake, where Shemp goes unpunished for sneaking a bite off of the frosting mountain that Moe squirted out on top of it. Apparently they've got to make another cake and then get into costume for their crucial scene in that damn Third Act we've heard so much, yet seen so little, about! With all this anticipation, it better be good. Doaks' reputation rests upon it.
The stage. The band's thrusting "Dixie" into the audiences' ears... oh, right, must be stock footage of an audience. Cut to a tight shot of a curtain; now THAT's more like it! The Stooges are on stage in Southern gentlemen uniforms with two other guys, singing a song... sorry, wrong link. They're singing a song. Yeah, Doaks couldn't get anyone else to do that. I think the Stooges should try to leave him! Bad manager. They all turn and face the wrong way to greet Janiebelle, played by that delectable buttercup Christine McIntyre. Oh, she's one of those people I'm going to meet in Heaven, that's for sure! Got my checklist all made out and everything. And, why look! She's got a cake! And here's the real icing: she'll marry the one who eats the most cake the fastest... what was this show like with a normal cake? Maybe there's a damn good reason why Doaks is getting bad reviews.
Anyway, the actors take pieces of cake and begin to eat... to the Kill Time Mobile! They notice right away that this cake is not light and fluffy like cake should be. It does not yield to the light, slight touch of the fork. See, usually when the boys are eating a cake with Southern comforter in it, they're trying to impress some fine Southern belles while disguised as Confederate soldiers. But as Moe explains to Larry WHILE ON STAGE, "You got to eat it! It's part of the plot!" Why, they've got a whole audience full of Southern belles to impress this time! Especially that damn Yankee Nick Barker.
The audience is strangely silent.
Now, where's Shemp in the midst of all this gastronomical madness? ... oh, there he is! Whew! Oh, and his struggle really is epic. His struggle to swallow a piece of cake and potholder goes on for about 29 seconds. One take! All the stops. The hitting of the belly. The splash of cake and potholder in the gastric juices below. Back to Moe, who's got a hard act to follow. Well, he and Larry are seen actually eating feathers, so there you go. McIntyre goes over to Shemp but doesn't seem to sense anything wrong with the cake. Maybe it's just a regular part of the show after all!
Moe says "You know, this cake is as light as a feather!" Cue the feathers.... sorry, wrong link again. And so, the orgy of coughing up feathers begins in proper on the stage of Doaks' troubled production. And as in Uncivil Warriors, a Stooge says "They're molting!" McIntyre finally starts freaking out. It's Shemp who says "They're molting!" and then he coughs up a goodly amount of feathers... how'd he do that? Magic! Must have iron in his jowls... oh, never mind. An unsubtle edit.
At some point, Nick Barker's inevitably going to hail this as genius, and it's all uphill for the hapless Stooges... I'm just guessing. Especially since Moe produces an egg from his mouth at this precise moment here. Genius!!!
Shemp has to one-up Moe of course, getting a whole fried egg out of his mouth. Meanwhile, Doaks is in the wings tearing his hair out. What a perfectionist. The curtain falls and Doaks finally fires the Stooges.
"Here comes Nick Barker!" says Larry.... did I call it or what? Sitka promises to make the Stooges the star of his next production, and Sitka and Nick Barker go off stage to discuss... whatever. It doesn't matter, because the fate of the Stooges is secure. Shemp starts to get all pretentious, and Moe brings him back down to earth, hitting him in the face with a very creamy cake. "If I only had some coffee," says Shemp... oops, wrong one again. No, this time, Shemp is none too pleased about having his dramatic moment ruined, and the camera dollies in real close on his cake-stained face... but he looks 30 years younger! Maybe it's not such a bad thing! Good thing they didn't eat that cake, or there wouldn't be any Third Act!
So is there a moral to this story? What information pertains? The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and bones... I mean, hearts and brains. Or as Homer Simpson once said, there's no moral. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened. For me, I think the lesson is probably that showbiz is a harsh but fertile mistress, and if the private detective stuff doesn't pan out, there's always cakes that need to be baked and salads to be tossed. Also, Three Hams on Rye feels a bit too much like it's been left in the day-old bin in terms of plot, but I do really really like that part where Moe "complains" about that old twitch. A lot of good moments in this one despite the overall plot. Three and a half it is.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan