Sunday, July 28, 2013
The Passion of the Cuspid, or There Will Be Pain
They're not mincing actions this time! Spoiler alert: the Stooges get fired from not just one, but two jobs within the space of a minute... thanks to judicious editing, of course. Their first employer at the Dainty Dolly Dish Co. sounds like Emil Sitka. In a fit of rage, he apparently has the strength of at least four men, as the Stooges come tumbling down the steps of the Dainty Dolly Dish Co. and onto the pavement. But at least their ex-boss has the decency to throw them their hats!
Now, apparently, this Stooge short is an old-timey Western, but you might not know it from the scenery. They're big city cowboys at the moment, dressed in fancy old-timey cosmopolitan duds. As Moe informs us indirectly, they just got fired for dropping a bunch of dishes. Their next job: as dishwashers at a restaurant. What'll they think of next? Hiring an arsonist as Fire Chief?
Cross-fade to the egg-zact moment when they lose their jobs at Vesuvius Restaurant. The Sitka boss at this place is not so forgiving. We don't really need specifics, do we? The Stooges were apparently hired before their résumés could come over the telegraph. After that, however... all bets are off. The Stooges barely have a minute to rest on the pavement after this firing when Sitka the Chef is standing in the restaurant's doorway, brandishing a rather sinister looking meat cleaver. And.... they're off! Thereby inspiring a similar scene in Woody Allen's Radio Days.
Now, maybe it's just me and a minor detail, but none of the people on the sidewalk look particularly old-timey, aside from the bowler hats. Okay, back to the action.
Fortunately for the Stooges, Sitka's not a good tracker, and they're able to zig into a doorway. Sitka runs by, and the Stooges find safety in an office. They'll find out what it is soon enough. I think Tassels in the Air started off in a similar fashion... okay, maybe not. But I'm pretty sure they've found a new occupation after running from the cops at least once. Boobs in Arms is sort of like that. They confuse a breadline for an army recruitment line and Boom! Whoops, I'm a soldier!
It's a little early for Act Two, but it seems like it starts here, as the plot makes what I like to call a big creaky left turn. Vernon Dent welcomes the Stooges to his office and asks "You came in answer to my advertisement, of course?" Of course! Fake it 'til you make it: that's the Stooges' motto. Or maybe, fake it 'til you're sure that whoever's chasing you is gone. And so, it's time for a little fun with verbal ambiguity. Hey, it worked to gangbuster effect in 1995's Houseguest, right? Am I alone on that? Probably. And so, having no idea what Dent does or what he wants the Stooges to do, Dent says "This way, please!" and off the Stooges go, at Moe's stern non-verbal suggestion.
Next scene: it appears to be a lab for students! Sorry, I already know what the place is. Larry is very interested by a Bunsen burner burning away on the table. And then, Dent introduces the instructor, Miss Beebe, portrayed by the Stooges' Katherine Helmond, a lucky gal named Margie Lizst. Wow! According to her IMDb Top 4, this is one of the things she's known for! I feel a little lucky myself. She plays ugly by wearing glasses and giant buck teeth. Even at 55 years old, Shemp can still afford to be picky. He gets one look at Miss Beebe... note the name, by the way (pronounced B. B.) ... and he does a massive double take. Thank goodness his heart didn't as well. Shemp makes a weird, high-pitched nasal noise at that exact same moment. Then he says "Hello, Miss Buckshot!" GET IT? GET IT???!!! Miss Beebe is no stranger to sarcasm, and she looks rather pissed off. Shemp tries to avoid getting a second look at Medusa and he looks out the window instead. To his horror, Shemp sees Sitka the Chef talking to two policemen. Now, screenwriters take note: at that very same time, Dean Dent is discussing tuition with Moe and Larry. Moe tells Dent, and I quote, "Huh! Not interested." Dent looks deeply hurt by this. You cut me deep, Shrek. You cut me deep. That's when Shemp goes into full-on distress mode. I hate to spoil how he gets the message across to Moe, so I'll skip over that.
