By Jason Offutt
Slogging through Internet news headlines such as the riveting “Nine battery saving tips,” “Fall vacation freebies,” “Drive thrus get slower,” and “Another countdown to government shutdown” (as if anyone would notice), occasionally there’s some real news.
Like “Lost Three Stooges movie found.”
I grew up in the 1970s with the kind of loose and free parenting that allowed me to eat white bread covered in butter and sugar as an after-school snack (surprisingly, my mother was never arrested), go to sleep staring at a Farrah Fawcett poster on the bedroom wall (the one in the red bathing suit), and watch The Three Stooges.
Given today’s standards, I’m surprised I made it to adulthood without extensive counselling for having had too much fun as a kid.
For those of you who didn’t grow up watching the Stooges, first, I’m sorry. Really, really sorry. Seeing a man in a skunk-skin cap get slapped in the face with a tree branch is hilarious. Second, what have you been doing with your life?
Critics say The Three Stooges are too heavy on violence, too weak on substance, and watching three grown men take a bath fully dressed is, well, kinda weird. This is rubbish. The Three Stooges consistently presented a look at complex socio-economic problems, such as class inequality, marriage issues and world politics.
If you think I’m kidding, you’ve never seen, “You Natzy Spy!”
Released in 1940, this short is a witty (and slap-filled) satire of the Third Reich during a period when Americans were largely in favor of being isolated from the rest of the world. Yes, a whole lot of Americans simply hoped Nazi Germany would just go away, or at least leave us alone. Pressured by politicians, Hollywood stayed away from producing anti-Nazi films, which might rile the American public into going to war.
The Stooges, Moe, Larry and Curly (birth names Moses Horwitz, Louis Feinberg and Jerome Horwitz), weren’t just going to sit by without saying something – in their own way.
“You Natzy Spy!” was the first mainstream film to attack Germany’s rise to power. You may have seen Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler spoof, “The Great Dictator,” but that came out nine months after Moe, Larry and Curly took on the Reich with wallpaper, a Magic Eight Ball and golf clubs. It’s one of the funniest and most thoughtful of The Stooges’ work.*
I don’t expect the recently found “Hello Pop!” to be so culturally significant.
This film, the third short with The Stooges as second billing to their mentor Ted Healy, was released in September 1933. A copy of the film, thought destroyed in a fire in 1967, was recently found in Australia. Given the fact that The Stooges didn’t have any creative say-so, it’s probably awful.
I’m giddy anyway.
Sure, the Stooges were anything but subtle, but after more than 70 years, they’re still funny.
*Sure, more anti-Nazi films came later, but The Three Stooges were the first. Take that, “Casablanca.”
Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.