Friday, May 1, 2015

A PLUMBING WE WILL GO





This is my contribution to Shorts!--A Tiny Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently.



Taking part in a movie blogathon about short films gives me a perfect opportunity to discuss the Three Stooges. The Stooges might be the most famous short film stars of all time--their comedy series for Columbia still runs on television constantly, and probably always will. If you asked the average person on the street whether they had ever actually seen a short subject film, their response might be, "What are those?" But if you asked that same person whether they had seen a Three Stooges episode, they would know exactly what you are talking about.

I've watched the Three Stooges literally all my life. I was fascinated by them as a kid, and looking back now it's easy to see why. The crude, rapid-fire brand of slapstick, the wild & wacky situations, the crazy sound effects, and the super-fast pace of the films easily got the attention of my young mind. The Stooges were perfect for the short film format. Most of their Columbia films last between 15 to 20 minutes, and unlike most full-length comedy feature films made during the same period, there's no romantic sub-plot, or musical numbers, or burdensome plot details. In a Stooges short film, it's the boys all the way....and even if you didn't like them, you have to admit they weren't boring.

My favorite Stooges short of all time is A PLUMBING WE WILL GO, released in 1940 and directed by Del Lord, with story & screenplay by Elwood Ullman. I consider this the quintessential Stooges comedy. It was made right in the middle of what I consider the Stooges' golden period--1937-1944. During this era Moe, Larry, and Curly made their funniest comedies, and the Columbia short subject unit that supported them was running like a well-oiled machine. A PLUMBING WE WILL GO has several great Stooges elements:

The Stooges running from the law
The Stooges attempting to perform a professional service
The Stooges pretending to be something they are not
The Stooges meeting up with (and annoying) snooty high-society types

About the only thing A PLUMBING WE WILL GO doesn't have is an appearance by long-time Stooges nemesis Vernon Dent--but it does feature another famed Stooge supporting player, Bud Jamison.

The short starts with the Stooges in a familiar place--a courtroom. The boys are accused of being chicken thieves, but luckily the presiding judge doesn't buy it (Curly doesn't help things by taking his hat out of his pocket and unleashing a flurry of feathers). As soon as the Stooges get back out on the street, they wind up in trouble again with Bud Jamison's angry cop. With the unknowing help of street magician Professor Bilbo, the Stooges manage to get away and steal a plumber's van. Incredibly , the swanky house they park the van in front of has just called for a plumber--so the Stooges, fearing arrest by the pursuing Jamison, act like they are plumbers.

After the boys go down to the basement, Moe sends Curly upstairs to shut off the water. What follows may be the high point of Curly Howard's entire film career. Instead of stopping the water Curly just makes it flow more and more (Curly's facial expressions and body language during this scene are a wonder to behold). Curly's solution to stopping the water is to keep adding pipes to it over and over again, until he is surrounded by them--one of the great visual moments in Stooge history.






Curly's greatest screen moment?





With the water still flowing Moe tells Larry to turn the water off outside. Larry winds up ruining the lawn (when the butler tells Larry to stop, the middle Stooge gives the servant a shovelful of sod in the face). Curly escapes his pipe prison by drilling a hole in the floor, which causes him to fall straight down into the basement, angering Moe (as if Moe needed angering in the first place). Moe tells Curly to find some more pipe...and Curly does, but as he explains to Moe, "The pipe is filled with wires!!"


Of course the wires are electrical wires...and the Stooges replace those wires with water, causing every electrical device in the house to start spouting like a geyser. African-American actor Dudley Dickerson gets a showcase scene as the house cook who reacts to seeing his kitchen take the brunt of the Stooges' "repairs". Some of today's viewers might consider Dickerson's role to be politically incorrect, but the man is genuinely funny--as a matter of fact, Dickerson almost steals the short from the Stooges.

While this is going on the lady of the house decides to show her guests a brand new "television receiver". She tunes in to a broadcast from Niagara Falls--and soon a real waterfall comes through the screen. (Is this the earliest use of a television set as a comic gag in movie history?)

Finally the owner of the house comes in, finds out what is going on, and heads off to confront the idiots who have ruined his home....and the owner is none other than the judge who let the Stooges off at the beginning of the short! The judge falls through the hole Curly made in the upstairs bathroom....and once again the Stooges are on the run, jumping into the giant hole Larry made in the yard, and then interrupting Professor Bilbo's magic act yet again.

A PLUMBING WE WILL GO starts off with a very simple premise--all the Stooges have to do is fix a small leak--but that premise builds and builds, until the house the Stooges are working in takes on more water than an ocean (as Moe says, "This ain't a house, it's a sieve!!") The Stooges are not plumbers, and they know nothing about plumbing, but they carry on anyway, absolutely confident in everything they do. You can call the Stooges stupid, but they have an assurance about them that puts them on another level among classic film comedians.

Many Stooge fans look upon Del Lord as the best short subject director the boys worked with, and he keeps the story moving so fast you don't have time to do anything but laugh. That's the main reason why the Stooges comedies work so well so many years after they were made--they're as quickly edited as any action sequence in a 21st Century comic-book movie.

The Three Stooges were masters of the short comedy subject, and A PLUMBING WE WILL GO features them at the height of their powers. If you ever meet someone who has no idea who the Three Stooges are (if such a person exists), you should show them A PLUMBING WE WILL GO. It sums up the Three Stooges perfectly.









5 comments:

  1. I don't trust people who don't like the Stooges. How do they even get up in the morning?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much for joining in! You make an excellent point about the Stooges and their short subjects. Romantic subplots? Feh! We're here for the funny!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Some of the best comedic situations are exactly as you described: people who don't know what they're doing but carry on anyway.

    If I ever meet anyone who hasn't heard of the Three Stooges, I will send them to this post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for a very nice review, Dan, of one of the boys' most archetypal shorts. My favorite scene comes when Larry is looking for the shut-off valve: there's a shot of just his head popping up in the middle of the lawn, he exclaims "I'll find this thing or else!," and then goes back underground, with his hand coming up to retrieve his hat.

    As for Dudley Dickerson as the hapless chef whose kitchen gets flooded, I remember seeing this film on TV as a kid in the '60s and never thinking of him as a stereotype. Sure, he looked goofy in his raincoat, trying to shut off the appliances, but in the Stooges' world everyone wound up acting goofy at some point. Besides, Dudley got the best line when he appeared again in the 1949 remake with Shemp, Vagabond Loafers; when someone tells him they're going for a drink of water, Dickerson replies "Turn on anything, you'll get it!"

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm so happy you wrote about this one. I too have watched them all my life, except for a terrible period when they moved from a VHF station to a UHF station. My family's tv only got VHF. I had to go to friends' houses to see the Stooges.

    ReplyDelete