“Why I oughta!”
Most of America (and, let’s be honest, statistically all of America’s men) love The Three Stooges and have for as long as “pointless violence without consequence” has been inexplicably hilarious for about 65% of the population. The vaudeville slapstick act was around from 1930 to 1975, though they’re best remembered for their now-syndicated short films featuring Larry, Moe and Curly from 1934 to 1947 (as well as the Larry, Moe and Shemp films that ran from 1947 to 1956 that we were always secretly disappointed to watch when they came on). Oh, there also was that Farrelly brothers movie version, which, um, well let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.
Many American childhoods have been spent watching three grown men beating on each other for no particular reason apart from “you said something dumb” or “you just asked me to hit your fist, which I will do, even though it will cause that fist to windmill around and bonk me on the head.” And while we have every right to celebrate them for all that they have done, including but not limited to filming the funniest use of eye gouging on film (followed in a distant, distant, distant second place by Game of Thrones), today we’re going to recognize that some of their films, largely through fault of their titles, and largely through the fact that these were being churned out with no regard for “a story that makes sense”, have aged somewhat awkwardly. Admittedly, no one remembers the names of any Three Stooges short, or even the plot of any individual one—our collective understanding of The Stooges begins and ends at “Moe is the boss, Curly makes the funny noises, and we guess Larry does stuff too sometimes.” That said, while thin in premise and generally serving as lazy ways to justify twenty minutes of the Stooges beating the shit out of each other, when you actually sit down and read the titles out loud, or simply stumble through a plot synopsis, a reader in 2015 might awkwardly tug at their collar and make a noise not much different than one Curly would make. So, we decided to look through the 190 shorts they managed to make in their career and cherry pick ones that we found to be especially uncomfortable-slash-hilarious. We’ve naturally listed them below for your reading pleasure.
The Most Awkward Three Stooges Films
If the Three Stooges loved one thing, it was violence masquerading as physical comedy. But if they loved two things it was violence masquerading as physical comedy, and grown-worthy puns. That said, the films we decided to focus on tend to veer away from the “awkward pun” category of films, because literally every film title during this period didn’t bother spending the time coming up with respectable titles, since that energy was better spent filming a wealthy dowager getting hit in the face with a whipped cream pie. Listen, we’re dealing with films from the 1930s and 1940s predominantly here, it’s not surprising that these films didn’t exactly age with a rosy hue. But still, it is just a wee bit jarring when you revisit classic Three Stooges shorts to find films like…
The first short film ever released by the Three Stooges also had an extremely uncomfortable title, which is only enhanced by the poster which inexplicably gives Curly mutton chops, Moe a thick beard, and Larry a creepy goatee. Just feel free to focus on that title for a bit. Women Haters. That’s… that’s weird, right? That’s like, very strange? The plot doesn’t really do much to dispel the notion that America in 1934 was terrifying place to be a woman or a human being with human feelings and compassion. The Stooges play traveling salesmen who join the Woman Haters Club, which apparently exists in this world? It’s basically like a No Girls Allowed club grew up into three habitually violent people who casually proclaim their active hatred of an entire gender. Being in this club involves swearing to never become romantically involved with a woman, which might explain why this club only has three straight members.
Soon after, because this movie was like nineteen minutes long, “Jim” (played by Larry) falls in love with a woman, named Mary, and proposes a marriage. When word of this proposal comes out, Moe and Curly’s characters (actively referred to on Wikipedia as “misogynists named Tom and Jack”) talk Larry out of it, proving themselves to be the worst wingmen in the history of modern cinema. When Jim tries to get out of his engagement, he is threatened by Mary’s father, who tells a story about the man who tried to get out of a marriage with Mary’s unattractive sister (we’re not sure why it’s important that the daughter be described as unattractive, but then again we’re dealing with a film called Woman Haters) who basically got the shit kicked out of him by the woman’s family, which sufficiently freaks out Jim enough to go through with the wedding.
Then things get weird. On the subsequent train ride (like, we guess they had honeymoon train rides back then?) Mary basically flirts with Tom and Jack to make Jim jealous, which is always a good idea to establish a healthy marriage, and to basically get the other Stooges hot and bothered about her as a way to prove that they’ve broken their vows for the Woman Haters Club. As soon as they both have fallen for her charm (read as, decide they want to fuck her) she tells them that she and Jim are married, and hops into the bed that all three of the Stooges were in, knocking Tom and Jack out of the window.
The movie ends terrifyingly, with the Moe and Curly (or Tom and Jack, whatever, you won’t remember them by their character names, from now on we’re just going to use their names for all of the descriptions) in old-age makeup hanging out in a practically empty Woman Haters Club, until Larry walks in and says he wants to rejoin with absolutely no discussion of what happened to Mary, the woman he’s supposedly been married to for decades. Where’s Mary, Stooges? Where’s Mary, and why does Jim, Larry, whatever suddenly show up after like, a lifetime to ask to rejoin the Woman Haters Club? Oh God, was this the precursor to Law And Order SVU!?
So yeah, one doesn’t really get much better when you look at more than just the title. Comedy in the 30s was weird you guys.
Violent is the Word for Curly
One of the things keeping the Three Stooges light and, well, slapstick is that they don’t address the fact that these three men are, essentially, indestructible violent psychopaths with the intellectual age of children who are set off on unstoppable rages at the mildest of provocations. Once you acknowledge that particular aspect of their existence, it goes from “ha ha, look at Curly stomp his feet” to “oh my God, they’re going to kill everyone.” That’s why it’s a little weird for them to address that with this title, Violent is the Word for Curly, especially considering that the statement has literally nothing to do with the film’s plot except for the fact that violent is a word you could use to describe all of the Stooges.
The film takes place at Mildew College, an all-girls school whose administrators are introduced asking their largest benefactor, Mrs. Catsby, to provide them with funds for an athletic program. Mrs. Catsby says she doesn’t think girls should play sports, and instead uses her money to hire three European professors arriving that day. Okay, we’re two entries into this and we’re already two-for-two in films featuring flaunted misogynistic mindsets, so maybe we’re starting to realize one of the reasons girls stereotypically do not like the Three Stooges.
Anyway, the German professors stop off at the service station where the Stooges work (they promise to offer “super soyvice” because even though it’s lazy writing, the ‘saying a word a funny way’ gag never disappoints) and yada yada yada, they’re inept, piss off the professors, and accidentally blow up the fucking car, which they flee from by hopping into a nearby ice cream truck and driving away, leaving the car-less Germans in their dust (take that, you dirty Huns!) Yes, yes, we know that you’ve already correctly assumed that the Germans’ suitcases were in the ice cream truck, and that the Stooges end up wearing the clothes and being confused for professors at the school, but we first want to point out what event leads to them putting on the spare clothing. We’ve tried to find the best way to say this, the funniest way to describe the “ha ha ha ha whaaaat” of it all, but really the best we can do is the Wikipedia synopsis.
“Moe and Larry realize that Curly is still in the back of the truck and is now frozen solid. They thaw him out by tying him to a tree branch over an open fire. This works fine until Curly wakes up on fire and jumps into a nearby lake. When Moe and Larry try to help him out, he pulls them in with him. Now soaked, the boys decided to see if there are any dry clothes in the suitcases they had thrown into the truck.”
Anyway, they pretend to be professors for a while until the Germans show up and say they’re going to leave. The Stooges, when confronted by the angry Mrs. Catsby, tell her that they need an athletic department, and not foreign professors (yay! Progress! …sort of!) and teach her to play football (using a basketball for some reason) until she agrees to fund the program if they can get the professors back. Curly does this by accidentally overshooting the hoop with his basketball, which lands in front of the professors and…sigh, promptly explodes, launching the professors (safely, somehow) into the Stooges clutches, who promise to clean them up. Listen, we’re just going to leave this alone and go to the next one because trying to determine the physics involved in Three Stooges explosions is as hopeless as trying to enjoy a Michael Bay movie on an intellectual level.
I’ll Never Heil Again
Man, entertainment in 1941 was weird. Like, World War II was a big deal, and Hitler was one of history’s greatest villains, and there’s something satisfying about slapstick comedians making him look ridiculous through thinly veiled caricatures. But it’s also kind of a jarring juxtaposition to see some 75 years later. We’re not going to make too much fun of it because we appreciate the sentiment, but come one, at this point we’re sort of conditioned to sort of flinch at anything that uses “heil” in it casually.
The best thing about this movie is that it’s subtle, much like the best thing about our writing is that it’s never sarcastic. It’s a sequel to the almost-making-this-list film, You Nazty Spy!, which saw a mini-mustached Moe Hailstone becoming the dictator of the country Moronica. Again these jokes are very subtle. In this sequel (the first ever of any Stooge film) a group of characters (not played by Moe, Curly, or Larry) named Ixnay, Amscray, and Umpchay have decided they want to oust Moe from power and reinstate the former king of Moronica, Herman the 6 and 7/8th (who’s supposed to be a parody of Kaiser Wilhelm II). They send King Herman’s daughter, Gilda, to assassinate Moe Hailstone using a Number 13 pool ball filled with explosives. Now, before you raise your eyebrows at her randomly deciding to put the bomb in the 13 ball, don’t worry, Wikipedia’s got you covered.
