About My Book: Sunday Light
The Gods of the Copybook Headings

52 Movies: Week 37 - Six by The Three Stooges

Like many comedians of their era The Three Stooges got their start in vaudeville, and like their contemporaries The Marx Brothers and The Ritz Brothers they came from immigrant Jewish families. Moe and Shemp Howard (Moses and Samuel Horwitz) and Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg) were part of a popular act called Ted Healy and his Stooges, a vaudeville team that began doing film work in 1930. Fed up with Healy’s demanding ways Shemp broke off from the team to go solo, and was replaced by younger Horwitz brother Jerome, who showed up at his audition with long curly hair and a handlebar moustache. One commentator said that he looked like a chubby General Custer. He shaved his head, and eventually the moustache, and became “Curley.”

The Stooges appeared in several films with Healy through 1934, when their contract with MGM expired. Healy and the Stooges parted company, and the Stooges, now officially renamed “The Three Stooges,” signed with Columbia Pictures to do short films, and remained with Columbia for over 20 years.


Unlike most of the other comedians of their day The Stooges never made the leap from shorts into feature films until near the end of their careers. Moe, the leader and manager of the group, always felt that their brand of comedy would not work as well in a longer form. It is probably for this reason, and also for the fact that their comedic style was more lowbrow than some of the other acts of the era, that despite their popularity they never got the critical appreciation that others got. This is unfortunate, as at their best, they could be as funny as anyone.

In my opinion, the key to their humor is the natural comedic talent of Curley (later ‘Curly). Moe was funny as a pseudo-tough guy, and Larry, who basically went along and got in the way, sticking up for Curly from time to time, generally got the worst of things for his efforts. But Curly, the vacuous child-man, with his faces, mannerisms and odd noises, was the one who really held the thing together; I think he deserves to go down as one of the great film comics. His timing and ability to improvise were both top notch, as was his talent for physical comedy. He’s always doing something in character even when the camera’s focused elsewhere.

The Stooges often get an undeserved bad rap for the raucousness of their comedy, as if it were all face slapping, eye poking, and pie throwing. But such really isn’t the case. While they were never exactly subtle, there is a fair amount of wit, both verbal and physical in their best films.

I’ve watched the Three Stooges since I was little, and I can remember my Dad (who was a big fan) and I watching them together in the mornings before school – kindergarten and first grade even! I’ve seen some of their films literally dozens of times, and they still make me laugh. I probably have ten or so favorites, with another larger group as a second tier, but I’ve limited my picks here to six that I consider among the best. They run from 15 to 18 minutes each, about the length of a feature film, which seems appropriate, and I’m listing them in chronological order.

Men in Black (1934) – A spoof of a popular Clark Gable film of the era called Men in White, the boys play a trio of doctors who wreak havoc at a hospital. Only their third release, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Film. This early film of theirs approaches the anarchic style of comedy that the Marx Brothers were famous for, and also includes a relatively high quotient of verbal jokes

Disorder in the Court (1936) – The Stooges play witnesses at a murder trial, the defendant being a dancer at the club where they are musicians. Featured is a very funny musical number, a classic scene, bits of which have appeared in various commercials over the years. Curly is especially good in this one, especially in his turn in the witness box.

A Plumbing We Will Go (1940) – Fleeing the police, the boys escape in a plumbers’ truck, and are taken for the real thing by a society matron. They, of course, wreck the house. Some good sight gags here (Curly trapping himself in a cage of pipes is a famous one), but the show is almost stolen by what is the best non-Stooge performance in all of their films: the big-eyed black comedian Dudley Dickerson plays the cook, who experiences the Stooges’ plumbing expertise first hand when water begins appearing in his kitchen in unusual places, uttering the famous line, “This house has sho’ gone crazy!”


An Ache in Every Stake (1941) – The Stooges play ice men, who have to deliver a block of ice up a long flight of stairs (it melts on the way up). In the process, they ruin a businessman’s birthday cake, but inadvertently end up as the cooks at his dinner party. Highlights include Curly stuffing a turkey and “shaving the ice.”

Dizzy Pilots (1943) – The Stooges play the Wrong Brothers, airplane inventors who’ve been given a draft extension to complete their waterproof plane. If it fails, they have to join the army. Their attempts to get the plane done in time don’t work out quite right. And neither does boot camp. This one features one of my all-time favorite short Curly routines – his attempt to do the manual of arms in boot camp.

Micro-Phonies (1945) – Curly is mistaken for an opera singer at a radio station, and the Stooges, seeing a quick buck, agree to have him sing at a matron’s musical party (with the help of an opera record). Curly had had a stroke early that year, and the effects caused him to slow down both his speech and his physical gestures, and he retired soon after this short was made. He’s very good in this one though, and it remains one of their most memorable efforts.

I imagine that all of these are available online at various places, including You Tube. Enjoy!

—Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies which he's put to good use working on the insurance side of the healthcare industry for the past 20 years.  He's published a number of book and music reviews, mostly in the small press, and sometimes has even gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Well that is certainly fun! I watched them over and over again as a kid so they must have been on TV when I got home from school (this would be the 1970s) when television was pretty limited. I also liked Abbott & Costello, but never really warmed up to the Marx Brothers.

Anyway, most of these described are very familiar to me. Oh, my misspent youth!

The Stooges were the classic comedians I was exposed to the earliest, as at the time they were most often on TV. I also saw The Little Rascals very early on. My dad introduced me to Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and the Marx Bros. a little later on, and I liked them all. Still do! I was never a big Abbott & Costello fan, however.

I watched them on TV after school, too, and I guess I thought they were funny, though I don't really remember. I must have liked them, though. But the glimpses of them I've seen since have not encouraged me to check them out again. I saw The Little Rascals, too, and liked them. Didn't see the Marx Bros, or if I did not much, till I was an adult and I remember thinking something like "Oh, this is what the Three Stooges were supposed to be."

I remember thinking that too, that the Stooges were sort of wannabe Marx Bros. But I guess the truth is that they came out of different vaudeville styles or traditions. I don't think it was a generational thing, really, because the Marx's weren't all that much older.

I prefered the Stooges to the Marx brothers

How old were you? I'm sure that if I had seen the Marx Brothers at the same time I was watching the Stooges--10 or 12 or so--I would have liked the latter much more. So much of the Marxes humor is verbal and adult.

When I was a kid, I liked the Stooges, but not the Marx Bros. As an adult, it's the other way around. Laurel and Hardy were my favorites. I didn't really like Abbott & Costello either. There was just something about them. I can't put my finger on it.

Can I say I liked Amos and Andy?


They were very funny. One of these years it may become ok to enjoy them again. I heard an NPR interview once with a black man, a celebrity of some sort--I want to say it was Wynton Marsalis, though I don't know why he would have been talking about this--and somehow the subject of Amos and Andy came up. He sort of laughed and said yeah, when he first saw them he was offended, but he kind enjoyed them anyway because they really were funny.

I don't think I ever saw Laurel and Hardy when I was growing up. Abbott & Costello I knew, but don't remember what I thought of them.

Without the eye poking, I might have been able to watch the Stooges. Anyone ever count how many times in each film they did this?

Which reminds me: Why do most movies today do lingering close-ups of needle injections?

The eye-poking used to bother me, too, and it's the first thing I think of when I hear their name.

That and lots of other stuff I could do withou. Autopsies.

Like Daffy Duck's beak.


I was little - under ten. My brother and my father liked Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Bros. The Stooges were more on my level

It amazes me when I share these brilliant movie reviews on Facebook they don't get re-shared 25 times

If other people are like me they only read maybe 10% of the things they see shared on Facebook. But I agree the reviews deserve a lot more attention.

Your being under 10 would certainly explain a preference for the Stooges.

Re Daffy's beak: in the big collection of cartoons from Punch that I have, there's one from the 1950s or so in which two at-least-middle-aged ladies are watching a Donald Duck cartoon and one says to the other "I'm so afraid there's cruelty in their training."

Some of the Stooge shorts are good in spite of, rather than because of, the amount hitting and poking. For example, Hoi Polloi, one of the most famous ones, was one that I was going to include in my piece, but it has a little too much abuse of Curly (despite being very funny in its other aspects). It's the one in which a professor attempts to transform the boys into gentlemen.

Amazon offers an 'Essential Laurel & Hardy" boxed set that I've been tempted to buy. It's got 10 discs, sells for about $50, and contains something like 30 hours of L&H comedies. That would be a gift that keeps on giving!

At the moment, I am writing about the movie, Ushpizin. As unlikely as it is that anyone else would think about writing about it, I wanted to stake my ground just in case.

And then I'm doing Coming Home.


Thought I remembered Ushpizin being at least mentioned. It was but only in a comment, back in 2011.

Your comment. Have you seen it?


Right. Yes, I have seen it.


Ha. Yes. That's how I knew it was your comment that it was mentioned in, but I couldn't tell if you had seen it or had just heard about it.


Im going to do Andrei Rublev.

Excellent. Someday I'll give it another try.

Have we ever talked about Big Fish? Have y'all seen it?


Pretty sure I've seen it, at your recommendation.

But don't know whether it was discussed here or not.

I saw Big Fish a long time ago and liked it on the whole. But I don't remember it much.

Looking forward to both Janet's essay on Coming Home and Grumpy's on Andrei Rublev.

You all may know that the reason Harpo Marx didn't speak in the films is because unlike the other brothers he had difficulty remembering his lines. I read a similar interesting factoid about the Stooges: Curly spoke in that high squeally voice in the films because his natural voice was so similar to Moe's that the studio felt that the viewers wouldn't be able to tell them apart other than in closeup scenes.

Funny how both "accidental" traits figured so strongly into their on-screen characters.

Never knew that about Harpo. For many years I thought he really couldn't talk.

Wow great thanks

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)