The Three Stooges: They were one of the most popular short film acts. They remind us of a time when short films were actually popular before movies. A time when short films actually existed before features. Their careers spanned nearly forty years. They started out on vaudeville, and parlayed that popularity into a series of short films. With the advent of television, short films lost their luster and the division was shut down. Ironically, the very medium that ended their film careers breathed new life into the Three Stooges. Their short films proved to be perfect material for TV which renewed interest in the trio – creating more TV appearances and even feature films. Overall, the Three Stooges’ odyssey lasted roughly forty years.
True, the Three Stooges shorts weren’t perfect: Their violence made them pretty bad role models. There were the occasional awkwardly edited moments. Not all of the jokes have aged well… In fact, a few of them are downright tasteless nowadays. A lot of jokes and even stock footage were recycled (though to be fair, this was the result of low budget and constraints of the times). The shorts weren’t exactly big on story either. But in the long run, they made countless people laugh. There were nearly 200 shorts so I’ll be counting my personal favorites.
10. He Cooked His Goose (1952) – As the perennial middleman of the Three Stooges, Larry didn’t always play the lead… even though he was in Woman Haters, the inaugural Three Stooges short. In “He Cooked His Goose,” Larry comes out of his shell so to speak and gets some really funny moments, actually playing against type. The Three Stooges aren’t partners in this film. Rather Larry is philandering pet store owner who’s a little… eccentric. He’s been hitting on Moe’s wife and Shemp’s fiancée. Moe goes on the warpath against Shemp, chasing him down at his house. And this leads to Shemp dressing as Santa Claus. Yeah, this is kind of an odd episode, and that’s part of the appeal. If I have one complaint about this one, it does end a little abruptly and anticlimactically. Then again, that can be said about a lot of these shorts.
9. Blunder Boys (1955) – This was Shemp’s last original short with the Stooges. (He made one more remake and the rest used stock footage.) Fortunately, Shemp went out with a bang in one of his funniest shorts. “Blunder Boys” is a less-than-subtle spoof of Dragent. The story follows the Stooges as they go from the Army to police academy students to trying to chase a burglar. Each chapter in this story is hilarious and punctuated with brilliant physical comedy. To bridge the gap between story parts, there are segments where Moe recounts the story in Dragnet fashion. Moe’s deadpan delivery sounds like something the real Joe Friday would deliver. One of the most memorable parts is that during each segue, Shemp has a new name based on a different holiday – St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas Day, etc. The normally blunt Shemp delivers these scenes with such childlike giddiness, it is hard not to laugh at his enthusiasm.
8. Who Done It? (1949) – This episode is like classic comedy 101. It’s a dark and stormy night. Shemp, Larry and Moe are called in to investigate an apparent murder. There’s a gorgeous femme fatale who is trying to string the heroes along to keep her partners safe. There’s a large hoss that the Stooges have to run away from, which results in some pretty funny slapstick. One scene involves the classic switch the glasses routine (also done by Abbott and Costello in films like Pardon My Sarong) between Shemp and the Femme Fatale. After Shemp drinks the poison, it leads to a great bit that shows what a great physical comedian Shemp Howard really was. The climax is a frantic explosion of craziness that seriously needs to be seen. The Stooges did many horror/detective-themed shorts and this is one of the funniest.
7. Idiots De-luxe (1945) – In this episode, Moe plays a nervous wreck. His roommates, Curly and Larry (probably also the reason he’s a nervous wreck) decide to take him on a camping trip in an attempt to calm his nerves. Moe Howard actually does a pretty good job as a man so on edge he thinks a cat walking across the floor is thunderous noise. It’s also pretty funny how he keeps up his violent tendencies while still trying to act like an anxiety case. The camping trip proves to be such a disaster that Moe is put on trial for assaulting Curly and Larry. Though the biggest culprit is a bear - who proves to an entertaining character in his own right. This short also has some truly hilarious lines (Larry’s reasoning for why they’re in prime hunting territory: “I saw a sign out back that says Fine for Hunting.”)
6. Boobs in Arms (1940) – Although it’s one of my favorites, I’ll admit this is one of the more unusual shorts if for no other reason than the story structure. The story starts out with Moe, Larry and Curly working as greeting card salesmen who become a little too friendly with a lady customer – especially after they land in hot water with her husband. Trying to escape the husband, our heroes join the Army… only to discover their drill sergeant is the jealous husband. The sergeant proves to be a pretty funny foil (“Everything happens to me!”) and his attempts to torture the Stooges yield some good physical jokes. The weird part is that halfway through the story changes when the Stooges are sent to war and captured after detonating some laughing gas on themselves. Surprisingly, seeing the Three Stooges on laughing gas is pretty funny. A lot of it has to do with the way they laugh hysterically when they’re clearly in danger – and manage to foil their captures along the way. There’s something interesting about laughing at other people laughing.
5. Punch Drunks (1934) – Naturally, one of the Stooges’ finest films would be one of the few they co-wrote themselves. This round, Curly plays a mild-mannered waiter who loses his temper and becomes a fist-flying beast whenever he hears “Pop Goes the Weasel.” The Stooges form a partnership where Curly becomes a boxer (known as K.O. Stradivarius), Larry plays “Weasel” at his matches and Moe is his manager. Naturally, Curly steals the show with his physical comedy. There are some other funny bits – particularly Larry’s attempts to find another source of “Pop Goes the Weasel” when his violin is smashed. Another funny routine involves a duel between a young child and the timekeeper over who can ring the bell during Curly’s match. Curly losing his temper over seeing/hearing/smelling something became a running theme in Three Stooges shorts. (In a similarly-themed short, “Grips, Grunts and Groans”, Curly becomes a wrestler because a perfume causes him to lose his temper.) However, this was the most memorable.
4. Heavenly Daze (1948) It’s hard to believe that something like Shemp being dead would lead to one of the Stooges’ funniest shorts. The late Shemp must return to Earth to reform Larry and Moe so he can get into Heaven. Of course, this being a 1940’s Three Stooges film, Heaven is clouds and people wearing white beards. Making Moe and Larry change their ways isn’t going to be easy because they are using the money Shemp left them to make an invention that allegedly writes onto whipped cream. They hope to steal money from investors. Since dearly departed Shemp is not with the group, it creates a different dynamic for the trio. The tables have turned and Shemp is the one who has the upper hand, torturing Larry and even Moe. Also, Moe has dual roles in this one, also playing Uncle Mortimer, Shemp’s guide in Heaven. Shemp has obtained supernatural powers that warrant a lot of physical jokes. “Heavenly Daze” breaks from the formula a bit, but pays off in the end.
3. Men in Black (1934) – For duty and humanity! This was one of the Stooges’ earliest shorts, and it was the only one nominated for an Academy Award for best short. Naturally, it’s also one of their most iconic. What Three Stooges fan doesn’t want to cry out “Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard” every time they hear a hospital order? There’s so much going on, the Stooges are already crazy, but they somehow have even crazier patients to visit. There are a lot of great bits in this short including the Stooges’ attempt at surgery on their boss. “Men in Black” features a few really funny running jokes as well: the Stooges’ various forms of transportation and their destruction of their boss’s door. If laughter is the best medicine, this will cure any Stooges fan of what ales ye.
2. A Plumbing We Will Go (1940) – It should be no surprise this one made the cut since it’s a perennial favorite. In fact, this was Curly Howard’s favorite short. After being found innocent of trespassing on a woman’s chicken coop, Larry Curly and Moe try their luck and wind up in hot water with the same arresting officer. They escape in a plumber’s truck and are mistaken for real plumbers at a fancy mansion. It’s hard to describe this one without describing every individual joke, but the bottom line is The Three Stooges DESTROY this house. All three characters have their funny moments (my favorite being Curly’s attempt to stop a “leak”). It’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular shorts. It’s funny from top to bottom – from the opening court room scene to the police chasing the trio at the end, “A Plumbing We Will Go” is non-stop funny.
1. Disorder in the Court (1936) - As one of the Three Stooges shorts to slip into public domain (the studio accidentally didn’t renew the copyright in the 1960’s), this is one of the most commonly seen Three Stooges shorts. And it seems only fair, that it is one of their funniest shorts. This is another one of those shorts that has everything: All three stooges have their funny moments including Moe’s very aggressive demonstration of the murder. Although brief, Larry has a very funny moment as he’s a little… enthusiastic about removing gum from Moe’s nose. There are classic bits such as Curly trying to take the oath while balancing his cane and hat. (“Take off that hat!”) The supporting characters are pretty funny – including the bailiff who talks a little too fast. There’s even a little music as the Stooges show off their nightclub act. There’s great physical comedy as the stooges hunt down the parrot that can help solve the murder. The true culprit is revealed by the end of the short, but does that matter? No, what matters is how much we laugh.
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Alex deCourville (author) on April 29, 2013:
Thanks - I really like both of them so I tried to include the best of both worlds.
Angel Caleb Santos from Hampton Roads, Virginia on April 29, 2013:
I am a Stooge fan. I like your article. Curly was great, but Shemp wasn't that bad either!