“The fictitious country of Moronica (or at least Moe Hailstone) seems to be familiar with a pool game in which the 13 ball is placed at the head of the rack during set up.”
Mighty fine article editing there, internet collective hive mind.
Oh, Larry and Curly play Field Marshal Herring and “Minister of Propaganda” and they fight a lot. Things get weird. The cue ball never hits the 13, but instead hits Curly on the head a lot. A fake Italian dictator named Chiselini and some generic Russian and Japanese people show up (the Japanese character was played by this Romanian-born actor, because, heavy sigh) and it ends with Moe angrily throwing the 13 ball on the ground, and King Herman regaining the throne with the Three Stooges’ heads mounted as hunting trophies, which we’re sure was madcap and wacky, but seems just a little dark.
Three Little Pigskins
We get that this is supposed to be about football, but come on, we can’t be the only ones that see that title and think of foreskin, right? What? Why are you looking at us like that? You’re telling us that none of you connected this title with foreskin from a human penis? Really?
Ugh fine. We’ll move on. This movie has the Stooges try to drum up publicity for the college football team by dressing as football players, and ends with them accidentally playing for a professional football team, where they do so badly the three managers of the team (shut up, football was different in 1934) take out pistols and shoot the Three Stooges in the butt, and that’s how it ends. God. Had to go and spoil our foreskin joke, didn’t you.
Boobs in Arms
Wow. In what is probably one of the most surprising instance of us hesitantly searching for something on a public computer we’ve ever encountered, the first page of our “Boobs in Arms” Google image search managed to only bring in results from the Three Stooges movie! That’s…wow, okay, like, no wonder everyone uses Bing for their porn now, but hey, we were at two warnings from the librarian so we’re glad we didn’t have to deal with that particular uncomfortableness.
Now, back when you could call someone a “boob” with some regularity, it would make sense to refer to the Stooges as such. This isn’t the only movie that has “boob” in the title, but come on, we’d like to think they knew what they were doing when they put the Three Stooges in the Army and named it this, but we can’t say for certain, ‘cause who knows what words meant back in the day (but it probably meant breasts in arms, let’s be real). Anyway, the Stooges join the army, and after “hilarious” shenanigans get sent to the front line (ha haaa!) (this was before the US involvement in World War II, by the way). They proceed to take a nap (seriously) and wake up to find that their Drill instructor-sergeant, named Hugh Dare (sigh), had been captured by the enemy. This, for some reason, requires them to detonate a laughing gas shell. Again, war is hilarious. Naturally, the process of putting the laughing gas bomb into a cannon did not go smoothly—we’ll let Wikipedia’s accidentally-hilarious-straight-faced description of slapstick comedy take the wheel for a bit.
“As they successfully get [the swab stuck inside the cannon] out, Moe falls in a puddle of mud, which Curly states to him about going swimming; this angers Moe as he kicks Curly into the cannon and gets his head stuck in the cannon.”
Since you’ve already guessed it, yes, they detonate the laughing gas on themselves accidentally after all this. While laughing hysterically, they are taken into the enemy headquarters (the enemies speak in pig latin, because comedy) where, in their laughing fit, they knock out everyone in the enemy camp, and like, win the war or something. We don’t know. It’s all just very silly.
Whoops, I’m an Indian!
Ohhhh dear, ohhh man. Um. Well. That’s…wow.
Just, uh. Okay. No, we can do this, it’s, it’s fine. Just, no stop it, we’re fine we said.
We’ll just, like, copy/paste the entirety of Wikipedia’s descriptions of the plot, um, without commentary.
The Stooges are crooked gamblers in the Old Western town of Lobo City. Eventually, they are caught cheating the residents (including an evil tough woodcutter named Pierre) of a frontier town when Larry hid a horseshoe magnet inside his shoe. They are discovered and must escape into the woods. Now as fugitives, the Stooges have to elude the sheriff, the Stooges hunt, fish, and disguise themselves as Indians.
However, things start to go wrong when Pierre takes a liking to Curly, who is disguised as an Indian squaw. The two soon get married. Several minutes later, Curly’s wig slips off and the trio has to make another run for it. They find what they believe to be a safe place to hide, only to find that they accidentally lock themselves right into the Lobo City Jail.
Um… so yeah.