Sunday, July 14, 2013
It ain't me, Babe... or, Not the Salton Sea kind
Scene: the offices of... well, you can see from the picture I selected... hmm! Hart-Burns and Belcher... BUSTED!!!! I KNEW that seemed a little too familiar. Well, look at it this way: the Stooges were the first eco-conscious comedians because they always recycle their jokes.
Anyway, we see Moe and Larry pacing back and forth, only this time it's no laughing matter. They're not going to be almost running into each other this time. But at least this nut house has a decent waiting room. And here comes the man of the hour, Shemp Horvitz! He's all cured! Time to go home with Moe and Larry to undo all of that. "But wait! I gotta see Nora before I leave," says Shemp. Larry asks "Nora? Who's Nora?" Shemp says that she's the most beautiful woman in the whole world, then goes into a rather graphic description... okay, so it's not a Kevin Smith picture.
As it happens, Nora is on her way. "She's got teeth like pearls," says Shemp. Make a note of that, for it might come up later. "My Nora," says Shemp in his blissed-out state. Nora is behind Shemp and she says "Yes?" Now, for those of you who don't know, Nora is played by Babe London. Damn! We just TiVo'd Sex Kittens go to College, too! Guess they didn't see the whole thing. It's just too wonderful. Now, if you're at all like me, you'll also remember her best from Laurel and Hardy's Our Wife, where she was Ollie's object of affection. Spoiler alert: they want to get married, but her father objects. She did three shorts with Stan Laurel, but only this one with the Stooges. For my blind readers, Babe London's teeth are like pearls, but she only seems to have two of them. Anyway, Moe and Larry get a look at Nora and they recoil in terror and disgust. But in a bravura bit of filmmaking, the camera dollies in on Shemp's face. You know, so we can get his point of view. And much like the beer goggles in that one episode of The Simpsons where either Patty or Selma takes the kids to Duff Gardens, Shemp's view of Nora is rather different. The lovely creature that Nora morphs into isn't give credit on the IMDb, nor on Wikipedia. Love that Wikipedia hyperlink address! I mean, what else could it be? No disambiguation necessary there! Well, she's pretty, but she's no Christine McIntyre. Now that would've been a good cameo!
"Ain't she a dream?" Shemp says to his two mates, and he goes over and starts kissing Nora's hand. Ewww! We'll leave those two alone and kill some time with... I mean, focus on Moe and Larry. Larry, in a jovial mood, says to Moe, "I bet she's even uglier than you are!" Moe starts to agree, then takes some serious hombrage to that. He pokes Lawrence in the eyes, and the way Larry clutches his face in pain, you'd think Moe really got him that time! Of course, that was just an opening salvo. Time for the "See that?" fist twirl. Now, let me awaken from my Stooge-induced reverie, and ask the world a question, because I want to know when. WHEN did this happen? When did two guys ever have an argument like this? When did guy #1 show guy #2 a fist and ask him "See that?" And when did guy #2 ever pooh-pooh said fist by hitting the top of it? And when did guy #1 rotate his arm about 330 degrees to hit guy #2 on top of the head? Did this happen in a bar or something? WHO COMES UP WITH THIS CRAP??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Okay, I think I got it out of my system. Moe must have superior fist-eye coordination, because Larry tries the same move and hits himself in the head, of course. What a doof. I never should have undertaken this project. Larry gets back to the point, saying they have to leave Shemp at the nut house because he's obviously not cured yet. Economist Moe says "We can't afford it. We'll have to take him home and cure him ourselves." Now that's dedication and friendship. Pardon me while I wipe away a tear.
Meanwhile, Shemp proposes to Nora, asking "Will you marry me?" "When?" asks Nora. Now, how can you not like that? Moe and Larry retire to a comfortable chair while Nora positively showers Shemp with kisses. Shemp ends up with a face covered in lipstick prints, and Nora's lipstick is smeared all to hell. Shemp bids Nora farewell for now... but he also bids farewell to the chair and a statue of a mackerel! Somebody call Oliver Sacks. I hate to spoil the gag with the fireplace, but needles to say, maybe Shemp's not as bad off as everyone thinks!
Next scene: Moe and Larry have gotten Shemp home, and have set up a bed for him in the living room. One of the Stooges' youngest fans is in the room, but it's all a giant plot device. Whether or not it works for you is... is up to you? Something like that. As for me, I'm all in favor of a blatant plot device if it works in the long run. There's another plot device that comes up later, but I dare not spoil it... okay, SPOILER ALERT. Larry gets Shemp's medicine, while Moe opens the big-ass Venetian blinds. Light streams onto the wall as only it can when filtered through a Venetian blind. We'll get to that soon enough. They give Shemp a big glass of white chalky medicine and he gulps it down right quick. Shemp then starts recoiling from the medicine's taste. His words are intelligible for about three seconds, until he says "...Good!" See how they did that? Clever!! Moe and Larry, on the other hand, are not impressed. But they're just cynical and jealous.
When suddenly... there's a knock at the door. It must be the doctor! Larry excuses the girl at this point, saying "You better go now, Mary Belle." Hold it right there... according to the IMDb, the girl's name is "Little Betty May." Am I missing something here? Busted! Correct that soon, internet! Let me just update my scorecard here... one internet typo pointed out, (2^16)-1 left to go. And so, the little girl leaves, because she won't want to see this next part. The horrors! However... and again, I hate to spoil it... the girl drops her doll. Interesting! As my friend with the good director's eye might say, so phony. Such bad acting. We're just lucky she remembered to drop it at all, I guess.
This isn't your typical three-act Stooge film, so this is probably a good place to start the Second Act. In comes Emil Sitka playing Doctor Gesundheit... I know, I know, but the Stooges are more physical comedians than name comedians like W.C. Fields. Mahatma Kane Jeeves, indeed! The Stooges knew to play to their strengths, if nothing else. Sitka's got the coke bottle glasses, and there seems to be extra light in his eyes. I'm not much for ranking things, but this has got to be one of Sitka's best entrances. He comes in and doesn't say a word. Moe has to point him in the direction of Shemp.
And then, Sitka starts to talk. As with the name, it's German accent time. He was truly the Fourth Stooge. "Vot seems to be the trouble?" he asks. Larry the Smart-Ass says "You're the doctor! You oughta know!" Moe sets him straight right quick with a fist to his giant bald head. Shemp lists his symptoms for Dr. Sitka: he's got stomach and head pain. I guess they'll leave the part about fresh from the booby hatch for a more opportune moment. Sitka gets out his comedy stethoscope and places it on Shemp's head. Boy, someone sure picked a great pair of glasses! Sitka shakes Shemp's head, and it rattles, of course.
And now... time for comedic genius. This is the stuff that nasty intelligence tests are made of. Take that one about the three light bulbs in a room and the three switches, for example... on second thought, you take it. I've got a Stooge film to review, damn it. And so, Sitka starts to listen to Shemp's heart, and he of course helps himself to the rocking chair. We'll leave that alone for now, as it's a crucial part of the plot. Sitka leans forward in the rocking chair and... yup. Now, apparently this gag was cribbed from Laurel and Hardy's Saps at Sea. But to be fair, Saps had four writers, one of which was longtime Stooge collaborator Felix Adler, so it's stealing with a half-blessing. Besides, when it's done this well... See also: similar scene in the Tom and Jerry cartoon they call I'm Just Wild About Jerry... hey, give 'em a break! Chuck Jones had to wait 44 years to do that pun!
Anyway, back to our Stooge film. And so, Dr. Sitka leans forward on the doll, and it says "Mama." The four adults in the room react in horror. Sitka's eyes get even more bugged out than they already are with those coke bottle glasses. Moe and Larry look at each other like they're going to have to call a priest to perform an exorcism. Sitka looks at Shemp and waits a beat. Then, he laughs and says "No." Surely this was just a fluke. Sitka starts to listen to Shemp's heart and he leans forward in the rocking chair again. Now, I'm once again going to lay my soul bare here for my faithful readers and tell you that I'm a fan of a good sound byte, a good bit of sound, if you will. That's one of the wonderful things about the dominion of computers these days, and one of its traps at times. The easy availability of sound files these days. So many to listen to, so little time. And to think the Justice Department devoted so much energy into nabbing Napster. Well, Kazaa is forever immortalized in Dead Like Me! Take THAT! ...oh, right. The point is, I think the second time the doll says "Mama" is my favourite, partly because it's slightly different from the first. Boy, they really put their all into sound design! Again, the same shocked reaction. "Dis is... puzzling!" says Dr. Sitka.
Sitka repeats his process again, and the doll says "Mama" again... but it was a little bit late this time. For shame, filmmakers. For shame. Nevertheless, the boys and the good doctor are shocked. Sitka stands up and gestures to Moe and Larry. They stand in a corner and whisper things to each other in a quiet ad hoc emergency mini-conference. Shemp looks over at them. They stop and look over at Shemp. Oh, Shemp knows that ain't good. He's the walking dead. He turns back and groans to himself, softly.
The conference has come to an end, and Sitka sits back down. Clearing his throat, he places the stethoscope on Shemp's heart, leans forward in the chair and... Larry gasps and grabs Moe, lol. Shemp starts crying. Is this the end of Shemp's sanity as we know it? Will Moe and Larry give up and have Shemp re-committed? This may be the greatest personal crisis...
Meanwhile, the girl from earlier comes in and gets the doll. Perhaps for the benefit of the men in the room, she squeezes the doll right there and it says "Mama." Huge sigh of relief. Shemp enjoys a good laugh. Truly the best medicine, especially after that scene. Oh sure, I could get cynical and call for the disbarment of Dr. Gesundheit, if that is his real name, but alas, it's on to bigger and better malpractice suits for him.
Meantime, it's on to Shemp's next problem: he hasn't slept a wink since he got home. Luckily, Dr. Sitka's got a pill for that. He gives Moe and Larry a bottle of pills. "Giff him one of deese every tree hours. It should put him to zleep like dat," says Sitka, snapping his fingers. We'll leave that alone for now... okay, maybe not. What is it with the Stooges and these comedy sleeping pills? In Wham-Bam-Slam! / Pardon My Clutch, didn't the sleeping pills last only an hour? Thank God for our modern AmBien and industrial-grade valerian! What did we ever do without them? But it's all a moot point because, as Moe informs us, Shemp can't swallow pills. Dr. Sitka, like most competent doctors, goes right to Plan B: a hypodermic. To say the least, Shemp politely disagrees with this stratagem. Time for Plan C: hypnosis... hypnosis? Seriously? Oh, it gets worse, trust me.
And so, Dr. Sitka proceeds to try and hypnotize Shemp. Well, his glasses certainly helps. Sitka waves his fingers around and says the usual boilerplate hypnosis stuff. And then, at one point, he sounds like Speed Buggy... let's see if YouTube's got that! ...well, I guess that was a no-brainer. What is it with Hanna Barbera and Shaggy-esque characters? And so, Shemp falls asleep. "Good night," says Dr. Sitka. And now, it's time to pay up... thirty bucks? Sheesh. First the cash to the stewardess to fly on a plane in The Parallax View, now this. Pay attention to the breakdown of Sitka's bill, because Moe sure does. Ten for the visit (co-pay?) and twenty or thirty for the hypnosis (I can't tell from Sitka's thick accent). Moe pays the good doctor but has to keep Sitka from grabbing the other bills in his hand, lol. And so, the doctor leaves, that filthy old bastard.
Shemp is snoring away, and Moe and Larry start to cover him up with a blanket. The doctor closes the door. Shemp hears this, wakes up and says "I sure fooled him!" Sorry, it's the truncated version. I gotta cut back on that. Moe angrily tells Shemp "That joke of yours cost us twenty bucks!!" and slaps him on the head. The non-Shemp Stooges once again take up the cause of getting Shemp to go to sleep. This time, they try the "doctor"'s sleeping pills. Shemp reminds them over and over again that, God bless him, pills can't seem to get past his tongue, a very strict gatekeeper indeed. First up: Larry gives Shemp a glass of water... boy! Between the water and that glass of chalky white medicine, Shemp's doing a lot of drinking in this one! Shemp finishes the glass of water and has a real smug look on his face. "Go to sleep!" barks Larry. "Okay, but what'll I do with this?" says Shemp. He sticks out his tongue and... yup, pill's still there. Next: Moe angrily breaks off a bit of a banana and hands it to Shemp. Lol. Shemp eats the banana. "Did you swallow the banana?" asks Moe. See how they did that?
Shemp once again shows the pill to the boys, still clinging to his tongue. Moe starts to strangle Shemp, partly out of frustration, partly because it just might get the pill to go down, but Larry intervenes, having come up with another plan, and just in the nick of time, too! Larry goes off camera, and Moe and Shemp share a brother-to-brother moment. "What's the matter with you?" asks Moe. Larry gets the tube from the towel rack in the bathroom, which is hollow. Larry's going to attempt to blow the pill down Shemp's throat. Moe conveniently gets frustrated and walks off. He says "Blow his head off! I'm getting disgusted!" Sure, I could be cynical about this and say it's a blatant plot device, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.
