Tag Archives: Great War

The Stooges: Those Fools On The Mean Streets

Born and raised in Jeddah, I had the luxury in my childhood to enjoy many memorable American sitcoms and cartoons on local channels. In the early 90s, Saudi Channel 2 entertained me with countless shows. One of those was The New Three Stooges cartoons, a very popular animated series of the mid-60s. I was hardly seven or eight and wasn’t aware if those three characters in the cartoons were real. I would have never known in my childhood about their being real had my school timings not changed.

In 1994, when I studied in the 5th standard, it was the afternoon shift of my school Pakistan International School Jeddah (PISJ) but my timings shifted from afternoon to morning when I entered into my 6th class. The year was 1995 when Sony Entertainment Television was launched later that year and the channel was airing three American television series one after one in the afternoon. First The Three Stooges (in English), then Dennis The Menace and I Dream Of Jeannie (both dubbed in Hindi). As Paulo Coelho says, Maktub, isn’t it? And I was astonished at the Stooges being real and funnier than the cartoons. I had to return from school and try to catch this show as soon as possible.

The Three Stooges were the vaudeville team in the golden age of comedy which mostly featured Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. The man who made me laugh at that show was that fat bald funny guy Curly but I used to get annoyed sometimes when I return from school and catch the show and notice that someone else than Curly was featuring on that day’s episode. And I asked myself where did that fatty go? With time, I came to understand the backstories of unarguably the most well-known comedy team the world has ever known.

When The Three Stooges came to prominence in the mid-1930s, the golden age of comedy was still on the run with Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel And Hardy, and The Marx Brothers already dominating in the United States for more than twenty years. And this team, along with other greats like Abbott And Castello began to carry the torch.

But those were the sickening times as the world moved towards the second Great War. Sometimes I wonder how the golden age of comedy coincided with those depressing decades. Perhaps the entertainers with a disturbed struggling journey, unhappy life, and the tragic personal tales know the meaning of happiness and have the best of laughs.

How The Team Was Created?

In the early days, Moe and his brother Shemp were seeking work in show-business. Then in 1921, Moe got the chance to work in Ted Healy‘s vaudeville shows. Two years later, Moe was performing in one of Ted’s stage performances when he noticed Shemp in the audience. Moe yelled at him and Shemp responded which led to a funny argumentative performance between the brothers leading to amusing the spectators. Ted took notice of all this and immediately hired Shemp.

Larry’s parents, in his teenage years, were sending him to a European music school to make his professional career as a violinist and he would have joined if the first World War had not interfered. By 1925, Moe had prematurely retired from acting when he got married and focused on his new life. So only Shemp was working under Ted for some years until Larry met them and joined in 1928. By the end of the same year, Ted pulled Moe out of retirement to rejoin him. By 1929, Moe, Shemp, and Larry worked as a unit for the first time.

Readers! this is how Ted Healy created the team or to be more precise, the three stooges were unified to perform with their boss. Moe, Shemp, and Larry were the original line-ups and along with Ted, they were named ‘Ted Healy and his Racketeers’. Later on, they were ‘Ted Healy and his Stooges’. Together they performed for some years until their contract expired in 1934.

It is said that employer Ted Healy was alcoholic and abusive. Shemp gave up on his behavior, quit the team, and focused on his solo career. And then entered the man who carried this team on his own to make them world-famous, Moe’s other brother Jerome Howard.

When Moe introduced Jerome to Healy, he was unimpressed because he thought he doesn’t look funny with long chestnut-red hair and mustache. Jerome left and returned with a shaved head and said “Boy do I look girly”. Healy heard girly as Curly and hired him as Shemp’s replacement with a convincing shaved funny face. Boy, I wonder if Shemp had not given up, this team would have never made the name for which we remember them for. It seems like sometimes giving up is the best idea. It was a golden twist of fate as, after the contract expiry in 1934, Ted Healy departed and they officially became The Three Stooges and signed Columbia Pictures.

Curly’s Peak to Tragic End

Columbia Pictures first offered them $600-a-week for the first year with a renewable option. After the huge success of the first film, they earned $1000 for it and the future offer went lucrative with $7500 per film. This hugely successful journey continued for 23 years with the production company. During the period, the team made 190 short films out of which Curly featured in the first 97 films and is widely considered to be the most successful period for the team.

Curly was the God-gifted mercurial talent of the slapstick comedy. Before joining them, Curly used to hang around behind the backstage and enjoy his brothers performing with Healy and enjoy their acts. For me, he is one of the greatest comedians of all time for one major reason, he was an original performer without formal or professional training. Most of the comedy greats of his time were trained but he was handpicked by his brother to take Shemp’s place and the rest is history. His childish mannerism, funny facial expressions, high-pitch voice, silly noises, and physically nonsensical comic timings were his features making most of his fans entertained.

