Friday, January 11, 2013
DVD Review: THE THREE STOOGES--RARE TREASURES FROM THE COLUMBIA PICTURES VAULT
Eventually, Sony/Columbia decided to make a giant box set containing the entire eight volumes. The only "extra" included in the set was a collection called THE THREE STOOGES: RARE TREASURES FROM THE COLUMBIA PICTURES VAULT. Of course, all the fans who had already bought the complete collection weren't too happy--everything on RARE TREASURES had never been released on DVD before, and fans didn't want to buy the complete Stooges again just to get this material. Thankfully for Stooges fans, Sony/Columbia has now made RARE TREASURES available on it's own.
RARE TREASURES is a three-disc set. The first disc contains two feature films: ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES (1945), when Curly was with the group, and HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL (1959), made after the Stooges had been "re-discovered" when their shorts had been released to television.
Disc Two features 14 shorts starring Shemp Howard, and Disc Three features 10 shorts with Joe Besser, and four shorts with Joe DeRita.
Watching the shorts starring Shemp, Besser, and DeRita is a strange experience. It's like viewing an alternate universe where Three Stooges films exist, except the Stooges aren't actually in them. Most of the shorts in this set are remakes of other Columbia comedy entries featuring Andy Clyde, Charley Chase, and yes, the actual Three Stooges. If anything, this set proves that Columbia short subject producer Jules White didn't start reworking material in the 1950s--he was doing it all along. Scripts, gags, storylines, actors, settings.....White re-used anything and everything. Whenever there is a discussion about the successors to Curly Howard, no one seems to bring up the fact that Shemp, Besser, and DeRita had all appeared in Columbia comedy shorts on their own....which means that all three of them had been through the basic Stooge format, and that they had all worked with the Stooges regular directors, writers, and co-stars.
All the well known directors and writers of Stooge material are represented here as well: Jules White, Del Lord, Edward Bernds, Elwood Ullman, and Felix Adler.
The following is a list of all the titles included on each disc:
DISC ONE contains the feature films ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES and HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL. There are also three Columbia cartoons in which caricatures of the Stooges appear: BON BON PARADE, MERRY MUTINEERS, and A HOLLYWOOD DETOUR.
Notes: ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES is one of the least-known of the few features starring Moe, Larry, and Curly. This is a "B" part-musical set on a Nevada ranch, with a number of "Western Swing" songs. In this movie Larry and Curly are their usual selves, but Moe actually plays a different role--his character is named "Shorty" and he has a normal haircut! Despite this, he still acts pretty much like the same old Moe--it seems that even when he's playing a "normal" person, Moe just can't help yelling at people and bossing them around. ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES is a perfect example of how the Stooges were wasted by Columbia when it came to feature films.
DISC TWO is made up entirely of Columbia shorts featuring Shemp Howard: HOME ON THE RAGE, GLOVE SLINGERS, MONEY SQUAWKS, BOOBS IN THE WOODS, PLEASED TO MITT YOU, PICK A PECK OF PLUMBERS, OPEN SEASON FOR SAPS, OFF AGAIN ON AGAIN, WHERE THE PEST BEGINS, A HIT WITH A MISS, MR. NOISY, JIGGERS MY WIFE, SOCIETY MUGS, and BRIDE AND GLOOM.
Notes: Three of these shorts are Andy Clyde vehicles, and Shemp comes off way funnier than Andy Clyde. In PLUMBERS Shemp is teamed with El Brendel, and A HIT WITH A MISS is a remake of the classic Stooge short PUNCH DRUNKS (you can catch glimpses of Larry Fine during the story). The best short is MR. NOISY, (a remake of Charley Chase's THE HECKLER) in which Shemp plays the world's most obnoxious sports fan.
DISC THREE contains Columbia shorts starring Joe Besser & Joe DeRita. Besser is featured in WAITING IN THE LURCH, DIZZY YARDBIRD, FRAIDY CAT, AIM FIRE SCOOT, CAUGHT ON THE BOUNCE, SPIES AND GUYS, THE FIRE CHASER, G. I. DOOD IT, HOOK A CROOK, and ARMY DAZE. Joe DeRita is featured in SLAPPILY MARRIED, THE GOOD BAD EGG, WEDLOCK DEADLOCK, and JITTER BUGHOUSE.
Notes: For most Stooges fans, the sound of the name Joe Besser is akin to the sound of fingernails being scratched on a blackboard. I don't hate Besser the way some people do--he can be amusing at times. But if you watch his shorts one right after the other, Joe's "middle-aged whiny kid" routine can get pretty tiresome. While watching the Besser shorts you'll notice that by the time you get to the last of them, they're already remakes of the first few of Joe's movies!
As for Joe DeRita, his shorts are the least interesting--the most noticeable thing about them is that the future Curly Joe has a full head of hair, and he's a bit slimmer than in his official Stooge years (though not by much). Joe DeRita made his name as a Burlesque comedian, and one wonders what he must have been like on the stage, because in these shorts he's very underwhelming.
The final verdict is: if you are a hard-core Stooges fan, this is a must buy. If you only like the Stooges because of Curly, this set is not for you. Columbia should be given credit for putting this material on DVD, but there's plenty more Columbia comedy shorts that still have not seen the light of a home video release.