Thursday, June 06, 2013
The Case of the Missing Popcorn
Scene: the offices of Fuller Grime, General Manager of the Onion Oil Company. He's played by Gene Roth who you might remember from... you know, that one with the watermelon papers. Looks like ol' Pat Hingle, doesn't he? Gene lays out the scenario for... someone or more, we don't know who yet. He actually says "I need three brainy but stupid-looking private detectives... that is why I sent for you." Cut to the Stooges. You see, they've got eyes drawn on their eyelids, you see. I'll bet that cost more and took more time and heartbreak than it should of! Gene Roth says "GENTLEMEN!" with just a hint of that old Borscht magic in his voice. The Stooges open their eyes proper and say good morning. Larry just has to be different, and he says "Good morning, boss!"
Fuller Grime stands up, walks over to the Stooges and says to them, "Well, you fellas are certainly stupid-looking enough, but about being brainy detectives, well, that's open to conjecture!" The Stooges don't understand that he's putting them down, of course, but they soldier on ahead anyway, desperate for work. Grime interviews the Stooges separately. Larry's up first, and he does terribly. Moe pinches Larry's cheek and says "(That's) my partner! Very funny!", then slaps said cheek. I didn't even have to watch it to know that! That's just how beloved Slaphappy Sleuths is in my household. Now it's Moe's turn. He makes a terrible, corny joke. Grime rolls his eyes, it's just that bad. Larry tries to do to Moe what Moe just did to him, but Moe's too fast and beats Larry to the punch... so to speak. Larry stews about it a bit.
Now, some of you out there might not be aware of this, but Moe, Curly and Shemp were brothers. For me, the only reason necessary for Shemp to take over for Curly, but I suppose some disagree with that. I only bring that fact up because sibling rivalry is going to play a part in this next section. It's time for Shemp to tell a joke of his own. Of the three that the Stooges tell, Shemp's is probably the funniest, but Moe's older now and he gets exhausted much easier than when he was younger. He doesn't let Shemp enjoy his moment in the sun for very long. Doesn't even refer to him as a partner! Moe just goes right ahead and stamps on Shemp's foot, the loser. Shemp stews about it a bit.
Okay, so the Stooges have all gotten hurt at this point. Why, Moe's hand must be throbbing from all the asses he's had to kick! Now, you might be asking yourself... but The Movie Hooligan! What about Fuller Grime? When is it his turn to get the Stooge treatment? Fortunately, the filmmakers have a plan. But for the kind of thing they have in store for Fuller Grime, well, you can't just rush into something like that. You gotta build up to it. And screenwriters past, present and future, it's time once again for y'all to pay attention to how the experts do it. First, Fuller Grime gives the Stooges a list of their latest gas station robberies. He then looks for another report. Notice he doesn't sit down in his chair. It'll come up later. And so, Moe and Larry study the list that Grime gave them, freeing up Shemp to pursue his own deviltries. In this case, the poor bastid's got something stuck in his teeth. Must've been eating at Canter's for lunch again. The street-wise Shemp reaches for a switchblade knife in his pocket. He has a rare moment of clarity, as they call it, because he realizes he's trying to pick something out of his teeth with A KNIFE. Time for Plan B. He needs a toothpick and fast... but where? Well, he's got the knife. That can turn just about anything into a toothpick! Looking down at the table before him, Shemp is struck by the muse of mischief. He begins to cut a piece of the table off, and whittle it down to a point worthy of a toothpick. Oh, that's a one-take kinda deal right there...
Meanwhile, while all this is going on, Moe's studying the list of gas station robberies with a surprised look on his face. The look doesn't change, but he does become aware of what Shemp's up to. Lol. Shemp whittles the hunk of wood down to a point, and Moe and Larry watch as small bits of wood fly off as Shemp whittles. Well, Moe, anyway. Shemp begins to pick his teeth, notices he's being rather intensely scrutinized by his co-horts, then tries in vain to look like he's doing something else. LOL.
Moe carefully picks up the piece of wood that Shemp's been whittling. Now, this is the real deal, so it's not like he's going to hit Shemp with a foam rubber power tool or something. Ever the professional, Moe jabs Shemp in the face with his fist, with the pointed end of the stick safely in Moe's fist. A couple inches the wrong way, and Shemp would have a hole in his cheek! Shemp starts to fold up his knife to put it away, but it's too late. Moe scolds Shemp for fooling around with a knife, then Moe casually tosses the knife into the air. Where it lands, he obviously doesn't care. At this point... BOOM!!!! Yup, Grime's got Shemp's knife in his ass. Usually others are spared the Stooges' collateral damage, at least in the First Act of these things... but not this time. The game's irrevocably changed, and the Stooges have to try and nurse Grime back to normal glute health. No dice, however. The damage is done. Larry tells Grime "Go sit down... uh, stand up." Grime limps off camera.
Moe's got Shemp's knife now, and it's time for a glute for a glute... but something's wrong. The knife's not going in! Shemp's smiling... and we soon find out why. Why, Shemp's got a plate in his ass! A dinner plate, to be exact, not a metal plate like some guys get in their heads. Shemp hands the plate to Moe as though Moe's been hypnotized. I read someplace that this sequence is based on an old Vaudeville routine. Look! Shemp thinks he's Harpo! He takes a sandwich and some potato chips out of his pockets... this could go on for years!
Remember what I said about Moe being hypnotized? Well, he comes out of it here. This is why Moe would make a lousy butler. Moe breaks the plate over Shemp's face, and Shemp's be-ketchuped lunch lies in ruins. Larry takes Shemp's side for once on this one. For that mild insurrection, Moe wipes off some of the stuff on Shemp's face... then slaps Larry with it. Larry's not at all happy about that. They wait a little too long for the laugh (lol), and then Moe grabs some noses and drags his fellow Stooges into the next scene. Not quite like Thicker Than Water, but it's more of a metaphorical drag, really.
Next scene: it feels a little too early for Act Two, but it probably starts here. We're now at an Onion Oil Company gas station, and the inmates are running the asylum... I mean, the Stooges are posing as attendants. And if you notice, the director does a real fancy shot here. We dolly back, and the camera was in-between two of the pumps! That's the whole budget right there. No escaping the camera's shadow in tight quarters like that. And yes, note the low, low prices. Well, America's financial cholesterol was much lower back then, and thirty cents a gallon was about $4.00 in 1950s America. Time to kill some time as we focus on each of the three pumps, and each of the Stooges, who have comedy slogans on their backs.
And now... time for their first victim... I mean, customer. They get in private investigator mode, thinking the guy's a crook. Of course, after what the Stooges do to this guy, you'll wonder who's the real criminals.
Oh, I almost can't bear to call the play-by-play on this one. Customer #1: it's Emil Sitka! If he's a criminal, he must've just robbed a bank, because he's not taking very good care of his car. The Stooges go up to Sitka and start grooming him. Shemp does Sitka's shoes, Larry's on fingernail duty, and Moe starts combing Sitka's unruly head of hair.
At this point, Moe starts applying the shaving cream. The squeamish among you might want to skip this part entirely... okay, I think it's safe now. After a delightful play on the names of the gasolines, the boys get to work on the car for a change. How can they screw this one up, you ask? Oh, just you wait. While Shemp goes to work on the radiator, Moe starts to clean the windshield... or rather, the space where there should be one. It ends up like this scene from Corny Casanovas.
And now... back to Shemp. As you might already know, one of the staples of Stooge comedy is putting two things together that are not at all alike, but are in similar containers. Most famously, gasoline in a ketchup bottle. Here they have... well, I hate to spoil it. Okay... SPOILER ALERT. They have popcorn next to the stop leak. Shemp doesn't even have Moe as the impetus this time to make the mistake! And so, as though it's out of the Bible... in goes the popcorn into Sitka's radiator. Also part of God's plan, Shemp gets a water hose to fill up the radiator, but no water flows from it! If the popcorn got all wet, why, that wouldn't be funny at all. Shemp's face gets wet instead, though. And the Devil seems to have hardened Shemp's grip on the hose, because Shemp gets his face a little bit wetter than it should be.