Change of moods...
Three different expressions in 0.75 SECONDS!!!

This is from their short film Pardon My Scotch, a short film released in 1935 (their 9th of 190 films). Here you see his reaction to the bread as if it is staring him. These are the three different facial reactions he gave to bread in around 0.75 SECONDS! If I include the retakes, I wonder how many times he pulled his muscles to one single shot. And many more in his career. And that was Curly’s greatness in the comedy. He was fast and holds an absolute distinction in physical comedy.

Viewers often remember Jerry Lewis, Rodney Dangerfield, Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers, and many many more in the category of one of the greatest physical comedians from the talking cinema of the 20th century. And Curly is mostly forgotten.

Collectively, the team peaked from 1934 to 1941 which many critics agree that Moe, Larry, and Curly were physically at their best to make the viewers laugh. But to the team’s unfortunate innocence, the team never realized their potential and worth. They could never believe how significant was their rank in the world of comedy that for 23 years of business with Columbia Pictures, they remained underpaid and the salary never increased. The biggest culprit was Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures whose deception to their misjudgment made them realize too late that they were worth millions. All those prime years, Harry Cohn kept lying to them that the market of comedy shorts was meeting downfall.

Harry Cohn’s biggest damage to the team was not taking Curly’s dropping health into a concern for once. In the early 40s, Curly’s physical decline began and suffered minor strokes. His weight increased, wasn’t physically and verbally quick as he used to be. In 1945, Curly was found to have serious hypertension, obesity, and retinal hemorrhage. The doctors had recommended for the rest so that he can regain his health and strength. Moe had pleaded to give him rest for good but Cohn was afraid of losing profits. So he refused to give Curly rest and forced him to continue working leading towards disturbing consequences.

As expected, Curly’s health deteriorated further. In the last few films from 1946 onwards, Moe was coaching him his dialogues as he was forgetting. Frequently collaborated director Jules White had admitted difficulties shooting with Curly. Curly’s voice went deeper and his actions slowed further. A viewer can easily observe the decline in Curly’s comic timing in his final 20 films out of 97. Curly had to prematurely retire from acting when he suffered a stroke during the shooting of Half-Wits Holiday. Shemp was immediately called back to take his place.

Curly's facial difference in 11 years!!
Curly on the left in 1936 picture ‘Disorder In The Court’ and on the right in 1947 picture ‘Half-Wits Holiday’.

Curly being the biggest reason for The Three Stooges’ success faced the most painful years. The miseries hadn’t ended at retirement. After work, he suffered a massive stroke in 1947. A few years later, he was partially paralyzed and was in a wheelchair by 1950. He suffered another stroke the very next year and had to live in the hospital. Later that year, the Howard family was informed to collect him as his mental condition was collapsing and had become a problem for the nursing staff. Moe, being under the contract, was unable to give his family the much-needed time and moved his brother to the other hospital. In early 1952, the Howard family was informed that Curly has died in the hospital. He was only 48.

With Curly’s departure from the films, the team met an obvious decline in humor. It was pretty obvious and predictable that none of his replacements (Shemp, Joe, DeRita) will match his comic timing or fill the gap he left wide open. The weakest of all replacements was Joe Besser. While joining the team, he actually put a clause specifically prohibiting not to hit him. The physical beating was one of the norms of the team’s prime segments of comedy when Moe used to hit the other stooges. In Curly-Joe DeRita‘s time, the team met resurgence when they featured in six films and the animated series ran in the 1960s.

My Favorite The Three Stooges Short Films

1934 – Punch Drunks

1934 – Men In Black

1934 – Three Little Pigskins

1935 – Pop Goes the Easel

1935 – Pardon My Scotch

1936 – Ants in the Pantry

1936 – Disorder in the Court

1936 – False Alarm

1936 – Slippery Silks

1937 – The Sitter Downers

1938 – Tassels in the Air

1939 – We Want Our Mummy

1939 – Calling All Curs

1940 – You Natzy Spy!

1940 – A Plumbing We Will Go

1942 – What’s the Matador?

1942 – Sock-a-Bye Baby

1943 – They Stooge to Conga

1943 – Dizzy Detectives

1943 – Back from the Front

1943 – Three Little Twirps

1943 – Higher Than a Kite

1943 – I Can Hardly Wait

1944 – Idle Roomers

1944 – Gents Without Cents

1944 – No Dough, Boys

1945 – Three Pests in a Mess

1945 – Booby Dupes

1946 – G.I. Wanna Come

Men In Black, release in 1934, is the only Stooge film to reach the Oscars when Jules White got nominated for Best Live Action Short Film.