And so, Larry tells Shemp... actually, let's just skip that for now. To cut to the chase, Larry ends up swallowing the pill himself. Moe returns from his smoke break, lol. Still tinged with frustration, Moe tells Shemp, "Well, you're all set kid! Go to sleep!" Suddenly... they both hear Larry snoring on the chair. It's the last straw for Moe, and he ends up dumping the whole bottle of sleeping pills into Shemp's mouth. And yet, the Bugs Bunny cartoon The Big Snooze gets censored... no, YouTube! I wasn't searching for All This and Rabbit Stew!!! Don't make me go to my DVDs!!!!! But I can see the distinction, I suppose. For example, Bugs has nothing better to do in The Big Snooze and, Inception-style, he invades Elmer's dream for the purpose of @#!$%!ing with his mind... much like Hare Tonic, I believe. Here, in Scrambled Brains, even though Moe does dump a whole bottle of pills down Shemp's throat, Shemp immediately starts spitting them all into Moe's face. Moe quickly gives Shemp a Men in Black-style anesthetic with the hollow glass tube, saying "GO TO SLEEP!", and giving Shemp three hits on the head, one for each word. Shemp passes out, but he's still got a few pills to spit out. The first one goes dangerously near the camera, lol. With Shemp passed out, Moe hits sleeping Larry once for good measure. You know, wake up and go to sleep! Or a facsimile thereof. Fade to black
ACT TWO AND A HALF
Fade in on a piano. Shemp's in full Whiny Mode as Moe and Larry take him over to the piano. And you thought Joe Besser was bad! (spoiler alert: he is) Larry and Moe try to soothe Shemp with uncharacteristically calm words. Moe overplays his hand by offering Shemp some C-A-N-D-Y if he's a "good boy." "Oh, you know I don't smoke!" says Shemp. He was ahead of his time! "Oh, go on. Practice!" says Moe.
Moe and Larry storm off, exasperated. And so, once again, the crazy Stooge is left all alone with his thoughts. It used to be Curly, and now it's Shemp. Shemp's got big shoes to fill, but I think this scene ought to do it. You know, I've often heard that classical music is good music to read or study to. I must be more perverse than I thought because that doesn't seem to be the case for me, probably because I get caught up in the music too much. Now, put on some modern classics like Justin Bieber and Jay-Z's ode to New York, and I'll try to lose myself in the book that much harder!
Anyway, like all good musicians, Shemp takes care of his fingernails and cracks his knuckles before beginning to play the piano. The filmmakers apparently got the special movie piano where the top part is removed, and you can see the keys and Shemp's face at the same time in the same shot... okay, my description doesn't quite do it justice, so you'll just have to see for yourself. So, Shemp's fingernails are good and his knuckles are cracked, so it's time to play... five notes? Well, he seems to be enjoying himself, anyway. And then... the hallucinations begin. Something about the music makes the hallucinations come alive and dance. Shemp sprouts a third hand that joins in, but Shemp's not prepared to be awesome, like the six-fingered piano player of Gattaca. "MOE! LARRY!" he screams. Quick fade, and the hand's gone. "MOE! LARRY!" he screams again. Shemp tries to show the boys his two left hands in vain. Moe gives Larry the universal sign of crazy, and right where Shemp can see it, too! What a jerk. Moe does his best to calm Shemp down, and Moe and Larry once again step off camera to leave Shemp alone with his demons.
Time for another second iteration being my favorite in the same Stooge film, for God's sake! But I've got better justification this time. Shemp's hallucinations get more creative and skilled this time, and turn Shemp's five-note scale into a hot jazzy number that even Leonard Bernstein would've liked. Shemp proves himself to be the hippest of the Stooges as he really gets into it. "A-rout-tout-tout! Eep eep..." says Shemp, snapping his fingers. My lame attempts at onomatopoeia clearly can't do it justice. I think this is already a four star Stooge, but I'll keep going anyway.
