BOOTLEG FILES 221: “Brideless Groom” (1947 short starring the Three Stooges).

LAST SEEN: Available for viewing on numerous web sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A staple on a seemingly infinite number of VHS tapes from distributors specializing in public domain titles.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright (Hey, Moe, someone goofed!).

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is part of an official Three Stooges DVD release…and scores of cheapo DVDs featuring bootleg dupes.

Out of the 190 short subjects starring the Three Stooges, it is difficult to pick the one title that could be declared the very best of the bunch. If I had to submit a candidate for the best Three Stooges short, I would put forth the 1947 offering “Brideless Groom.”

Some Stooges addicts may cringe at that choice, noting the trio’s configuration does not include the beloved Curly. Instead, “Brideless Groom” offers Shemp as the third stooge. While there were many classics during the Curly era, “Brideless Groom” is, in my view, the most consistently funny Stooges short ever, with nonstop comedy generated by all three of the team working in full unity.

“Brideless Groom” opens with Shemp as a voice teacher attempting to instruct a severely untalented soprano (the tall, homely and skinny Dee Green). Larry is Shemp’s pianist, but he keeps falling asleep at his instrument from boredom. Shemp has to slap Larry to wake him up, and at one point Larry’s fingers get caught in the piano key lid. This is among the rare shorts where Larry gets a Moe-style assault from the third member of the trio.

After dismissing his student with the suggestion “Be sure to gargle with old razor blades,” Moe arrives with news that Shemp’s Uncle Caleb and left him $500,000 – provided that Shemp is married by a specific deadline. The deadline, it turns out, is 6:00pm of that day. Pulling out his little black book and grabbing a roll of coins, Shemp rushes to a telephone booth in the hall of his apartment building and starts making calls. Needless to say, none of the ex-girlfriends is interested in his abrupt suggestion of instant marriage.

Shemp is down to one coin, but drops it on the floor of the phone booth. Moe steps in to assist in its retrieval, but he and Shemp get tangled in an extraordinarily long telephone wire. Larry’s attempt to intervene with assistance is answered by Moe and Shemp landing fists in his jaw. Eventually, telephone booth collapses.

Suddenly, a new neighbor is seen moving into a vacant apartment: Miss Hopkins, a tall and sophisticated blonde. Moe and Larry take Shemp back to his apartment and get him spruced up to meet Miss Hopkins. Shemp tries to shave by using a mirror suspended from the ceiling on the string, but most of the shaving cream goes in his eye. Moe is tailoring Shemp’s pants while Shemp his shaving, but his anxiety reaches a boiling point and he stabs Shemp’s leg with the sewing needle. Larry is ironing Shemp’s jacket and winds up scalding his fingers while watching his colleagues bash each other.

Shemp is ready for Miss Hopkins, who greets his arrival with a flourish of kisses. Moe and Larry are listening outside of the door. Moe is happy that Shemp found instant love and he kisses Larry in joy – much to the astonishment of a passerby. Moe, realizing he is being viewed as a homosexual, angrily slaps Larry. (Overtly gay humor was rare in the 1940s films, which makes this gag fairly audacious for its time.)

But Miss Hopkins gets a phone call from the real Cousin Basil. Abruptly insisting Shemp is trying to seduce her, Miss Hopkins begins battering Shemp and gives him a punch that sends him flying through a door.

Shemp’s wretched voice student appears and agrees immediately to marry Shemp. The Stooges and Shemp’s bride-to-be race to a justice of the peace. But Shemp’s ex-girlfriends, who’ve discovered his inheritance, demand that he marry one of them. A melee breaks out and everyone gets roughed up – Moe is thrown into a bear trap, Shemp gets his skull squeezed in a book press, and the justice of the peace is clobbered on the head with a bird cage. Somehow, Shemp and his student are wed just in time. Shemp is newly rich, but he is aghast to find himself married to his unfortunate student.