Moe is suddenly interested in enrolling. What was that tuition again? Dent says "Five dollars apiece, or three for twenty-five." Moe responds "A rare bargain! We'll take the three!" Now, all you fans of math out there, and economics to a lesser extent, you might think this is insane. Moe then tries collecting from his fellow Stooges. I like Larry's answer: "Well, when I left the house this morning..." LOL. Moe gets two dollars from Shemp, and two from Larry. "All we have is four dollars!" Moe tells Dent helpfully. "I'll take it," says Dent, grabbing the money as fast as he can. It is at this point that the Stooges realize they've finally, after all these years, come across someone crazier than they are.
Dent tells them they can get their diplomas in one week if they study really hard, and he exits Stage Left. Miss Bebee eventually tells them that they're going to be dentists. The trio of idiots swells with professional pride, especially Larry. He starts to give a big sweeping gesture with his hands and says "I see it all." But rather than launch into his big plans, he opts for a terrible, terrible joke instead, which Moe proceeds to punish him for. In Stooge Land, this is how the punishment fits the crime... okay, I'll explain in ghastly detail. Larry points to a tooth and says to Moe "You see that tooth?" Moe says "Yeah." Larry responds with "That's funny! I can't!" Well, he can't always do the "I can't see, because I got my eyes closed" gag. That was just getting old. Anyway, Moe picks up a nasty extraction tool and says "Here! Let me show it to you!" Shemp gleefully helps Moe sit Larry down into a nearby chair. "Anesthetic!" declares Moe, and Shemp quickly hits Larry on the head with a geologist's hammer. Larry quickly looks up and goes quiet... that was a favorite moment of ours growing up in the Movie Hooligan household. Are they really going to do it? Is Larry really going to lose a tooth this way? Fortunately, Miss Beebee sees this scene unfolding, and steps in on Larry's behalf, saying "GENTLEMEN, PLEASE! YOU HAVEN'T GOT YOUR DIPLOMAS YET!!" Close enough. That's about all the empathy Larry deserves anyway.
"Hey, ain't those choppers done yet?" Moe asks Shemp. And so, we cross-fade to Act Two... now, is it me, or does Shemp make a Robert DeNiro face when he closes up the oven? Li'l bit. I think so! I think li'l bit!! In comes Miss Bebe and she flirts with Shemp. It's Graduation Day, and the pressure's on for the final exam: producing a set of dentures, or "uppers and lowers" as Moe uncouthly refers to them. Miss BeeBee looks slightly miffed when Moe talks to her after she talks to Shemp, the ladies' man of the trio. Miss Bebee exits, and Shemp says "Ain't she gorgeous?" Well! His attitude about her has certainly done a 180! The other two are surprised by this plot development as well. "What's the matter with him?" Larry asks Moe about Shemp. Moe replies "He's been standing next to that oven too long." Wotta pal.
And so, after that, it's time for Shemp to take their set of dentures out of the oven, much like they would take a small pizza out of an oven. Come to think of it, the oven looks more like a pizza oven than an oven for dentures! Not that I would know, of course. Now, I hate to be cynical at this point, but screenwriters take note. Shemp sets his dentures down on the table. We cut to Moe and Larry so that the dentures currently on the table can be swapped out for the comedy dentures to come. For once the residual heat of the dentures has dissipated, why... they've taken on a whole new energy, to put it mildly. "Ain't it beautiful?" says Shemp. Moe and Larry look over, and their eyes widen. Boy, Shemp must've been too close to the oven for a long, long time!
It was a little hard to tell from the charred mess that Shemp pulled from the oven, but the dentures are now clean as a whistle, and they snap shut once, and open back up again. Note the giant fangs, naturally. I guess they missed that detail when they were creating them. The Stooges react in horror when the dentures come to life, with Moe even "Nyaah!"ing from fear like Curly might have in the same situation. Apparently he's not going to gobble like Curly did on a few occasions. It would seem that, in this new set of teeth, we have the perfect hybrid of Frankenstein and Dracula: the creation of artificial life of Frankenstein, and the bloodlust of Dracula.
And so, like the Neanderthals becoming acquainted with the Monolith, it's time for the Stooges to learn a thing or two about the nature of the universe. Meantime, these teeth are still friendlier than the Chef Sitkas of the world. Larry declares "It's alive!" but his manner is not of the joyous doctor in Frankenstein. Moe dares Larry to pick up the teeth. Larry fails. Teeth: 1, Stooges: 0. Moe's turn now: he takes a small bit of wood... a pencil, perhaps... and sees if the teeth will bite. Oh, not only do they bite, but they bite the piece of wood in half! Cold-blooded. Teeth: 2, Stooges: 0. I'm tempted to rank the Stooges in terms of the Five Stages of Grief, and now that I've read the Wikipedia entry, I see that it's almost an isomorphic fit. Larry took us through the denial phase (are these teeth alive or not?), and now it's time for anger. More specifically, Moe angry at Shemp for unleashing this monster set of teeth upon an unsuspecting world. Shemp's too afraid, however, and rightly so! The teeth plays no favorites, and seems especially unforgiving towards its creator. Shemp tries three times to grab the dentures, but they snap three times. Teeth: 5, Stooges: 0. At this point, the teeth give a menacing laugh! That's gotta be worth some points, but I guess my score will just reflect the teeth's bites. Imperfect, I know, and I don't think I have the energy to stay committed to this newfound paradigm, but we'll see what happens.
Next attempt: Larry uses a bit of his brain this time. He tries a fake attempt at bargaining, saying to the teeth, "Hey, Teeth! Look!" Larry points to someplace behind the teeth... and the teeth turn around. These teeth are more human than most humans! So now, this set of enfangulized false teeth now have phantom lungs, a phantom voice box and phantom eyes with which to see! They are over-compensating to the max for their lack of a physical vessel. Strange that they only seem to stay in one spot on the table, tee hee hee. They've got some abilities, but they can't fly like the skeleton head of If a Body Meets a Body.
...oh, right. The teeth turn back around and try to snap at Larry. Teeth: 6, Stooges: 0. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep this up! Moe continues the Stooges' descent into strategy, saying "We'll all sneak up on it together." The teeth, of course, are already aware of this group encroachment. The Stooges all raise implements at the same time and... the teeth start singing. The Stooges quickly put down their weapons and join in. What's the point of keeping score anymore? I mean, really? These teeth just might be the new Moe we've all been looking for. And as Wikipedia or someone rightly points out, the teeth sound like Vernon Dent holding his nose. "One of you guys is flat!" the teeth complain. This snaps the Stooges out of their temporary hypnosis. Now it's back to the primordial struggle, and Moe forces Shemp to deal with his creation once again.
Shemp lets down his guard and the teeth get a hold of his hand. Shemp says "Ow! Let go!" the exact same way twice. Moe and Larry stand off to the side as Shemp struggles alone. "He made that freak thing! Let him suffer!" says Moe. It's a nice point of view in theory, but this time there's more than enough suffering to go around. Shemp eventually dislodges the teeth from their pivot foot on the lab table and, after a lot of thrashing around in pain, Shemp throws the teeth into the air, and where they land he doth not care. But where do they land, just out of curiosity? Why, on Moe's face, of course! And so, the baton of pain is passed from Shemp to Moe. I missed the part where that was my problem! Moe says "Help! Hey, fellas! OHHHH!" the exact same way twice. And so, just as when Moe was threatening to pull out Larry's tooth, the other two Stooges swarm around one Stooge in solidarity. Shemp tries prying the teeth off with his hands, while Larry uses a small extraction tool on it. It certainly doesn't help that Moe is conscious and thrashing around. And then, in a fit of inspiration, Shemp picks up a geologist's hammer and declares "I'll KNOCK it off!" Moe objects, despite his pain, but it's already too late. Shemp hits Moe on the head and DOWN GOES MOE! Larry and Shemp shake hands and congratulate themselves rather prematurely on a job well done.
Now, even though these kind of links don't work anymore, I'm going to keep the home fires burning on this one, because it's a masterful one-take shot, and the cameramen worked harder than they probably should have on it. And while they don't stray too far from their initial position in front of the lab table, the camera starts as a close-up near where Moe's going to stand up from his harrowing ordeal. Well! Even though those teeth from hell were taking a pretty good bite out of his face, there's no blood or teeth marks! Moe stands up, staring at Shemp, and doesn't seem much worse for wear. Cartoon violence made flesh, kids. Never forget that. And so, the camera dollies back and follows the Stooges as Moe runs around the whole lab room hitting Shemp on the head with that same hammer. Boy, that's gratitude for ya! Shemp's head resonates in a variety of tones with each new strike from Moe's Hammer.
Next scene: the Stooges ran and ran and ran, but they never realized it would get them anywhere. But sure enough, they go through that door from the lab into the waiting room of this small, two-room dental school and there they are for graduation day. And Professor Dent seems eager to hand out diplomas. Too bad he wasn't a little more discerning. However, there thankfully is the requirement of presenting the final exam of the sample dentures. Moe starts to explain that they didn't turn out well, and concurrently Shemp spies a set of choppers on the mantelpiece next to him. And naturally, being the combination Ladies Man / Klepto that he is, he quickly palms them and passes them to Larry. Larry passes them to Moe and, when Moe sees what he's got in his hand, he does a massive double take and quickly changes the tone of his narrative. Too bad for the rest of humanity that Professor Dent and Miss Beebe didn't see that maneuver. "Why, they're beautiful!" declares Dent. I'm assuming that implies a little functionality as well.
THE GRADUATION PROPER
Dent begins the speech that the educational higher-ups have to give. "It is time to take you out into the world," says Dent. He keeps it short and sweet and talks about the quality of the graduating class of October 1951. Dent says, "Most of you have done well here." However, he also says "Others, I'm sorry to say, have not done quite so well," and drives that point home a little bit further in the next sentence. The Stooges thank Dent for not singling them out for incompetence more explicitly. Just wait til he finds out about their final project! Dent asks the boys to go somewhere far away to practice. I guess they're part dentists, part missionaries. Dent quotes Horace Greeley ("Go West, young man!") and the Stooges take the opportunity to go into song before going West. Ah, that brings back a flood of memories. It's one of their best three-part harmonies. Professor Dent eventually covers his face with his hands, while Miss Beebee's concerned that the boys didn't get their diplomas. The Stooges, like Snagglepuss, exit Stage Right and head back into the lab apparently. Fade to black.
Fade in on Coyote Pass... hey, wait a tic! Footage from an actual Western! While we may never know what film this footage was used in (I have the interest, but not the time nor place... I mean, energy), why not take this opportunity to read the IMDb Trivia page about The Tooth Will Out? I think I will! Sounds interesting. Pardon me..... All right, back to the grind. I mean, movie. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: it's a Western, remember? Scene: the boys arrive at their new office in Coyote Pass, and they all try to jam their way through the front door at the same time, naturally. Larry's been relegated to Hat Man as he's wearing three hats. Soon after, he's also tasked to place the sign on the outside. We only get a brief glimpse of it, but you can probably see that it says "Dr. Shemp Howard: Painless Dentistry." That's just a small legal technicality, of course; if things get bad enough, the angry mob will string up all three of them. The camera dollies in on Moe and Shemp, and Shemp's able to confide in Moe a little bit. For one thing, he's concerned about being a professional dentist. Thank God one of them is! Moe tries to calm Shemp's fears by reminding him that he did receive a diploma, and that he worked all week to get it... well, it is the Old West. Besides! Remember Cider House Rules? The dude in that was a doctor and he only went to high school or something? Side note: now that I'm a certified and certifiable Stooge expert, I can't help but notice how Shemp says that the diploma cost him "four bits extra!" He kinda reminded me of post-stroke Curly, as that's how post-stroke Curly might have delivered that line.
When suddenly... boom! Larry's been busy! He drags in their first customer. I've seen this already, so I know it's going to get pretty ugly... hmm! Do those words even go together? I mean, in the Internet Age even? Better call it "epic ugly" or "actual sick" because this is a blog. Anyway, the cost of this dentistry? Two bucks! Moe has a weird look on his face when he hands Larry one of the dollar bills. Meanwhile, Dr. Shemp puts on his glasses and proceeds to put Moe in the victim's chair... I mean, the dentist's chair. Oh, Moe ain't having any of that crap! This isn't Larry telling what he thinks is a joke, after all! This is serious business time! Incidentally, their first customer is an actor named Slim Gaut, and this film (scene cut from Merry Mavericks) is one of the four things he's best known for. And he had an unbilled part in My Little Chickadee! Are they saying this scene is more iconic than Chickadee? Could be!
It's a little premature to start Act Three, but we'll be cutting into the middle of this scene anyway, so might as well start it here. If I remember correctly, as a youth I found this scene more painful than funny, but who knows? Maybe I'll get the joke in this second go-round. For starters, I can see that one of the principal components of this comedy analysis is Shemp's glasses. Shemp once again confuses Moe for the patient. For the benefit of Shemp, Moe bites Shemp's finger, then points to the patient... but he points to the patient's belt buckle. Close-up of Shemp and the buckle... easy! Well, it was a simpler time. Shemp points to the belt buckle and says "Oh! He's got a filling!" Now, sure, I could be cynical and say that we're going to see this same joke over and over, but sometimes it's done well, right? Take the Addams Family movies (1 and 2). Basically a one-joke premise but done well, right? The patient moans after Shemp's diagnosis, and Shemp says "Save that for later, pal. You'll need it!" Lol. Great foreshadowing.
And so, the drilling proper begins at about 1:34. Oh, it's time to kill some time. Frankly, you might want to skip this part, so you'll have to jump right to... 3:55? Good Lord! Is this a three-reeler? Come to think of it, I'll just give a few highlights, besides Gaut's legs trying to upstage the Stooges. Because of his glasses, Shemp eventually ends up with the drill in his own mouth, and for a little bit longer than I thought, too! Strange. Well, the Stooges needed a good dentist or two. Also, Spoiler Alert: at about 3:17, the patient's chair starts to swivel, and Moe has to bring it round again a full 360 degrees... wait a minute, they're not doing this just to get the drill into Moe's mouth by any chance, are they? ... they ARE! BASTARDS!!! This time we can more plainly see that Moe's a professional and he's able to talk normally with a mouth full of fake teeth to spit out. Now, at some point, smoke starts coming from the patient's mouth in the midst of drilling. It happens on a second occasion, but the drill is so obviously not in the patient's mouth that we can't take it too seriously. It's like a dollop of oil of cloves, it is! I still hate dentists, though, but I nevertheless promise to visit one again someday. And the suffering of Slim Gaut keeps the scene grounded.
Okay, back to the end of the action. Gaut has slumped out of the chair, and he's covering his face, but it's over. Shemp hands the drill to Larry, and it's time to heal. Shemp and Moe go over to the table. Shemp says "Let's see what's next." ...you mean, he's going to get another something done to him? I better buckle up, or at least go to Wal-Mart tomorrow to get a seatbelt for my own damn chair!
Drs. Moe and Shemp consult their handy textbook: "Practical Dentistry." And on page 50 it says, as Shemp informs us, "After you drill a tooth... you're supposed to fill it!" Shemp and Moe enjoy a hearty laugh over that one. Well, they've got the whole rest of their lives to learn the rest of the craft of dentistry, I suppose. When suddenly... the bad guy enters. Shemp gets scared just from the sound of the guy's boots walking up! "WHERE'S THE DENTIST?" barks the bad guy. The bad guy is Dick Curtis, and sadly, this is his last Stooge film ever. According to the handy "Credited With" feature of IMDb, Curtis enjoyed a brief break from Stooge films between 1946 and 1951, but then it was back to work, making three total in 1951: this, along with Three Arabian Nuts and Don't Throw That Knife. I'm gonna miss that guy, especially when I start reviewing Joe Besser shorts. SHEESH!!!
Where was I? Oh, right. Hold on, gotta get my toaster strudel before it gets cold again... okay, back to the action. Anyway, "Shemp's Last Patient," as the screenwriters of Tooth have apparently dubbed him, complains about an aching tooth. Shemp explains that there's someone ahead of him in line. Curtis picks up the case of Gaut from the dentist's chair and politely escorts him to the front door. A few seconds later, we hear the sound of falling crates, perhaps coming from outdoors. "Now I'M first," says Curtis. Kinda looks like Tom Waits, doesn't he?
Now, probably because he's a bad guy, but more likely because he somehow saw the previous patient, Curtis has a short verbal agreement that he wants Shemp to be aware of. Apparently, the last dentist that worked on Curtis didn't do such a good job, so Curtis had to shoot him. "Notch number nine" on Curtis' gun. Shemp gets a little concerned about this, and Curtis then gets concerned about Shemp's concern, as a bad guy would. Shemp reassures Curtis that he's thinking of little else besides delicately pulling Curtis' tooth, and Curtis relaxes a bit... hey, wait a second! Curtis is wearing a star! That makes it worse somehow. Gaut is going to have to go to Congress to find some justice.
And so, Shemp hits the books again. Moe asks "What's the matter? Are you nervous?" Shemp: "Just in my left arm." Lol. It's a visual joke, you see. And so, just as Nikola Tesla perceived the earth to be a conductor of acoustical resonance, so too it is with people. People and their teeth. And just like in the Wham! Bam! Slam! / Pardon My Clutch duet, the Stooges, and people operating on the Stooges, use the old sound test to find bad teeth. Kinda like how you're supposed to tap a watermelon to see if it'll be a good one. This may be the first and last time where the Stooges use the phrase "Metal object!" over and over again. Where's the "Ana-cana-pana"? Where's the ... pathetic. Can't think of another one right now. Soldemus? Well, for the fans out there, there's also a request for an "ammer-hay" to be used in conjunction with the metal object. And so, having ditched his glasses, Shemp's competence has improved significantly. He's able to find Curtis' mouth right away and stick the metal object onto a tooth, lightly tap the tooth, and see what happens. Also, we're now dealing with a very different Curtis. For one thing, he's putting up with all of this foolishness! Oh sure, he could just point to the problem tooth but... ah, I know. I'm missing the point. Shemp finds the tooth on the fourth try, and Shemp gets knocked backwards by Curtis's flailing arms (gee, nice acting, Shemp!). Screenwriters take note: this is for a reason. Shemp reaches for the dentist's book and doesn't look to do it. Spoiler alert: just as the Stooges keep a bottle of gasoline handy for comedy-related emergencies, Shemp picks up the wrong book. I hate to reveal the topic of the book, so I won't. That much I'll do for you... oh, right. The filmmakers do as well! Sheesh. Meanwhile, while Shemp's setting up the next few jokes, Moe and Larry are busy delivering Curtis some actual anesthetic, not the usual Stooge anesthetic of a hit on the head. You know, like the one Lawrence received around Act One of this very same pic!
And so, with Curtis asleep, the boys follow the instructions as foretold by their textbook "The Amateur Carpenter." Sandpaper the chest? Larry's already hard at work exposing Curtis's chest, the perv. There's a great tattoo joke that no one will find funny these days, as tattoos are serious business now. Moe is confused by the next instruction: varnish the lid. The confusion dissipates after a few seconds, and then it's "VARNISH!" Larry gets some varnish, and Moe paints the inside of Curtis's hat and the top of Curtis's head. Good thing he's asleep! He's either asleep or dead. And then, Shemp starts reading a long passage from the book, pronouncing "putty" like the word "put." LOL!!! Ah, that takes me back. Shout out to my buddy out there on that one! Larry points to the cover of the book, and Moe starts to let Shemp have it...
Sheesh! According to the YouTube, we're down to less than a minute! The ending title card sequence takes about twelve seconds, so... will they resolve this in time?!!!! Let's find out.
...boy! They really tightened it up! Moe gives Shemp a face full of varnish for good measure and, without wiping his face, Shemp proceeds to take a pair of pliers and starts trying to pull some teeth. You might want to skip this part. Apparently he forgot that the tooth in question was a left molar. He goes right for Curtis's buck teeth and heads to the right from there. Third time's the charm, and they pull Curtis plum from the dentist's chair, and they all fall onto the floor at about 8 fps. There's a squeaking sound that I know best from Loose Loot, and it means that the tooth has been pulled.
Now, Shemp is positively beaming with professional pride at this point, as he holds the pliers and pulled tooth as aloft as he can from his place on the floor. He says "I got it! I got it!" Curtis barks "You got the WRONG TOOTH!!!!!" Dr. Shemp declares "Whoa!" and his two dental assistants, Moe and Larry, pull down Curtis' hat as far as they can, before the fugitive trio take off running. Curtis manages to get off two shots, but it's unclear if he hit any of the Stooges. As per the tradition of comedy gunshots in Stooge films, he probably hit the Stooges in their soft glutes, if at all. Fade to black.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan