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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.

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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)

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  2. https://www.dailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/migration/2015/201511/FEATURES_151129600_AR_0_OSGLEFBUTKLZ.jpg
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The Truffles Of Truffaut

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French New Wave (FNW) is a celebrated dominating cinematic era crossed in the timeline of French film industry in which the films became equivalent to the art and literature in the state of free expressions and a break from conservative cinematic ideology. Among the peers of that golden era, François Truffaut (FT) is an ageless name who will always be remembered as one of the founding members of the historic movement and will be considered one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century.

Being a critic on my own judgment, I watched all his 21 directional works in 45 days to fathom his brain behind the camera and to dig the answer why is he a cultural and celebratory icon in arts and entertainment. I discover the answer compelling and I don’t know how to describe in the shape of the blog but will endeavor my best.

Mr. Truffaut became well-known and controversial for his acid film criticism in the pages of Mr. Bazin’s film magazine, Cahiers du cinéma, before turning his hand to filmmaking in the late 1950’s. To understand FT’s work, the viewer must understand the concept of FNW which I have defined in the very first lines. Due to his fabulous contribution to western technical and cinematic innovations, Satyajit Ray acknowledged his debt to him. His admirers had particular praise for his screen depictions of children, obsessed men, and women driven by strong passions.

Among all his films, one thread is common. In almost every film, FT is a keen observer of life and reaches towards the smallest details no matter if it is related to the story or not. Either you watch his quintuple set of Antoine Doinel (AD) series, or the skirt-chasing film L’homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women) or child-behavior centered L’argent de poche (Small Change); FT fetches minor but rich details like the classroom environment, parents’ behavior towards their child, line pickings by a womanizer etc.

Every film has an attention seeking subject which compiles the viewers to watch. AD was a fictional character created by Truffaut himself and made five films in two decades. Being a realism-loyal, FT borrowed the time of Jean-Pierre Léaud to gift him the career highlight of his life, who played the character in all the films from childhood to adulthood. The character is often called FT’s own alter ego. It is about a disturbed and misunderstood boy in Paris who was sick of his parents and teachers, domestic and school life; and one day he ran away and his story continued in the next four installments.

The first part Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) is considered among the greatest films of the last century and a gateway to the FNW movement. The film earned awards and nominations at many recognized awards functions like Cannes and Academy. Truffaut was so convinced with the character that his brilliance can be watched in next films of his series. The next installment was a short film Antoine et Colette (Antoine and Colette) which described his failed love affair with Colette in his teenhood. Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses) dramatized the building of Doinel’s character by struggling in the young hood and trying to settle in one job. Domicile Conjugal (Bed & Board) spoke about his marital life with Christine and superb depiction of society. L’amour en fuite (Love on the Run) showed Doinel in his thirties who is divorcing Christine but also in an affair with a record-seller, Sabine.

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As FT is widely recognized for the films on AD but his directional artistry is stretched and dilated to his other notable works on different subjects. Truffaut was sensitive and tactful to child behavior due to his own disturbed childhood. He lived with his parents for the first time when he was eight years old after being passed to various nannies and his grandmother who instilled a love for books and films in him. His love for books can easily be seen in his films like Doinel reading Balzac in The 400 Blows, or Ferrard opening the package of books he ordered in La nuit américaine (Day For Night).

Even his only English-language film Fahrenheit 451 was based on the books. The film shows a fictional world where some totalitarian government controls general people’s life by dissuading them from the books. For this purpose, the government employs a group of firemen who detect books from every corner and burn to ashes. Fahrenheit 451 and Small Change were among Truffaut’s best works after The 400 Blows.

Small Change is one of a kind when it comes to child behavior. It is about the kids from different backgrounds mostly lower and middle class, their social life, and behavior towards people from different ages. There is a sketch when a man catches a boy to send his letter to one of the buildings to a married woman for five francs. Then in another sketch, the boy’s manners in eating dinner are brought to our attention. My favorite aspect of the film is the depiction of children’s fascination and excitement in sexual behavior. It is a natural phenomenon but the cinematic presentation demands bold details on which the acting of child artists are subjected to sensitivity on their shoulders. It is easily one of the best coming-of-age films I have watched.

The same case is the film L’enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child) produced in 1970 based on a true and very tragic story of an unfortunate individual, Victor of Aveyron, who spent his childhood with no human contact and was caught by hunters in a nearby village. Although it looks like a documentary more than a feature film but Truffaut gives a remarkable insider of the boy’s development from the delayed general human behavior.

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Besides child-centered subjects, one of the FT’s biggest accomplishments was presenting a guide towards the making of a film and the complications of shooting it. He was so caught up in the technical as well as the artistic aspects of filmmaking that he made a film about filmmaking, Day for Night.

Truffaut leaves no space to reveal the smallest of filming issues like a love affair between the two artists, producer/director dealing with insurance company, forgetting dialogues, using the animal in a scene, hiring people on the spot, re-takes and rehearsals etc. It shows a further reality that sometimes due to some reasons, the dialogues and the scenes are changed or the artists are convinced to do a scene so and so. These are small but very important and interesting details.  

In 1974, the film won BAFTA for Best Film and Oscar for Best Foreign Film. In addition to winning the Academy Award, it was named the best film of 1973 by the National Society of Film Critics in the United States, which also voted him the year’s top director. Easily one of the best films in filmmaking docudrama.

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Romance has always been a prestigious and distinguished subject in the French cinema and Truffaut’s directional excellence shares same artistic heritage. Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls) and Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) were the films focused on love triangle both based on Henri-Pierre Roché‘s novels of the same titles. Two English Girls is a sublime blend of fluctuations of romantic affairs, exchange of emotions, description of capriciousness and very jeopardized harmony. Whereas Jules And Jim is a cinematic innovation to be always remembered for Truffaut’s marvelous efforts in bringing the best outcome in the film’s cinematography. Such qualities of camera work like panning shots, newsreel footage, photography stills or freeze frame were not common in cinematic business those days. Freeze frame was also done at the end of The 400 Blows.

The other romantic film which comes in my mind is the true story based on Victor Hugo‘s daughter, Adèle. A British army officer loved and proposed her which she refused. Later she had a change of heart and traveled Halifax during American Civil War to declare but the soldier loved her no more after the refusal. That drove her insane and made failed attempts to win him. Her obsession increased and began showing signs of mental illness.

L’histoire d’Adèle H. (The Story of Adele H.) brought the actress Isabelle Adjani in the limelight and earned a nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards. Truffaut’s direction was again hard to ignore. It was his remarkable presentation of dropping of emotions by Adele Hugo picturized on Adjani. The translation of mental collapse was very defining and tragic as overall FT produced a profoundly beautiful, tragic and dark film.

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After watching all his films, one of my most important observations is that his films were more centered/inclined towards the story than the character. Through his films, he brought subjects to the attention of the viewers and didn’t focus a lot on the overall performances of the actors and their characters who mostly displayed average performance.

 Almost all the films were based on literary works of many famous novelists but the message precise among all his films was the subject. La peau douce (The Soft Skin) and La femme d’à côté (The Woman Next Door) were subjected on an extramarital affair, Fahrenheit 451 was on books burning, Small Change on child abuse, Day for Night on filmmaking, The Man Who Loved Women on skirt-chaser and Vivement Dimanche! (Confidentially Yours) a murder-mystery. It is no hiding to the fact that character-centered films also made a huge name in French cinema like Léaud as AD and Isabelle as Adele.

In the smallest of details, the viewer will notice Truffaut’s love for animals especially cats. Two of his films had identical shots of cat nosing a lunch tray outside the door. Truffaut in Day For Night did show his fascination with cats by shooting the same cat-eat-lunch scene and went on describing how hard is it to convince a cat to eat the food during the shot.

Among other details, we will often witness one common scene in many of his films depicting the domestic life of couple i.e., the couples reading books together in bed before sleeping. Repeating the same scene might give us a clue of Truffaut’s personal life and some portion of his relationship with his wife and partner.

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Out of his 21 full-length directional works, my five personal favorite films are The 400 Blows, Small Change, Day For Night, Jules And Jim, and The Wild Child.

In 1963, FT was approached to direct famous American film, Bonnie And Clyde. Truffaut showed his interest only in script development but later declined. FT admired the works of Alfred Hitchcock and two of his films, La mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black) and Confidentially Yours were a tribute to him. In 1981, Vincent Canby of The New York Times called Truffaut ”one of the most continuously surprising and accomplished directors of his day.”

His headquarters for years was the Paris office of his production company, Les Films du Carrosse, which he named after La Carrosse d’Or (The Golden Coach), a film by the French director Jean Renoir. As an actor, he played roles only in his own films. Later in his career, he went on to play the role of a French scientist in Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was his only outing as an actor.

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Truffaut was married to Madeleine Morgenstern from 1957 to 1965, and they had two daughters. He had affairs with many of his leading ladies. In 1968 he was engaged to actress Claude Jade who starred in AD series. He and leading actress of his last two films Fanny Ardant lived together for three years. During his relationship with Ardant, he had a stroke and was later diagnosed with brain tumor. On 21 October 1984, Truffaut passed away at the age of 52.

The credit goes to Truffaut who redefined the ‘Auteur Theory‘ and criticized the quality of French cinema by further hitting with the statement that the worst of Jean Renoir’s films would always be more interesting than the best of the films of Jean Delannoy. Truffaut aimed to retire from direction after completing 30 films and write books later but he wasn’t destined to what he planned. But still left the world with a global recognition in filmmaking. He is a huge cinematic inspiration and alive in the hearts of cinephile, sensible filmgoers, and the film critics of the highest quality. I regard and consider him among the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century and personally one of my favorites. I wish if we would have seen more of his work instead of knowing his passing away so early.

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