Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp and Joe are the names of some of the most important figures in the realm of comedy history. And tomorrow, more of their story will surface as Three Stooges FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Eye-Poking, Face-Slapping, Head-Thumping Geniuses hits bookstores and online retailers. The 400-page tome is a comedy nerd’s dream, as it painstakingly details the 200 short Stooges films produced by Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1957. Also contained within the book’s pages are 75 stills from the films’ sets, posters and other images.
To give you a better taste of Three Stooges FAQ, we’re gifting you, dear Laughspinners with the below excerpt from the book, wherein author, David J. Hogan details the making of the Stooges’ 1950 film Love At First Bite. And that’s not all. We’re giving away three copies! Simply e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stooges” and leave us a message telling us you want to win. You must also leave your full name and mailing address, so we know where to send the book in the event you win. If you’ve won anything from Laughspin in the last 30 days you can’t win this. Sorry, dudes.
Love at First Bite (1950) is about memory and anticipation. It’s about love, too, but for the Stooges, even when the course of love is smooth, it’s bumpy. The greater part of this uneven but often charming short is devoted to the boys’ flashback reminiscences about their first meetings with their European sweethearts. The girls are arriving today, together on the same ship, and the boys can’t wait to greet them. But when the Stooges get drunk, Shemp is given a concrete footbath by Larry and Moe. He’s held fast, and only a dynamite explosion engineered by Larry is powerful enough to propel all three boys to the ship in time.
Okay, the physics of that last part are dubious, and even the most forgiving viewers will decide that most of the sight gags that don’t involve the girls are rote and mechanical: A horseshoe affixed above a doorway repeatedly drops on Larry’s head; Moe flings his arms wide in happiness (twice), catching Larry and Shemp in the kissers (twice); when Moe and Larry shove at Shemp while he’s cemented in the round-bottomed tub, he rocks back and forth, whacking the other Stooges with his fists. (This footage was undercranked, for fast motion— problem is, the soundtrack is speeded up, too, so the boys, in a lazy gaffe that mars more than one of their shorts, momentarily sound like chipmunks.)
A by-the-numbers approach was typical of the director, Jules White, when he decided to be competent and nothing more. Then there’s Felix Adler’s scripting of these bits, which doesn’t give White much to work with in the first place.
A protracted bubblegum bit, however, is pretty funny: Shemp can’t stop chewing the stuff (he crams fresh sticks into his mouth like a starving man), and gooey residue is everywhere—most particularly on the phone receiver, where it ensnares Moe’s ear.
In more ways than one, the heart of Love at First Bite is the trio of flashbacks. Larry is the first to share his memories. “I was stationed in Italy, eatin’ bread and hot dogs and waitin’ to be mustered out.” Despite what Larry says, he’s in a restaurant eating spaghetti. A fan repeatedly blows gobs of the stuff into the slack mouth of a sleeping drunk, who unconsciously chews and swallows it. Larry wraps an absurdly long strand around a meatball and creates a forkful that’s as big as a baseball. (Fourteen years later, in The Disorderly Orderly, Jerry Lewis brilliantly carried the gag to its illogical conclusion when the twirled pasta consumes his hand and entire forearm.)
Larry’s waitress is Maria (Marie Monteil, who never rose above bits in a five-year career). She’s a slender, statuesque Mediterranean beauty with dark eyes and an exuberant smile. For reasons known only to her, she finds Larry’s table manners ingratiating, his clumsy flirting irresistible. Moe’s sweetheart is a pigtailed Viennese charmer named Katrina (Christine McIntyre). Moe listens as she trills “The Blue Danube Waltz,” and then literally falls for her as she scrubs a floor. When Moe loses his diamond ring in a vase, it ends up on Katrina’s finger (after Moe accidentally smashes the vase on his head).
As for Shemp, he was a sailor in Paris, strolling down the Rue de Schlemiel, “lookin’ for postcards” and “anxious to see the Paris sights.” He meets a tall, elegant Parisian named Fifi (Yvette Reynard), and escorts her to a sidewalk café. There, Shemp cleverly ad libs a tussle with a fly in his beer, and generally turns on the charm. A gag involving a small dog that gets beneath the table is played for suggestive laughs. Before Shemp’s beer is gone, Fifi is smitten.
At a time when the boys’ shorts were growing increasingly set-bound, the café sequence was shot outdoors on a good-looking set in warm sunlight. The cinematographer was Rex Wimpy, who had for many years been a top special effects cameraman at Warner Bros. His skill brings a delightful, relaxed realism to the sequence. Shemp is ingratiating, and Yvette Reynard’s enormous eyes and shy smile are strikingly emphasized. Born Yvette Sarah Heap, Reynard should have had a real career; instead, she worked only a handful of times, most often in uncredited bits.
The Stooges finish their reminiscences, but before leaving for the dock to meet their sweeties they indulge in shots of Old Panther (“Bottled yesterday”). The stuff knocks them flat, and when Moe and Larry come to, they’re convinced that they’ve murdered the still-unconscious Shemp. In the darkest line ever written for any of the Stooges, Moe drunkenly exclaims, “Let’s cremate him!” Larry, impersonating the voice of reason, responds, “We can’t do that! We ain’t got no cream!” In effect, Moe goes way out of character so that Larry can utter a pun.
The two of them decide to put Shemp’s feet in cement and dump him in the river. That’s a pretty dark idea, too.
A silly consideration, yet Love at First Bite is one of relatively few Hollywood films to deal with a unique phenomenon: the war bride of World War II. Between 1939 and 1946, some 16 million American men enlisted or were conscripted for military service. Demobilization began in 1945, but many thousands of G.I.s remained abroad as occupation troops, often for years. About 750,000 foreignborn brides of American servicemen entered the U.S. between 1946 and the early 1950s, accounting for the largest upsurge of immigration to these shores since the previous great wave of the 1920s. The women came from the United Kingdom, Australia, and, as Love at First Bite suggests, Continental Europe. (And although the short doesn’t deal with Japanese and other Asian women, 50,000 to 100,000 of them married Americans—and were not allowed to enter the States until the 1952 repeal of the Oriental Exclusion Act.)
Love at First Bite was remade, with some key variations, for 1958 release as Fifi Blows Her Top. By this time, of course, Joe Besser was the third Stooge, and the short gives him opportunities to utter some of his prissy, very funny catch phrases, including “Ooh, not so haaard!,” “Ooh, you’re a snitch!,” and “Not so loud!”
Fifi revolves around Joe’s longing for a French girl he met in Paris and planned to marry before the two were separated. He’s been heartbroken ever since.
The MP who finds Joe in a bistro and drags him away from Fifi is played by former faux-Shemp Joe Palma (who has much more dialogue than usual). Another late-era Stooges regular, vivacious Harriette Tarler, is Joe’s waitress. Jules White staged the opening of the bistro sequence with Joe seated at the right side of the screen, his face mostly obscured by a menu. Tarler stands in profile at the table, facing Joe, her gorgeous breasts dominating the left side of the frame. For a long moment, we don’t even see her face! It’s a crass gag that’s eye-popping instead of funny.
Stock footage from Love at First Bite allows Larry to once again reminisce about Maria, and Moe about Katrina. And Joe, in a flashback sequence that puts him in a sailor suit and a widow’s-peaked hairpiece, recalls sprightly, blonde Fifi (Vanda Dupre). Besser displays his innate charm and sweetness (his love seems kind as well as intense), but the sequence is marred, and jarringly so, by the insertion of sunlit stock footage (the pooch beneath the table) into the soundstage interior material with Joe and Fifi. By this late date, producer-director Jules White was making shorts on pocket change, and there was no time or money to put Besser and Dupre into a genuine exterior, and no reasonable excuse not to take advantage of the stock footage. Joe sadly ends his story—and then, in one of those fabulous quirks of fate that usually happen only in the movies, the boys meet their new neighbor across the hall, who turns out to be . . . Fifi! She and Joe embrace joyously, but uh oh:
Fifi unhappily tells Joe she’s married.
The husband, stock company player Philip Van Zandt (in a surprisingly “realistic” performance), is the jealous type, and when the boys accidentally douse Fifi with the contents of a cocktail shaker, they must hide her while they dry her dress. The husband goes in and out of the apartment, and Jules White puts together some funny, well-timed gags involving the trunk that conceals Fifi, most effectively when the boys move the trunk across the room, unaware that the bottom hasn’t come with it, and that Fifi—wearing Joe’s pajamas—is crouching on the floor, and about to be spotted by her husband.
During an exchange that reveals the male animal at its worst, Van Zandt buttonholes Joe and confides that he’s sorry he ever married Fifi. “Me too!” Joe blurts. “I mean, why don’t you get a divorce?”
“I intend to! I’ve got my new wife all picked out! I’m a little sick of this one!” With that, Fifi rises from the trunk and goes after her rat-husband with a baseball bat, missing him and accidentally conking Larry. When she limbers up for another go, Joe helpfully takes the bat from her hands—and supplies her with a bowling ball.
At the end, the melancholy that was consuming Joe has turned to joy.
Excerpted from Three Stooges FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Eye-Poking, Face-Slapping, Head-Thumping Geniuses by David J. Hogan; reprinted with permission of the publisher, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard (applausebooks.com)