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Saturday, October 20, 2018


If you're already an ardent collector of Stooge-iana, you may have most or all of this material in your collection. But for the Stooge fan who doesn't yet have it all, or for new fans just wanting to get started, Time-Life's new three volume, 13-disc DVD collection THE BEST OF THE THREE STOOGES might be a good bet for big Stooge entertainment.

The eight discs in volumes one and two are from Sony's "The Three Stooges Collection" and contain the first 87 Columbia Stooge shorts--namely, all of the Curlys save for the last ten or so--from 1934 to 1945 (ending with "Micro-Phonies.")  For those who don't own the entire Columbia short subjects output from Sony this would be a good place to start.

For those who do have all the shorts on previous discs as I do, the five discs in volume three contain the really interesting stuff.  Disc one features the Stooges made-for-TV biopic from 2000 co-starring Michael Chiklis as Curly, as well as three vintage Columbia cartoons from the 30s and 40s in which the boys pop up as guest stars.  Since I don't remember ever seeing any Columbia cartoons before, this was of special interest to me as a fan of vintage animated cartoons in general.

Volume 3 disc 2 is a gold mine of Columbia shorts including 14 solo appearances by Shemp, 10 Joe Besser shorts, and 4 Joe Derita shorts.  Shemp either stars or plays back-up to the great Andy Clyde (later to join William Boyd as Hop-a-Long Cassidy's comedy sidekick) and is in his zestful prime here, adding extra zing to even the most pedestrian scripts.

Besser, meanwhile, plays his usual prissy self in some amusing entries which share some gags and even storylines with familiar Stooges comedies.  An acquired taste, perhaps, I find Joe Besser fun and entertaining whether playing third Stooge as he would later or headlining his own shorts as he does quite well here.

After that comes something really interesting, namely seeing a young Joe Derita himself (with hair!) in his very own comedy shorts. I'd never seen him in any non-Stooge films before, so I was surprised to see this relatively bland comedian with little or no discernible comic persona starring in his own series of films.

Unlike Shemp and Besser, Derita goes about the usual Columbia-style slapstick gags and destructive physical comedy by rote, bringing little personality to his onscreen character save for a general passivity and namby-pamby attitude.  With his constantly perplexed expression, he displays little comic timing or finesse, merely playing his character well enough to get the job done.

Be that as it may, I found these shorts fascinating to watch and an indication of his later incarnation as perhaps the least-liked third Stooge.  The Bessers are equally fascinating, albeit much more entertaining.

Stooge regular Christine McIntyre is a most welcome co-star much of the time, and several other Stooges stock players show up here and there.  It's interesting to see how the Columbia shorts without the Stooges lack that extra zippy, cartoonish quality, and it quickly becomes apparent that Columbia's best short subject output was definitely the Three Stooges comedies.

The real treasure in this disc, though, is the collection of Shemp Howard shorts.  Seeing this seasoned, highly-talented, hilarious, and all-around lovable comic superstar at work on his own before being absorbed back into the Three Stooges as Curly's replacement is a real pleasure.

Volume 3 disc 3 contains three of the Stooges' feature films, HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL, THE OUTLAWS IS COMING, and ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES. The latter is an earlier one with Curly in which the boys appear sparsely as guest stars in a western-tinged romp.

HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL and THE OUTLAWS IS COMING were among those feature films from Columbia (with Joe Derita as third Stooge) made to cash in on the explosive success that resulted when the Stooge shorts were released to TV and became a sensation.

HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL is an endearing spoof of 50s rocket expedition thrillers ending with a 10-minute party sequence that very much resembles one of their early Columbia shorts.

The raucous THE OUTLAWS IS COMING pokes fun at westerns with co-stars Adam West and Nancy Kovack, and showcases as its trigger-happy outlaws an array of well-known TV kid show hosts known for airing the Stooge comedies to much acclaim.  The disc itself is identical to one contained in an earlier Mill Creek DVD collection.

Besides the Columbia solo shorts, my favorite part of this set is volume 3 disc 4-5's wonderful 9-part documentary series, "Hey Moe! Hey Dad!", hosted by Moe's son Paul.  This densely-packed presentation is several hours long and loaded with choice photos, film and TV clips, home movie footage, audio interview segments, and other treats.

Paul Howard's engaging narration distills the best of the Three Stooges books such as "Moe Howard and the Three Stooges" (Moe's autobiography), "Three Stooges Scrapbook", "Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge", and others, some of which were co-written by Moe's daughter, Joan.

Appearing onscreen along with Paul and Joan are other important figures such as Don Lamond, Curly's daughter Marilyn, cartoon voice artist Billy West, and other close relatives and friends.

The documentary series starts at the very beginning with the infant Horwitz brothers, takes us through their showbiz beginnings with top banana Ted Healy, and then recounts the Stooges' rise as stars of the Columbia shorts, their fall when the short subjects department was closed, their re-emergence as global superstars with the success of their comedies on TV and subsequent Columbia feature films, and their continuing posthumous popularity.

The documentary takes its time and examines each phase of their lives in exhaustive detail, and should prove incredibly engaging to anyone who loves the Stooges.  Finally, the set contains an illustrated booklet with Stooge biographies and other info.

THE BEST OF THE THREE STOOGES lives up to its name, at least in part, since the Curly shorts included here are indeed among their best, and the 9-part documentary is surely the best of its kind. That, along with the wonderful solo shorts, cartoons, and features, make this a cornucopia that Stooge fans will want to indulge in.


DVD SRP: $99.95


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