Monday, July 4, 2011
Thanks to the fortuitous interest of my six (soon to be seven) year old son, I've been rediscovering the exuberantly crude joys of the Three Stooges, particularly the rich early-middle to middle Curly period. This runs from roughly 1937-1943--the years prior to '37 (from 1934 when they began their Columbia shorts series) are filled with interesting things but on the whole feel sluggish, spotty and present the Stooges as a not quite on their game comedy team. Having said that, there's something curiously archeological in discovering ancient finds such as "Restless Knights" and "Uncivil Warriors"--both poorly paced but interesting sketches of what the Stooges would soon "blossom" into. But truly the boys kick into gear somewhere in late '36 and peak through the end of the decade and into the early forties.
Three directors handled the chores in this period more or less. Del Lord--a former Sennett Keystone Kop stuntman (so the legend goes), Jules White (who headed the shorts department for Colunbia) and the comedian Charley Chase who proved to be a very fine and oddly subtle director for the Stooges. His work with the Stooges can be seen to best effect in the football comedy "Violent Is the Word For Curly", the title a play on the then popular film "Valient Is the Word For Carrie" (Gladys George as a former prostitute trying to reform). The song "Swinging The Alphabet" makes its notorious appearance in the film and as you probably already know is one of those once-heard-never forgotten ditty's that you wind up remembering for most of your life. Note how Curly's "solo" section of it is taken at too quick a tempo--he's lipsyncing so it must have been pre-recorded at this incorrect tempo...but why? How?
Charley Chase deserves his own post (or two) and I'll get to him in a minute. His career as a comedian/writer/director was primarily conducted for Hal Roach--and a number of comedies hold up remarkably well. They also contain quite a few for then sophisticated gay-inspired jokes and characters which, when taken with the testimony of Billy Gilbert (in Leonard Maltin's "Great Movie Shorts" section on Chase) that the comedian was unhappily married and lived alone at a "gentleman's club" begins to paint a picture of a pained in-the-closet figure doomed to an early alcoholic death (Chase died in 1940 after telling a friend that if he couldn't drink he didn't want to live).
Below is his best collaboration with Stooges More on Chase and more on the rich Stooge early-middle period to follow.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 7:33 AM