Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The 3 Stooges-Spook Louder (1943)

Once again we return to the inexhaustible supply of Three Stooges shorts. Being an October post, we revisit one of the team's many spook/scare comedies and one of this writer's favorites. The early 40s period was a golden one for the Stooges as they had become mainstays at the Columbia Shorts Dept. and had gained a huge legion of fans. The boys were in top form and this April 1943 release was a few years before Curly's stroke which affected his energy and comic timing.

Stooge director Ed Bernds pointed out how "surefire" this type of comedy was. Just about every comedian and/or comedy team (including many of the Columbia comics) took a turn or two with a Spook comedy. The Three Stooges were masters of this genre and made numerous scare shorts with Curly and Shemp. (Standouts include We Want Our Mummy, If a Body Meets a Body, Gem of a Jam, Three Pests in a Mess, The Ghost Talks, Who Done It?, Dopey Dicks, Hot Scots, Merry Mavericks and Spooks! ). No other comics could top the Stooges' reactions to ghosts, monsters and creepy foils, complete with their patented "Nnnnaaahhhhh!" when being scared. Some critics have called this entry one of their worst, but I think for pure belly laughs it's one of their funniest outings.

Spook Louder was directed by veteran Del Lord who remade one of his Mack Sennett comedies, The Great Pie Mystery. Fellow comedy veteran Clyde Bruckman handled the screenplay and as usual borrowed many classic gags from earlier comedies (as was his custom).

Several veteran members of the Stooges stock company were aboard including Stanley Blystone as the Spy Leader. Blystone was a busy Columbia supporting player, always good in villainous or authoritative roles. His work went back to silent days and he also appeared in Chaplin's Modern Times. He continued with the Stooges right into the 50s.

Ted Lorch as Graves, the Master Inventor, and Charles Middleton as his butler were real old-timers, both born in 1873. Ted appeared in many Columbias but I think this was Middleton's only Columbia short. He's best remembered as Ming, the Merciless in the Flash Gordon series (Ted was also in the series as the High Priest )and the prosecuting attorney in the Marx Bros. classic, Duck Soup . He had a great theatrical voice and is pretty much wasted here. (In one editing gaffe he seems to disappear from a scene only to pop up later). The Stoogers' favorite dowager, Symona Boniface (akin to Margaret Dumont with the Marx Bros.), has a funny bit early in the film and Lew Kelly who played "creepy" parts in a few Columbias plays Professor J.O. Dunkfeather, who tells the story of the Stooges' breaking of the Great Spy Ring to a young reporter.

The Professor's story tells of three salesmen who happen upon the home of inventor Graves. The boys are selling a weight-reducing machine. (Moe--"It also makes a great cocktail shaker.") The boys are mistaken for caretakers and are entrusted to watch Graves' home while he takes his Death Ray machine to Washington. (Propaganda gags abound in this wartime comedy.) Once the boys are in the house and Blystone and two cohorts show up in scare costumes, the hilarity never stops.

Classic gags abound and every now and then someone gets creamed with a pie by an unknown assailant, followed by fiendish laughter. When the Professor is questioned about the pie thrower, he puts off the identity till the film's climax. Among the many highlights are the Cossack clock that sings a Russian tune on the hour. (Curly--"Let's come back at 12 and hear the whole song.") Then there's the old Morse Code gag. Curly feverishly takes down the message. When Moe asks for its meaning, Curly says, "Eh eh eh eh eh" with a face slap from Moe. When Larry is queried, his response is the same along with a slap. Another cute musical gag has the boys hearing ominous piano music (Curly--" Oh, Rachmaninoff!") which turns out to be a kitten walking up and down the keyboard. (Curly--"Oh, Kitten on the Keys"--a popular piano novelty tune).

Curly and Larry have some great moments. Curly gets a balloon tied to his pants scaring all including himself, then gets wrapped up in a sheet and clobbered by Larry who takes him for a ghost! Curly also is victim to the old boxing glove in the bookcase bit and gets punched out a few times. When Larry opens the front door and finds a "skeleton spy," his hat goes flying high in the air accompanied by the perennial slide whistle effect.

Moe has his moments, too. While cowering in a rocking chair, he spots the "devil spy"in the window, resulting in his hair flying straight up in the air (courtesy of a blower). His response--"The Devil stabbed me with his pitchfork. He had flame coming out of his nose!" These exaggerations were classic Stooge bits. Later Moe brushes up against a stuffed bear and Graves' pet monkey lands on him. Moe's response--"The bear was strangling me. He ripped both my arms off."

After more pie missiles, the boys encounter the spies! Curly saves the day by accidentally lighting a nearby bomb and blowing up the spies! But the boys still get creamed with pies!

When the exasperated reporter asks Dunkfeather the eternal question, he confesses to throwing the pies as he gives out with the manic laugh. The perfect climax has him creamed with a pie as he milks the final take. Case closed!

In the long line of Spook comedies made by the Stooges and Columbia, Spook Louder is right up there with the best of them. It's available on DVD as Vol. 4 of the Sony Three Stooges collection.

Enjoy and watch out for flying pies!

1 comment:

R S said...

great post - I have been looking for a list of Stooges horror-themed shorts and yours put me well on the way to seeing all of this ilk...if anyone can name any others in the horror theme, let me know - the only other one I have found was "Creeps" from 1956

I am a big fan of horror comedy, especially the early stuff like
The Boogie Man Will Get You, Topper Returns, Zombies on Broadway, Old Dark House, King of the Zombies, Ghost Breakers, A&C, Eastside Kids, Bowrey Boys...even Blondie had a horror-themed movie!