Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Three Stooges: Merry Mavericks (1951)

Continuing our never ending chronicles of the Three Stooges is an exellent Shemp short, Merry Mavericks (1951). This short was written and directed by Ed Bernds, one of the boys' favorite and most accomplished writer/directors. This short is unusual in that it combines a comedy/western with spook/scare comedy, one of the Stooges' best and surefire gimmicks. As a matter of fact, this film has some of the boys' best Nnnnaahhs-their vocal reaction to spooks and scary goings-on. The boys also made numerous comedy westerns, it was one of their most popular premises.

The first half of the film is a reworking of a Curly short, Phony Express (1943).Some stock footage is used including a WANTED poster of the boys, this time with Shemp's photo in place of Curly's.
We get the bonus of seeing Bank President Victor Travers( a very underated member of the Stooges' stock company ) once again get pasted with Ink from a stray bullet- complete with his great groan. The plot is essentially the same as Phony Express. The boys have been palmed off as 3 tough Marshalls coming to "clean" up the town. They tangle with Red Morgan's gang, meet Clarence Cassidy, a somewhat inept cowboy and spend a night in a spooky house guarding the bank's money.

The supporting cast includes Don Harvey, a B movie/serial veteran as Morgan. Marian Martin(Gladys), a popular female foil with credits at Columbia and with the Marx Bros. She has the "Bad Girl" role, apparently Christine McIntyre was busy. (she exelled in all character roles). Also along for the ride is John Merton as one of Red's boys. He was a perennial heavy in many Stooge shorts of the 30s and 40s. Stooge stalwart Emil Sitka has a too short role as a jailer. Paul Campbell gets the Cassidy role. This part was obviously a take off on Jock Mahoney's Arizona Kid. Campbell looks and speaks quite a bit like Mahoney, it appears to be his only Columbia short. Like Mahoney's Kid, Cassidy comes off tough but never is any help to the Stooges.

The comic sequences mainly take place in the saloon and at the creepy Horton place. Many of the original Phony Express gags are used at Morgan's saloon. It's fun to see Morgan and Co. trying to butter up the Stooges when they think they're tough "marshalls". Shemp gets to show off his fancy dancing with Gladys , followed by the old "cutting in" routine with Moe and Shemp dancing. Also reprised is Moe's spur getting Morgan in the rear. The Morgan gang turns nasty when they find the Stooges old Vagrancy poster. A comic fight ensues with the Stooges winning and Cassidy coming in too late with his mock bravado.

Once things move to the Horton place we get the usual "scare" situations which the Stooges were masters of. Morgan and gang try to scare the boys away with spook masks and cloaks. The "ghost" of the headless Indian chief also comes after the boys. Columbia got a lot of mileage out of those scare outfits. They were used in numerous Stooge shorts and those of Hugh Herbert, Andy Clyde and other Columbia comics.
There are loads of Nnnaahhs as the boys kep running into ghosts and spooks. All the Stooges were masters at these frightened yelps, but Larry uncorks a doozy when running into a cloaked ghost. There's also more Columbia" chicanery" as the boys' screams are constanly heard on the soundtrack even as we see individual Stooges featured.

There are many great verbal gags including Larry's definition of Vagrancy- "You take a flower and it smells good, that's Vagrancy." When Moe tells him it's a hobo or tramp, Shemp adds "we can't beat that rap". When Larry tells Moe he's "apprehensive", Moe asks for it's meaning-Larry's reply is "scared with a college education". Shemp has many great lines. When he tries to wiggle out of the Indian costume his retort is-"Now I know how a frankfurter feels". At the film's wrapup he threatens Gladys with "Get goin' sister or I'll knock your brains out!". When Moe tells him that's no way to treat a lady, Shemp removes his hat and repeats the threat as Moe responds "That's better".

Shemp saves the day when he switches places with the Headless Chief and saves Moe and Larry from Morgan and the gang. His Indian response is Ungawa!, the old all-purpose Tarzan term. Shemp could always be counted on with his own bits of business and "Classic Puss"-A true comedy great.
Cassidy arrives again too late to help but passes out when he sees a trickle of blood on Morgan!
The short closes with the old bit "Moe, what do we do with the girl?- throw her to the dogs" as Shemp and Larry howl and bark to fadeout.

Merry Mavericks is a fast moving and greatly entertaining short made during Shemp's salad years with the team. It is available on Vol. 6 of Sony's Complete 3 Stooges Collection.
Some scenes were filmed with the boys as dentists in a western town and were planned for Merry Mavericks, but used in their next short, The Tooth Will Out.

Till next time, Keep Stooging!

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