Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Three Stooges- Outer Space Jitters (1957)

This Stooge post will take a detour into the "dreaded" Joe Besser period. Diehard Stooge fans hate these episodes, although with the passing of time I've found some redeeming episodes and even grown to enjoy some of Besser's performances. This short is one of the better of the 1957-9 entries and the funniest of their "sci-fi" trilogy. We will also celebrate the upcoming completion of Sony's Three Stooges Collection. In June of 2010, all the Stooges shorts will finally be available on DVD.

Joe Besser was a talented comic and his work with Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle and on the Joey Bishop Show bear this out. He was working at Columbia in his own "shorts" series when tapped to become the 3rd Stooge. His whiny "not so hard" sissy character never seemed to jibe with Moe and Larry's "stooge" characters.. The team seemed more like the Two Stooges plus Besser.
Besser had his own contract and had a clause written in prohibiting the usual "Stooge punishment" doled out by Moe. As the shorts progressed, Joe did take some slaps and bumps and eventually developed more chemistry with Moe and Larry. This breezy short is lots of fun and Joe doesn't detract from the fun, rather adding some good bits of his own.

The film benefits from a great cast. Just about all of the Stooge regulars of the period appear. (Such stalwarts as Vernon Dent, Christine McIntyre and Kenneth MacDonald had left Columbia). Present here are Emil Sitka playing his "professor" character, Gene Roth(Mr. Borch), Phil VanZandt and Joe Palma(the "Fake" Shemp) as bad guys, Diana Darrin, Harriet Tarler and Arline Hunter as the "babes" and a pre- Bonanza Dan (billed as Don) Blocker as the Goon!

The "Plot" has the boys as assistants to Professor Jones who land on the planet Sunev ( This planet was also used in Space ship Sappy) to study the planet and it's inhabitants. The Grand Zilch (Roth) and his henchman the High Mucky Muck (VanZandt) plan on developing a race of Zombies to destroy the world! (sounds like a familiar 50s sci-fi premise). Along the way the boys meet 3 Sunevian girls, eat a delicious meal of clam shell and battery acid, rescue the kipnapped professor and battle the baddies and the goon! (Blocker).

The film directed by the one and only Jules White and written by his brother Jack has a cute, breezy quality to it. The boys go thru their paces as only old comedy pros can and even the added "distraction" of Besser doesn't deter from your enjoyment. Comedy highlights include the boys' entrance with Emil wearing derbies on top of their space helmets (the boys are dressed in cute trenchcoats with bowties). When introduced to the Zilch we get one of their patented verbal responses- Bewithched-Bothered and Bewildered complete with pug for Pal Joey from Larry. (also a Columbia release). It turns out that the Sunevians survive on battery power and the Zilch shows Emil one of his Zombies (Blocker) along with his plans to destroy the world!

The boys are introduced to 3 Sunevian girls by the Mucky Muck. Their electric kisses charge Moe and cook up Larry's gift of popcorn and Joe's frozen chicken! The boys sit down to a meal with the Muck and the girls. Here we get the old bit of trying to eat the clam shells complete with goofy faces. When they are told of their fate, Moe gives the Muck a blast of his hot water bottle, shorting his circuit! Two of the girls, Diana Darrin and Harriet Tarler were regulars from the early 50s. ( fans will remember Diana as Miss Lapdale in 1952's He Cooked his Goose). Miss Hunter was a Playboy Playmate.

The boys take off in search of the professor who has been tied and gagged.Moe takes Joe by the hand like a little kid(which he was). We get the old running into the Goon bit complete with nnahhs. At one point the Goon is standing behind Moe and Larry and Joe's frightened yelps are mistaken for a game of charades. Moe quickly loses the boys again and after mistaking the goon's grunts for Joe and Larry ("Quick snorting down my neck"-"You should try Bicarbinate" reacts with a great scream and hair flying in the air (the old blow-dryer bit).

Finally finding Emil , the boys untie him and undo the rather long gag accompanied by Larry's stock quotes of Anaconda-ponder and Tsimmus Inc. (earlier we met Capt. Tsimmus) , fond bywords from earlier shorts. Emil and the boys proceed to destroy the Zombie machine giving Moe a chance to reward Larry's backswings with a hammer and plane to the head! (Joe wouldn't be a part of this). The monster is destroyed when his juice is turned off and Dan gets his one big line- a death groan! Joe inadvertadely conks te Zilch with a pantful of gold he is stealing from the Sunevians and Emil and the boys make a hasty retreat for their ship. (Joe is real whiny with his cries of Let's get outa here!).

The epilogue is a good one-The boys have been telling the adventure to their infant sons. (via trick photography-they did this a few times with Shemp). When the baby sitter arrives( and suggests a nice restaurant) she has a Goon face and buck teeth (like Blocker). When the boys get a look at her they do the tried and true nnaahh! and jump out the window! Moe gets in an extra nnaahh! for good measure before his leap!

Although the film is full of patented routines and takes it moves along nicely and Joe is fairly easy to take. Besser himself suggested the boys change their stock haircuts(a bad idea). In this one Moe retains his bangs but Larry slicks his back. Most of the Besser episodes were either complete misfires (the two"talking horse" entries , Joe's darling Fifi and Muriel Landers as Tiny hit the bottom of the barrell ) or like this one, bearable. Many Curly and Shemp comedies were remade with much stock footage. (and even some stock guest appearances by them!). I also enjoyed Guns a Poppin', a remake of Idiots DeLuxe with an added confrontation with bank robber Mad Bill Hookup . Quiz Whizz and Pies and Guys also are pretty decent. (the later makes use of several stock pie fights). Greta Thyssen, a former Miss Norway appears in the aforementioned films along with the final Stooges short, Sappy Bullfighters. She was a gorgeous, voluptous girl and had good chemistry with the boys. It appears that the studio was trying to create a new leading lady for the boys- a la Christine McIntyre. Although the Stooges shorts ended with the 1959 releases,(already filmed in 1957) they would soon gain new popularity with the release of the shorts to TV. Besser left the team (his wife was ill at the time) and veteran comic JoeDeRita tok over as Curly Joe. (he had made a few shorts for Columbia in the late 40s). DeRita was a more genteel Stooge (which suited the mood of the 1959-65 feature films by the "mature" Stooges) and was better suited to the role than Besser.

The Big news is that on June 1 of this year Sony will finish their exellent Three Stooges Collection with the release of Vol. 8.(consisting of the 1955-6 Shemps and 1957-9 Bessers) After years of collecting VHS and incomplete DVD sets ,we now have all 190 Stooges shorts on high quality digital disc. I myself spent years taping episodes off TV on VHS tape and what a pleasure it is to have the entire Stooge catalog at my disposal on DVD. I know I echo the sentiments of fellow Stooge fans and we all applaud Sony for sticking with the series and finishing it. (many VHS collections never got further than samplers).

Till next time- Keep Stooging, but Not so Hard!!!

1 comment:

Paul Castiglia said...

Nice post - thank you! I haven't seen the Besser Stooge shorts in years, but as a kid I remember liking the outer space themed shorts as well as the one where they were triplets. I'm looking forward to watching these when they get their official DVD release in June, and of course I'll be reviewing the alien entries on my Scared Silly (scaredsillybypaulcastiglia.blogspot.com) blog. I'm actually hoping to get a review of the Shemp Stooge short "Spooks" up within the next few days...