Shemp finally realizes what's going on, that he's hallucinating again, and he's not happy about it. He grabs the other set of hands and they start twiddling their thumbs. Shemp looks like he doesn't know what to do. I remember seeing this part when I was much younger, and I thought to myself "What's he going to do now??" Maybe this is a stretch, but is it not like that moment in GoodFellas just before Pesci finishes his "What do you mean, I'm funny?" segment? Shemp eventually takes control and tries to slam the piano lid down on the phantom hands, but ends up hurting his own. Shemp moans and clutches his chest... I thought he hurt his hand! And then... we see a set of five plastic fingers on the keyboard, and they start playing Shemp's five notes. Needles to say, this sends Shemp into a frenzy, especially his fists. Moe and Larry run over. "WHAT'S THE MATTER?" asks Larry. Shemp responds by hitting Larry repeatedly in the head. Shemp then turns to Moe and does the same thing. "He's getting violent!" Larry tells Moe, and Larry tries to restrain Shemp's arms. Moe tells Larry that they should phone the doctor from the lobby. You know, so they can get into a violent struggle with a stranger... I mean, to "make sure the doctor's in." Oh, puh-leeeeeze. Larry reassures Shemp that everything will be okay. "Goody goody!" says Shemp twice. God, I love this one. As they take Shemp out through the door, Moe hits the door frame and starts spitting out sleeping pills... I mean, his teeth. Payback's a bitch, ain't it, Moe? I'm just trying to figure out when he put the stuff into his mouth to get spit out. I guess he had a handful of Chiclets and put them in his mouth just before hitting the door frame.
Next scene: the lobby, where the Stooges get into a violent struggle with a stranger over the one phone booth. To be fair, it's the stranger's fault. The stranger is Vernon Dent, and he's got a bag of groceries and a Texas accent. Boy! Talk about your telephone rock! Now, some might say it's time to kill some more time, and you'd be right. On the other hand, I think the Stooges go a little too far. Take, for example, the light bulb in Vernon Dent's mouth. Kids, whatever you do, never put a light bulb into someone's mouth and then hit them in the chin. They make it look like fun and games here, but in real life it'd be a definite milestone you could always point to in order to tell strangers "Yeah, that's when things started going downhill for me..." And I say strangers, because you'd end up having friends and family turn their backs on you.
And so, the Stooges end up destroying Dent's bag of groceries. He had everything in there: celery, eggs, milk. That's got to be my favorite part: when Dent says "What?" to Larry, and tries leaning down to hear what Larry said, and ends up spilling milk on Larry's head. But that's what you get for multitasking. Just get your groceries home! Don't stop to make phone calls. Anyway, to cut to the chase, Dent starts trying to strangle Shemp, and the phone booth ends up falling over. The Stooges get themselves out of it first. Shemp ends up with a mouthful of nickels, and Dent ends up with the dialing part of the phone in his mouth... hey, look! It's Bane!
The Stooges run off, and Texas oil magnate Vernon Dent says "If I ever see you again, I'll tear you limb from limb!" Now, what are the odds, really?
Well, it just feels like a good place for the epilogue. Fade in on the big day. The Stooges are in their finest tuxes and full of song, but Shemp's bride will soon change that. Now, normally it's bad luck to see the bride before the ceremony, but Babe London's not your normal bride. You know, she looks okay when she first comes in! And then, the two-tooth smile. Well, you gotta give her props for not going the denture route like so many others in Hollywood. She comes in in her bridal gown with the two-humped princess hat, and tells the boys that she has wonderful news! Her father's come to give the bride away! Wait for it... yup, you guessed it. Vernon Dent comes in smiling with his cowboy hat and the cake wiped off his face. He goes "Y..." and does a double take. You know, of all the times he starts to murder the Stooges, I think this one's my all-time favorite.
The Stooges back up to the wall. Now, remember when Moe opened the Venetian blinds earlier? Seems like a lifetime ago. Well, believe it or not, it's time for that gag to pay off. Shemp looks at the horizontal ribbons of light on the wall and says "Quick! The window!" They all instinctively run and prepare to jump out the window. And perhaps because they were acting instinctively, they hit the wall that much harder, bouncing backwards instead of off the ground and running to safety. And for once, Vernon Dent gets his chance to tear the Stooges limb from limb! However, Nora whisks Shemp away, saying "Hold it, Pa! I'm saving this one for me." Love can be a beautiful thing. Nora('s stunt double) carries Shemp away, and he hits his head on the top of the doorframe. Does this mean that he's finally cured of his hallucinations? Alas, that's a question the filmmakers leave for us to answer.
I don't know exactly why Larry found this to be his favorite. Probably the telephone scene. I would have thought either He Cooked His Goose or his fine performance (no pun intended) as a Stanley Kowalski-ish type in Cuckoo on a Choo-Choo. But this is probably one of the best of the Shemp shorts, and it's not a Western or a World War II rah-rah piece. Just a nice bit of Stooge insanity about Shemp trying to regain his sanity... and I guess I was in the mood for it. Four stars.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan