If you happen to be an enthusiastic fan of the legendary trio and know anything of their off screen stories, then like me this film should come across as a warm tribute that at times can bring you close to tears. In the end it’s a celebration of their lives despite the struggles they went through at the hands of the studio they called home, Columbia and personal demons. It’s a story of their triumphant success and being acknowledged as one of the great comedy teams in the history of popular entertainment that to this day are still being rediscovered by new generations of fans.
Michael Fleming’s book From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons : The Three Stooges was used as a template for this telefilm which saw Mel Gibson listed as an executive producer. One shouldn’t be surprised to see Mel involved here. Just take a look back at any one of those Lethal Weapons flicks to see what Riggs watches on TV in that trailer he calls home. Yup, it’s those old black and white shorts that the Stooges cranked out by the dozens.
Paul Ben-Victor stars as Moe Howard and it’s through his memories we will see how the Stooges went from vaudeville stars under Ted Healy to becoming the iconic comedy team that would far outlast most of their contemporaries as the years have gone by. From the year 1959, Moe looks back to when he and his brother Shemp (John Kassir) are working for little money in the employ of Healy played by Marton Csokas (The Equalizer). They are soon joined by a frizzly haired violinist Larry Fine (Evan Handler). When a trip to Hollywood presents itself to Healy, they are off to appear in the feature film Soup To Nuts. Healy bombs but the boys find themselves in demand.
It’s at this time that Shemp more or less burns out and his phobias the film hints at catch up with him. A lucky break for younger brother Curly who takes the third spot just as they are on the verge of stardom. Curly is captured wonderfully by Michael Chiklis. He gives us a haunting look behind the funny man who one could argue became the most popular member of the trio. As the film goes back and forth in time, Moe is being chased in 1959 by a young producer hoping to put the team back together for a television spot. Moe isn’t interested until he finds out how much Columbia cashed in by selling the catalogue of Three Stooges shorts to TV. On more than one occasion, the film draws attention to the fact that the trio of clowns were huge money makers for the studio but the stars themselves were vastly underpaid with no royalties forthcoming.
Drifting back through the years, the sad end comes for Curly Howard and it’s a tearful scene for those of us who love the laughter the comedian gave to us as children. Once again, kudos to Chiklis in his playing of a key scene. Back into the world of pratfalls comes brother Shemp who never fails to make me laugh when I see him turn up on screen in both Stooge shorts or many of his other appearances in both shorts or films. The movie from director James Frawley also touches upon later stooges Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita.
The ending presents itself as a new beginning for Moe, Larry and Curly Joe. One that is sure to inspire a warm glow for those of us caught up in the story of our childhood favorites. To this day I remember running home as soon as the school bell would sound because a local channel would play them at 4 p.m. weekdays.
Ben-Victor as Moe does a great job at capturing the bowl haired straight man and Handler fits the bill perfectly as Larry. Fans will be quick to smile at the filmed in black and white recreations of key scenes from some of the trio’s most popular shorts. Uncivil Warriors, You Natzi Spy, Disorder In The Court and that familiar page over the loudspeaker, “calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.” Discovering the gags they would use to great success from their synchronized snoring to harmonizing “Hello, Hello, Hello.” are included as well and instantly cause this fan to smile upon recognizing them.
I first saw this feature when it debuted on network TV but had long wanted to revisit it and thanks to a made on demand release thru Sony, I’ve had my chance to see it once again and would like to tee it up for recommendation to both fans of the Stooges themselves, fans of the actors who played our bumbling trio and for those interested at looking towards a small part of the studio system during the early days of Hollywood.
There’s a great line in the film delivered by Moe to Curly I wanted to share, “as long as you’re laughing you still have hope.”
Ain’t that the truth.