Now you think, after all Sitka's been through, and given all that's yet to come, you'd think he'd be a little bit pissed off and call his lawyer at the very least. But God has apparently softened Sitka's heart, and strangely enough, when the popped corn starts erupting from the car... he doesn't mind! He puts down his cigarette and fills his hat to the brim with the stuff until it runneth over, for Christ's sake! Look at that foolish grin on his face! Shemp gets a popcorn beard, lol. Somehow it looks like the prop department had to rig it a little bit. Shemp gets a handful of popcorn and puts motor oil on it, of course.
Of course, even as childish as Shemp is, this popcorn thing has gone far enough. He's got some professional pride, and he covers up the radiator to stem the flow of popcorn. But alas, the force of the popcorn is too great. It will not be denied, and though Shemp has closed one door on it, there's another window of opportunity. And so, with Larry by the tailpipe, it's his turn to feast on the car's unanticipated harvest. But the Fun Police are always on the watch, making sure no one has too much fun in this life. In this instance, Moe notices what's going on, runs up and gives Lawrence a good swift kick in his posterior. Lawrence leaves, then Moe notices the popcorn... seriously? Moe leans down to get a mouthful of his own, but alas, he was too late, and the once bountiful corn has now dried up. "How do you like that?" cries Moe to the heavens above. He taps the tailpipe seven times, then gets two facefuls of soot. Larry makes his usual racist joke about it, then gets back to overinflating Sitka's rear driver-side tire. Time to eat up some time! It's like a train wreck, isn't it, folks? ...ah! There it goes.
And so, with Sitka's car all but completely ruined, Larry tells Sitka to "take it away." But, surely there's one more thing the Stooges can do to totally f... mess up Sitka's car? Only time will tell. Meantime, Sitka asks Shemp to crank the car. That's right, it's that old of a car. Shemp obliges, but there's a problem... Shemp tries again, giving it a really hard yank, and then BOOM! The engine explodes, and the car's hood goes flying into the air. Oh, nice going, Sitka! You almost KILLED Shemp in that explosion! Good thing he was hunched down behind the hood! The Stooges could've sued your ass over that, Sitka! Geez. Oh well. But I'll tell you one thing about these Stooge films: the karma wheel turns fast in them. Remember that hood flying up in the air? Well, it comes back down... and right smack dab on Sitka's head. Take that, Sitka, you jerk! The nerve of that guy. In his dazed state, Sitka violently pushes the hood in the back seat, honks the horn and just drives right off, nearly killing Shemp a second time. Get that guy's number! Larry runs to Shemp's aid, and cross-fade to next scene.
Next scene: the Stooges spent some time cleaning up all the excess popcorn. And once again, their feeble attempts at pomp and circumstance end up ruining everything. Larry does a right face and ends up hitting Moe in the head with his shovel. Moe hits them both with his broom, and Shemp and Larry trip over their containers of popcorn, and the popcorn ends up on the dirty, dirty pavement once again.
Cross-fade to next scene: customer #2 pulls up, and as you can see, there was no time to clean up the popcorn a second time. LOL. The Stooges start to give these guys the full treatment, but the guy's an alpha male and isn't having any of that crap. "I need an oil change and I'm in a terrible hurry," he says. The man is played by Stanley Blystone, and he did a total of 16 films with the Stooges... well, with Moe Howard, anyway, according to this fancy IMDb feature. God bless the IMDb! After this one, he's got two others yet to do: A Missed Fortune and Of Cash and Hash. The moll seems to be that delectable French-Canadian gal Nanette Bordeaux. If I remember correctly, she says she'll distract the boys, but she doesn't seem to get a chance to do that too much.
Next part: now, Larry's under the car at this point, and he says a bunch of technical car stuff. All I know is... the dude's gonna so get soaked in oil. I mean, let's face it! Incidentally, that's where he gets the lion's share of the stuff... on his face! He quickly crawls out from under the car and gets some on his uniform. You know, just for good measure. Well! Who's singing Mammy now, b'atch?
Next scene: Blystone's got the loot and quickly gets back in the car. The crooks take off... now, screenwriters, time to take note again. Moe makes a sweeping gesture with his arm, and boom! He ends up looking at an empty cash register. Now that's writing. Simple, efficient, keep the story moving.
Time for the boys to change into their snazzy detective duds. Larry strips down to his p.j.s and washes his face with gasoline. You know, to get the chocolate sauce off... I mean, motor oil. And just as Homer followed the "yellow drip road" to the Stone Cutter's secret compound, so too will the Stooges follow a trail of leaking fluid to the criminals' hideout. That is, if they can even get out the frickin' door...
"Okay, bloodhound! Follow the trail!" Moe tells Shemp. Shemp's down on all fours, following the oil trail as though he's a dog. Yeah. Great... whoa! Just turned into Denis Leary there for a second! And look! The popcorn on the ground serves a purpose after all!
Cross-fade to next scene: the trail of oil is now indoors in yet another hallway. Thank goodness this is a case that's easy enough for the Stooges to solve. The Stooges get to the door. They double-check the trail of oil, look at the door, and do a massive double take. You know, in case there's some really slow people in the audience. "How'd they get the car in there?" asks Moe. That mystery will just have to wait for now. There's bad guys to be apprehended! Moe looks through the keyhole. Next scene: the view through the "keyhole." Blystone's busy counting the Benjamins, and the rolls of coins... still a small timer. Sad. Blystone sneezes, but it sounds like an old sneeze that somebody recorded a long time ago. Actually, it kinda sounds like the sneeze from It's A Gift! You know, the one where W. C. Fields spits a grape in Baby LeRoy's eye... oh, it was just that bad. The things that awful, awful man got away with. What will our grandchildren say? Shemp says "Gezundheit!", of course. Blystone says "Thank you"... then does a massive double take of his own. The other, non-Shemp Stooges try to cover Shemp's word hole in vain, but it's too late. The damage is done. Moe goes back to the keyhole and sees that Blystone has stopped counting his ill-gotten gains, and has now reached for his gun and is headed for the door.
"Give him the door treatment!" says Moe. This "door treatment" consists of Moe and Larry saying "Nyaah nyaah!" to the guy. But where's Shemp in the midst of all this childishness? Well, he lifts up Blystone's pant leg and bites him on said leg, that's where! Well, you can't argue with results! Blystone yelps with pain and throws his gun high into the air. The gun rising and falling gets its own shot, for Christ's sake! With Blystone subdued, the Stooges drag his sorry ass back inside.
Next scene: inside, where we see the car in the room. Lol. They sit Blystone in a chair, and Moe gives him a fresh dose of, er, "anesthetic." They then look around the room, and the camera dollies after them. We dwell briefly on the wall of "burglar tools." Okay, those keys in the center look kind of suspicious, but the rest of the tools look relatively normal to me. I mean, they ain't got no Slim Jim, for one! They seem mostly like woodworking tools. Just shows to go ya! Their production designer's kinduva square. Anyway, back to the action. The Stooges turn away from the tools, when suddenly... the other door in the room opens. In comes Nanette Bordeaux and two thugs. "Get them, boys!" she tells them. And, once again, you'll have to suspend your disbelief and presume that the Stooges, as old as they were when this was made, could beat up anybody besides themselves. Larry goes to work pounding the crap out of one guy all by himself, lol. The bad guy tries to punch Larry, but Larry ducks out of the way at the last possible second and decks Nanette Bordeaux instead. She falls into a chair behind her... that's about as chivalrous as this flick is going to get. And then, the next scene... Larry stumbles over to the tool table and uses psychological tactics to defeat his guy. It's the saddest thing I've ever seen. I think I'll just skip over it entirely. Needles to say, it's too early in the film for a Stooge victory just yet. Screenwriters take note: do a better job than this when padding out the running time of your films.
Next scene: it's one bad guy taking on two Stooges at the same time. It's brutality incarnate. And DOWN GOES SHEMP! Now it's all Moe can do to use his jaw to wear down the bad guy's fists. The bad guy slugs Moe in the gut, and Moe slumps over. The bad guy then punches Moe in the jaw, and Moe's head rises up and hits the bad guy in the jaw with his cranium... thereby knocking out the bad guy. It could happen! The two then slump down together, back to back, just like Forrest Gump and Ben Blue on that one rainy night in the jungles of North Carolina... I mean, Vietnam.
In the midst of all this unconsciousness, Shemp comes to. "I gotta find that dough," he says, shaking his head to full awakedness. Just then, the guy that was working Moe over real good comes to soon after, and begins quietly stalking Shemp. The guy goes over and grabs a pitcher of water. He throws it at Shemp... apparently, the Stooges' tactics rub off on others just that easily. "NOOO!!" cries Shemp as he ducks out of the pitcher's path. The pitcher ends up hanging over Blystone's head and dumping water on him... thereby causing him to wake up.
Let's just stop a minute and dwell on this unique moment in Stooge short history. See, usually what happens is a Stooge is thrown against the wall and knocked unconscious by a vase or something else held aloft. This may be the only time when something's thrown against the wall that ends up knocking someone back into consciousness. I'm just saying. Screenwriters, take note. Especially you, J. J. Abrams. This is how you pay homage to a series' rich history!
Okay, back to the action. So, that's two guys that are now conscious, and just one Stooge. Which leads to... no. They wouldn't. They're not that desperate. Oh, I'm afraid they are. It's time for the two-guys-in-one-coat fight sequence again. You seen it in Crash Goes the Hash and... something else. Calling All Curs, maybe... okay, maybe they haven't done it in a while, but that gag's still got whiskers on it. Time to kill some time! It's at this point when Nanette Bordeaux wakes up... only to get punched again by one of her own. We get a better close-up of her passed out in the chair. As you can tell, this film was made by a bunch of guys. But you never know! Jane Campion or Catherine Breillat might do the same thing. Shemp finishes off Blystone with a few slow-motion punches... oh, wait! They were in real time! It's like watching a zombie fist fight, I tells ya. Shemp ends up kicking Blystone over to the tool table.
Now, despite what the millions of critics of the Bush Administration will tell you (and I'm one of them!!), torture usually works in a Stooge film. Especially when they got your head in a vice! Moe loads Blystone's head into the vice proper, and Larry does the tightening. Shemp subdues the other bad guy that he was working on and goes over to join the fun... I guess Larry killed the guy he was fighting with! Blystone eventually spills the beans, saying "It's in the basket under the table." See, the Stooges might have found the loot if they just looked around the room a little bit, but what's the point of that? This isn't an actual mystery! Moe thanks Blystone by pulling his head out of the vice with a crowbar under his nose. Moe keeps the crowbar under Blystone's nose until Shemp hits Blystone on the head with the bag of coins. Why, there must be about thirty dollars' worth of quarters in there! All worth the effort.
Signed, sealed and delivered. Well, two out of three anyway. Moe places a call to... to Fuller Grime, I guess. He says "We got the robbers signed and sealed, and we'll deliver 'em to the cops in a little while! G'bye!" Note that the telephone is on the "burglar tools" table. That's how the real burglars get you these days: over the phone... or through email, more like it. Reminds me of the time I went for one of those Facebook scams; I thought I was getting chips for Zynga Poker... well, anyway, back to the Stooges. Moe finishes his phone call. We cut over to the couch, where the four bad guys are passed out... or are they? Blystone starts to come to, but Shemp's on "anesthetic" duty, and he gives Blystone another meeting with Dr. Bag of Coins to the head. Oh, it's like a Whack-a-Mole game, but with crooks instead of... does Nanette Bordeaux have a black eye? Kinda looks like it! Oh, that's not nice. Moe runs over to Blystone. In his confusion and excitement, Shemp revs up, hitting Larry with the coins, then hits Moe on the head.
And so, the score is Unconscious: 6, Conscious: 1. Giving in to peer pressure, Shemp smites himself on the head with the coins. I suppose it's a bit late for me to be complaining about such things, but is THIS the kind of lesson we want to teach our kids? If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? What is this b.s.? Oh well. Slaphappy Sleuths was a childhood favourite, maybe an adolescent one as well. I'm curious now to see if Joe Besser is put in a similar situation. He'd probably wuss out.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan