Monday, June 29, 2015

The Three Stooges "Who Done It?" (1949)

Cast & Crew
Moe Howard
Larry Fine
Shemp Howard

Christine McIntyre as Goodrich's Niece
Ralph Dunn as Leader of the Phantom Gang
Charles Knight as Crandall 
Emil Sitka as Mr. John Goodrich
Duke York as Nikko
Dudley Dickerson as the Janitor

Directed by Edward Bernds
Story/Screenplay by Edward Bernds
Producer by Hugh McCollum
Cinematography by Ira H. Morgan
Edited by Henry DeMond

This film almost never came to be at all. Then it came to be. Then it came to be as a Three Stooges short par excellence. Please allow me to my briefest of possible explanations. 

The previous Stooge short was Half-wit's Holiday. Which too, was Curly's last stand. Edward Bernds, with the Stooge act in turmoil over their seriously and soitenly ill superstar -- already had this gem written. It was rushed into and through production as 1946's "Pardon My Terror" and had much the same supporting cast of Emil Sitka, Dudley Dickerson, and Christine McIntyre. It starred Gus Schilling (given Curly, Larry's lines) and Richard Lane (given Moe's Lines).

Welcome back to the Stooges mix, my spirit animal, Shemp. Interestingly enough this story would, in its 1955 remake, be Shemp's final flick before his untimely shuffling off to cosmic Buffalo.

For now, humsoever...
"Who Done It?"

We open to Mr. Goodrich (Emil Sitka) receiving newscaster's word of more grim news -- the Phantom Gang has once again struck. Worse yet, a note sent via brick-through-window, tells Goodrich he is next. The Fourth Stooge is at the top of his practiced frenetic game here as this all occurs, fumbling nervously a cigar.

"Where are those detectives? They promised to be here an hour ago."

The Alert Detective Agency of Moe, Larry, and Shemp were a bit 'tied up.' Then untied by a janitor (Dudley Dickerson) and we're off! (I'd have loved to see more Dickerson here.)

Moe: We gotta get going. What's yer watch say?
Shemp: It don't say nothin', ya gotta look at it.

Immediately, the slap-stick is crisp and we know, thanks to Shemp, so too will be the banter. Spoiler alert: Moe forbodes aptly, "The butler's (Charles Knight) always a suspect." Too, Nikko (Duke York) looks like a prototype of a Tim Burton character.

"The niece is nice." Hound dogs Shemp upon the intro of Mr. Goodrich's niece (Christine McIntyre). Her uncle has apparently disappeared!

Shemp is "Ready with the camera, comin' right up." What ensues is the delightful re-dawning of a naughtier brand of Stoogery which would become the trademark of the Shemp era. I've always been amused by the success of Shemp's comical droolings over dames -- given that it was Curly who, in real life, had a weakness for the fairer sex. On screen, however, it was not always visible in more than a somewhat boy-ish manner.

Upon the recommendation of the deceptive and conniving niece, the trio separates and after some Stooge-flavored wooing, Shemp is whisked away by the lovely lady. Whisked away to a remarkable scene of on-the-money poisoned cocktail drink swapping.

Although not before she warns Moe and Larry (who engage in some great dialog) not to "Go get themselves murdered."

Nevertheless, Shemp loses at the game of subterfuge "Oh, charming, charming -- but my favorite is that-a one." What happens next, upon his ingestion of the wrong adult beverage is an utmost of classics. A half-minute plus death scene that must be seen to not be believed. He spits, sputters, and prats, and all ingeniously so.

...and we've only begun. There must be a secret panel that helped the dame slip away...
Look here for Larry's "Yeah" in response to Moe's query of goofiness amongst the attacking pictures. No other Stooge can deliver a simple line with the complexities and timing that does the Stooge in the Middle. I know, I say that all the time, but it bears repeating, It bears repeating.

Just one incredibly sharp sequence after another, here.

Moe: We're in a tough spot, men
Larry: Yeah. It's gonna take brains to get us outta here.
Moe: That's why we're in a tough spot.

Then comes Nikko, back into the mix and at said mix's building crescendo. Away we go! A showdown, Stooge style. Done brilliantly. Larry accidentally whacks Moe upside his bowl cut, and there is a brief ode to their continuity and all the years they've been around one another. Then Shemp comes in to begin a cleaning up of house and louse with a fireplace shovel and a wry pushing of the fourth wall with a nod and a smirk.

Wait! Mr. Goodrich is dead? But somehow brought back to life by coming out of the closet a la the career of Ellen DeGeneres? We culminate in a darkened room with all aboard and all with alternating lit matches and this is a terribly, terribly wonderfully done short. Kudos to Bernds, indeed.

Shemp is last man standing among a slew of fallen humanity, and in an end befitting of a Shakespeare tragedy, does himself in with a shovel to his own flowing bangs.

"Who Done It?" is a triumph, at a time when the future of the Three Stooges could have veered off into a far lesser (if any) direction. Easily one of the team's best turns from wire-to-wire, and easily deserving of a 

Final Grade: A+