“Brideless Groom” is an unofficial remake of the 1925 Buster Keaton feature “Seven Chances,” with a beat-the-clock challenge to secure a bride in order to gain a fortune. But in this short, the plot is actually funnier thanks to its extraordinarily misanthropic personality. The blatant cynicism of marrying for money is never questioned, and the turned-tables of exploitation (Shemp getting a quickie marriage for his uncle’s estate, his ex-girlfriends violently demanding marriage when they learn of the inheritance) brings out the worst in people – albeit for crass comic effect.

Violent slapstick is par for the course in the Three Stooges, and “Brideless Groom” packs in a feral field day in 16 minutes. The climactic fight is a classic, with the towering women (all quite pretty, it should be said) battering each other and everyone who gets in their way. Violence against women, of course, is not funny – but in “Brideless Groom,” violence created by women (particularly ill-tempered pretty women) is in brilliant bad taste.

The most famous knockabout from here includes Miss Hopkins’ attack on Shemp when she learns he’s not Cousin Basil. Christine McIntyre, a chic starlet who was a frequently female lead in the Stooges’ shorts, initially had problems with her role. Edward Bernds, the film’s director, recalled the shooting of this scene in “The Three Stooges Scrapbook”:

“She was supposed to slap Shemp around. Lady that she was, Chris couldn’t do it right; she dabbed at him daintily, afraid of hurting him. After a couple of bad takes, Shemp pleaded with her. ‘Honey,’ he said, ‘if you want to do me a favor, cut loose and do it right. A lot of half-hearted slaps hurts more than one good one. Give it to me, Chris, and let’s get it over with.’ Chris got up her courage and on the next take, let Shemp have it. ‘It’ wound up as a whole series of slaps — the timing was beautiful; they rang out like pistol shots. Shemp was knocked into a chair, bounced up, met another ringing slap, fell down again, scrambled up, trying to explain, only to get another stinging slap. Then Chris delivered a haymaker — a right that knocked Shemp through the door. When the take was over, Shemp was groggy, really groggy. Chris put her arms around him and apologized tearfully. ‘It’s alright, honey,’ Shemp said painfully. ‘I said you should cut loose and you did. You sure as hell did!'”

Some accounts of this story insist Shemp had a broken nose from this assault, but that has never been independently confirmed.

“Brideless Groom” is also remembered for the now-legendary performance by Emil Sitka as the justice of the peace. Sitka, a comic character actor who was a staple of the Stooges’ films, plays his character as a befuddled geriatric, and his attempt to start the ceremony with the phrase “Hold hands, you lovebirds” is repeatedly followed with some form of violent attack by the ex-girlfriends. Sitka’s “Hold hands, you lovebirds” became one of the most famous lines to emerge from a Stooges film. In later years, Stooges fans having their own wedding ceremonies would arrange to have Sitka on a speakerphone to recite that line. Even Quentin Tarantino chimed in, having that film clip featuring that line in “Pulp Fiction” (Sitka received screen credit from Tarantino). “Hold hands, you lovebirds” is also engraved on Sitka’s headstone.

“Brideless Groom” had a quasi-remake in the 1956 Three Stooges short “Husbands Beware,” which mixed much of the 1947 film with new footage about Moe and Larry marrying Shemp’s belligerent sisters.

Columbia Pictures, which produced the Stooges shorts, failed to renew the copyright on “Brideless Groom.” As a result, it has been duped endlessly and can be found on numerous web sites and scores of cheapo video and DVD releases. (Three other Stooges shorts are also in the public domain and they are usually grouped together with this title.) Although the film has been included in official Stooges video and DVD releases, most people know this film from the shoddy dupes that have been circulating for years.

Well, that’s my take on “Brideless Groom.” If you have you own favorite Stooges flick, feel free to share your input in the Comments section on this page. I’d be curious to know which one of the 190 films is considered the trio’s finest.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Ryan says:

    Favorite Stooge film? I couldn’t claim to have seen them all, but Moe’s turn as Hitler in a couple of WWII shorts are always going to be up there, just because their inappropriate humor was perfect for parodying madness. Otherwise, the other PD short, Sing A Song Of Six Pants, just because of the restaurant scene that killed me as a kid and continues to do so.