This writer saw The Three Stooges, the longest-running comedy team in American movies, in person only once–as a late-career stage act at a state fair.
And after a more than 30-year career, the three–minus the marvelous Curly Howard (substituted by the mediocre Curly Joe DeRita)–had honed down their best movie sketches, brought along their all-important soundman (Bonk! Crash! Boing-g-g! Thunk!). And when they were introduced, the crowd of more than 1,000 rose to its feet, and the felt affection swept over the stage.
We haven’t time to argue here that the Stooges–Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard, and the replacements, about which more later–were funnier on the small screen than they were on the movie screen, the violence less close.
Nearly always treated shabbily in Hollywood, and poorly paid, the Stooges’ fortunes took an upswing after their TV revival: Their in-person appearances were among the best-paid in show business. They also made some full-length features (the best of which was The Outlaws is Coming, and the most dismal, Snow White and the Three Stooges.)
The Stooges first appeared on film in l930, and their last short (unfinished) was in l97l.
The Stooges were at their zenith in the first 20 years of their film career, making 190 shorts for Columbia Pictures, as Moe, Curly, and Larry. (Check out, on TV: Disorder in the Court (l936), A Plumbing We Will Go, (l940), Oh, You Nazty Spy, (l940), The Three Troubledoers (l946).
In l947, Curly was replaced by Shemp Howard; in l957, Shemp was replaced by Joe Besser; in l959, Besser was replaced by Curly Joe DeRita. Then followed some mediocre features and attempts at new Stooge substitutes.
The brand-new The Three Stooges, written and directed by low-comedy faves The Farrelly Brothers (Thereʻs Something About Mary), is an affectionate but uneven tribute to the Stooges. It stars Sean Hayes, who, as Larry, is the best of the lot; Will Sasso as Curly, a noble attempt; and Chris Diamantopoulos as an uneven Moe. The feature is divided into three Columbia-like shorts, the third of which is by far the best.
The feature has guest stars, none of whom add much: Larry David as Sister Mary-Mengele (a joke lost on Hawai’i audiences), the great Jane Lynch as an orphanage head nun, the Jersey Crew crew (who gets nicely slapped around).
Is it funny? Some of it. The timing of the three hard-working comics is not precise enough. It’s good to have, but should have been released with an old, 15-minute Stooges short to follow. See it only if you’re a big, longtime Stooges fan.