The Natzy Spy! became the first Hollywood film to satirize Nazis, The Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. Moe Howard was the first actor to play a comic version of Hitler, nine months before Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.


In the past few weeks, I have watched all the 97 short films featuring Curly and I want to sum up that there is no comedy team like The Three Stooges who could perform better surreal humor than them. Their nonsensical slapsticks are a separate dimension of comedyverse. You can pull the same silly actions they attempted but you won’t get that popularity and acceptance which they built in their time. They were unique assembling. They were hardworking and dedicated comedians. In one of the earliest films, Pardon My Scotch in 1935, Moe broke three ribs during one shot. The camera continued to roll, he lifted and walked towards Larry and Curly, and slapped them, and then fainted down.

See, every comedian or a comedy team had the artistry to attract the viewers. But The Three Stooges had no honest quality of presenting comedy of above par standard. They were the stooges who make people of all ages and in every period laugh and burn their bellies out. Entertaining the people by being stupid was their main charisma. They didn’t hold any critical acclaim but watching all those short films make me think about their characters being of lower-class fellas struggling to find work and failing again and again when the Great Depression was alarming at their very pinnacle of comedy.

A bunch of degenerates faking as highly reputed officers, doctors, scientists, and businessmen joining elite parties and ending up throwing pie cakes on each other was a slap on the society. How immoral of those socialites!

Besides Curly, one major reason for the team’s success was that Moe Howard and Larry Fine stayed from the beginning until the end. The Three Stooges lasted for around 50 years in the business, and Moe and Larry featured in almost every single project.

circa 1939: American comedian Moe Howard stabbing his fellow comedians, Larry Fine (left) and Curly Howard with forks. The trio starred in countless films together as ‘The Three Stooges’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

(Links of Pictures Used in this Article)

  1. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ee/9c/d5/ee9cd51bfc5d43771e5dc3e880a172d5.jpg
  2. https://www.dailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/migration/2015/201511/FEATURES_151129600_AR_0_OSGLEFBUTKLZ.jpg
  3. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a6/1a/da/a61adaed4721c8047c981583516d0561.jpg
  4. https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BYmIyYTZlZTYtMTA1ZS00ODQ0LTk2OTktNDA4MGJlZDI1YmMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTg2ODExNzA@._V1_.jpg

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)


400,000 Men Couldn’t Get Home, So Home Came For Them


The message from hell descending from the clouds. The sea waves escorting back the dead bodies. The civilian boats rescuing the freezing fate-less soldiers. Casualties outnumbering the survivors. Hark! the bombers are approaching and releasing your death certificates. Realize! the fuel is getting low! So decide either you drop your plane to the sea or shoot your rival pilot.

There is panic everywhere, there is sonic everywhere. There is no amount of food, there is no hope for good. More than 300 thousand soldiers are trapped on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in an uncanny weather. France has fallen to the Germans and their troops are to reach the site anytime. But the Commander is hoping that they all will be back – Home.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan‘s latest project, a war film whose storyline and characters are fictional in nature but relies on the rich historical accuracy based on the historic evacuation of the Allied forces during World War II. Nolan has touched the new dimensions of the filmmaking of war films. For ages, the filmmakers have strived in convincing the audience by making ‘lengthy’ war films but Nolan’s warfare drama runs for only 106 minutes and proves that it is just a matter of speaking the story in the most formidable manner. Nolan proves that to make a successful war film, a coherent presentation plays a major part, not the length of the script.

 

 


“I’d rather fight waves than dive-bombers.”


The story is divided into three divergent segments of land, water, and air. There is a stupendous balance in all the three segments with the land story definitely being more of a blood boiler. Thousands of the soldiers standing, sitting, lying in the queue on the sands of the beach await their fate and hope for deliverance. When I say lying on the beach, few are the dead bodies.

War films are acutely loud and noisy. But here there is no massive bullet-firing in the whole film, no earth-shattering blasts or powerful destructions. The grip of the plot is kept at loose ends. Dunkirk’s script is build on intensity. More than killing, the film is about saving the lives and rendering a valuable service for the people stuck in the battle.

Yes, the nature of this war-subject is saving more than killing but like I wrote above that it is the intensity, the incredible screenplay of bringing things into either an argument or a question mark. The sequences and consequences of numerous scenes drop the emotions displaying the significance and tragic life conclusions like a boatman losing his son, a soldier dropping his helmet and walking towards the sea waves, a pilot watching his plane burnt etc.


“He’s shell-shocked, George. He’s not himself. He might never be himself again.”


Angel of death knocks the door everywhere and it is not a matter of bombs but other critical things like an oiled human body trying to wash himself in haste before it catches the fire on the water or a young soldier making an unsuccessful attempt to catch the ladder of the boat before fainting into the water.

Another impressive factor of the film is the target age-group of the troops portrayal. Mostly in the film are extremely young men. The impact is hard but I like the way the young skins are put to test in the biggest scare of their lives. There were two such scenes shot on the boys giving a fascinating look on the labor and patience during the war times. One was when the two young soldiers witness a helpless gashed soldier on the stretcher. Both heed each other’s possible signal and prepare to lift the heavy stretcher miles towards the boat running and staring the other dead bodies on the beach. The other scene is when the German troops shot at the trawler for target practice where the young soldiers are hiding and no one has the courage of volunteering to release from the boat.

The film is blessed with an ensemble cast whose characters are equally divided in all the three segments. The beauty of the screenplay is that there is no main character. All the characters support each other in their segment i.e., the character of the boatman, Mr Dawson, played by Mark Rylance is indeed the lead character on the sea but his sons, Peter and George, have decent onscreen appearance subjected towards the gallantry. Rylance piloted his character boat every day and listened to the audio recordings at the Imperial War Museum. Cillian Murphy plays the rescued soldier who suffers the psychological impact of the war. Being short in the role, his mental acting performance was exceptional. To improve his character, Murphy read about the psychological trauma the soldier endured.


“Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?”


Tom Hardy is the RAF pilot playing the major role flying in the clouds but his fellow RAF pilot, Collins played by Jack Lowden, is not to be considered underrated. On land, Kenneth Branagh is the commander, loosely based on Admiral William Tennant, but also attached to him is James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant. But the weight of the characters is equal keeping in mind that the former’s character is verbal as compared to the latter’s character being physical.

Among the young soldiers, the character of Tommy played by Fionn Whitehead was impressive than Alex played by Harry Styles. In fact, Fionn’s performance was indeed the most impressive one who surely had the most minutes throughout the film. Fionn’s character Tommy was named after the slang term Tommy which was commonly used for the ordinary British soldiers. When Nolan auditioned Harry Styles, he was not acquainted with his immense popularity.

 Audience pointed Hardy’s contribution to the film as best but he was just a pilot flying the plane in the whole film. It was actually not Hardy’s performance but the character to be counted as the most valuable one.


“How hard is it to find a dead Englishman on Dunkirk beach, for God’s sake?”


Musical department? Hans Zimmer to Nolan is what John Williams to Spielberg. Easily the most powerful director-musician combo after the latter. And here Zimmer has gifted the audience with just another masterpiece in music. The sound of the watch ticking (often played at the start of the trailer) was actually Nolan’s own pocket watch synthesized by Zimmer. Also to his credit is including Edward Elgar‘s most famous variation ‘Nimrod’ from his Enigma Variations in the film’s dramatic theme. Sound mixing is excellent. The roar of a falling enemy aircraft from the sky will haunt you.

Dunkirk is supreme at almost every technical department. Nolan’s screenplay is superbly balanced with Lee Smith‘s editing. The timing of the segments’ stories kept changing ahead and behind to show from other character’s point of view and it is indeed the beauty of editing which makes Dunkirk attract the audience understand the depth of the story from different angles. Hoyte van Hoytema‘s cinematography is sublime. I loved the aerial plane attacking shots.

Christopher Nolan keeps experimenting a new genre and develops his directional methods and ways of telling the stories. His direction is frank, polar and strict to the subject. In first half an hour, the presentation of the film is concentrating on the happenings at the beach, in the air, and at the sea with very remote dialogues. With the help of a phenomenal film editing, Nolan has crafted his Nolanistic method of depicting the heightened realism and giving the viewers a chance to see his artistry like resurrecting for a reason.

Dunkirk is so superior film that in a premiere the Dunkirk veterans wept and expressed if they time traveled back in Dunkirk. The veterans approved the realism and precise presentation of the war. Many critics have declared Dunkirk to be Nolan’s best work to date. It truly is a difficult question with more arguments than announcing the conclusion. Between his Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Dunkirk, it seems impossible to pick the best and ignore the rest.

In my opinion, Dunkirk is the greatest war film ever made and will be remembered for ages. The greatest in a sense that the subject has been addressed and crafted in the most excellent form and has to be included in an elite list of the greatest war films like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan.

Ratings: 9.5/10


“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. and even if this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”