The Three Stooges were one of the most notable comedic acts of the 20th Century due to their violent slapstick antics and iconic personas. A brief history about them starts in 1922 when brothers Moe and Shemp Howard were “the Stooges” of the vaudeville act Ted Healy and the Stooges. In 1928, Larry Fine joined them. In 1930, the act made its way to Hollywood and appeared in Soup to Nuts. Shemp quit the act in 1932 and went solo. He was replaced by his brother Jerry, known as Curly. After splitting from Healy, the act was billed as “The Three Stooges” and they made 190 short films with Columbia Pictures. Moe, Larry, and Curly made 97 shorts from 1934-1946. Shemp returned to the act when Curly was too ill to perform after suffering a major stroke and they made 77 shorts from 1946-1955. Joe Besser replaced Shemp and over his brief tenure, they made 16 shorts from 1956-1958. Columbia decided to stop making shorts, and Besser left. Curly Joe DeRita joined the act for the remainder of the Stooges run as they appeared in feature-length movies and TV shows, including cartoon versions of themselves.
Available now, exclusively at threestoogesdvds.com, The Best of the Three Stooges repackages previous Stooges releases from Sony Pictures and Mill Creek Entertainment. The 26-disc Deluxe Edition collects all the Stooges material and the 13-disc set is a truncated version.
A typical Stooges short finds the three dimwits physically and verbally abusing each other and those around them as they attempt to complete a task of some kind. The first two volumes (eight discs) cover the first 87 shorts with Curly. Woman Haters is a musical, but the next one, Punch Drunks, cuts the songs and is typical of the wild antics they were known because it lets the Stooges be the Stooges. Their third short, Men in Black, is the only one that led to an Academy Award nomination. Any short involving pie fights is a highlight for me.
Volume Two covers 1940-1945 and it's clear WWII has an influence. The Stooges mock Hitler in You Nazty Spy! and I'll Never Heil Again, the first sequel in the Stooges series, even though the fellas were suggested to have been eaten by lions. There's some insensitive material towards the Japanese, such as The Yoke's On Me where the Japanese actors wear buck teeth and No Dough Boys where the Stooges pose as Japanese soldiers for an ad and are mistaken for the real thing when they go to lunch in costume and make up. The final 10 Curly shorts aren't included in this collection nor the Stooges short with Shemp and Joe.
Volume Three is a potpourri of Stooges material. Disc 1 offers the 2000 television biopic starring Paul Ben-Victor as Moe Howard, Evan Handler as Larry Fine, Michael Chiklis as Curly Howard, and three Columbia cartoons their likenesses make appearances: Bon Bon Parade (1935), Merry Mutineers (1936), and A Hollywood Detour (1942). Disc 2 features Columbia comedy shorts with Stooges when they were a solo act. There are 14 with Shemp as the lead and co-star, 10 with Joe Besser, and 4 with Joe DeRita.
Disc 3 presents Have Rocket, Will Travel, the first film with Curly Joe, and The Outlaws is Coming, the last with him. These films don't fare well in comparison to their previous work. The Stooges' comedic chaos works best in short bursts as their two-reelers demonstrate. They can't sustain through a feature-length film's story. Curly Joe is a watered-down version of Curly and would have been better served creating his own distinct persona, and their antics in these films were better when they had done them previously. Also included is Rockin' in the Rockies, the only Stooges feature film with Curly, although it doesn't seem the filmmakers understood what made the Stooges successful. Disc 4 and 5 contain the nine-part documentary Hey Moe! Hey Dad!, a thorough examination of all six Stooges led by Moe's son Paul Howard that even devoted numbskulls will appreciate.
The Best of the Three Stooges 13-disc set will soitantly please the Curly lovers of Stooges fandom, but for those who also like Shemp or are completists, the 26-disc set will be the one to buy.