‘The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection'
If 60 hours of pokes in the eye, severe blows to the head and acts of abject stupidity sounds like a marathon of mirth to you, then you must be a Three Stooges fan.
Therefore, you must own “The Three Stooges Ultimate Collection,” which contains all 190 of the two-reeler shorts these sultans of slapstick made for Columbia Pictures from 1934 through 1957, plus three discs of rare and unreleased content, including 28 short films starring Stooges Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Joe DeRita honing their comic chops in solo roles before becoming successors to Curly Howard.
This hefty box of hilarity also includes two of the Stooges' feature-length films, “Rockin' in the Rockies” (1945) and “Have Rocket, Will Travel” (1959). Of course, this 20-disc set's big draw is the shorts that star the classic lineup of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Moe's little brother, Curly.
Moe and older brother Shemp were the original Stooges, becoming vaudeville comedian Ted Healy's noisy assistants in an act called “Ted Healy and His Stooges” in 1922, with Larry joining the team in 1925. The act made its screen debut in 1930's “Soup to Nuts,” but contractual wrangling caused the Stooges to split with Healy for a time, until Healy begged them to return, this time with young Curly replacing Shemp, who refused to work with the abrasive comedian anymore.
After a handful of features and shorts with Healy, this version of the Stooges finally struck out on its own for good in '34, and that's where this box set picks up with “Woman Haters,” their first short for Columbia, performed entirely in rhyming dialogue and song. (Watch for an uncredited Walter Brennan as a beleaguered train conductor.) It was (and is) hilarious, as was the second two-reeler, “Punch Drunk,” which was also a hit, and after Healy relinquished legal claim to the “Stooge” name, the newly christened “Three Stooges” were on their way to stardom.
Moe was the cranky alpha dog, Larry was the clueless middleman, and Curly, who had no prior performing experience, quickly became the star of the trio as the squeaky-voiced, portly, shaved-headed, childlike foil, with his excitable “woo, woo, woo, woo's,” and trademark “n'yuk, n'yuk, n'yuk” laughter, first heard in their Oscar-nominated third film, “Men in Black.”
Unfortunately, Curly's hard-partying private life caught up with him in May 1947, when he suffered a debilitating stroke on the last day of shooting “Half-Wits Holiday.” You'll notice his absence in that installment's climactic pie fight, with Shemp replacing him in the very next film, “Fright Night.” Curly would make one more cameo appearance (in “Hold That Lion”) before suffering a fatal brain hemorrhage in 1952 at age 48.
Arguably, the quality of the trio's work went into gradual decline after Curly's untimely departure, then a rapid downslide after Shemp's heart attack death in 1955 at age 60. But the bulk of this box set is made up the Stooges at their slap-happy best, the princes of pratfall in their prime from '34 to '44. And while they lacked the sophisticated wit and subtlety of many of their more critically favored contemporaries, no one did lowbrow, shamelessly silly comedy better. If your rowdy inner schoolboy agrees, this box is for you.
— Gene Triplett