BOOTLEG FILES 196: “Single Gun Theory” (1979 underground short that recasts the Three Stooges in a very unlikely role).
LAST SEEN: You can find it on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: Blatant (and tasteless) bootlegging of copyright-protected material.
CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Not likely, to say the least!
This week’s column is somewhat different because the film in question has not been widely bootlegged. In fact, I am unaware of any bootlegging of it. However, it is here because it incorporates bootlegged prints of two very different films into one of the most tastelessly funny shorts ever made.
Before I go further, I will state this: if you never saw “Single Gun Theory,” go to YouTube and watch this 51-second film. I don’t want to ruin the punchline if you don’t know this one. Then come back here and finish reading the article.
“Single Gun Theory” begins with footage pilfered from the 1945 Three Stooges short “Three Pests in a Mess.” The footage finds Moe, Larry and Curly being chased by unspecified foes into a storage room. They shut the door behind them and barricade themselves against it. The camera then cuts to a rifle that is inexplicably hanging above the door (of course, everyone hangs rifles over storage room doors). The force of the closing door causes the rifle to fall off the wall and simultaneously clunk the Stooges on their heads, creating a metallic ring upon cranial impact.
Needless to say, Curly is angry and he picks up the rifle. He bangs the rifle against the wall and it discharges a shot. In “Three Pests in a Mess,” the bullet ricochets off a mannequin, and the Stooges think Curly fatally shot a man. However, in “Single Gun Theory,” someone else get shot.
SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve never seen the film, please go to YouTube. I hate to repeat myself, but you’ll thank me later.
Any way, in this film, Curly’s action causes the rifle to discharge. The film then abruptly cuts to President John F. Kennedy sitting in his convertible limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The nutty sound effect of the bullet’s discharge from the original Stooges film is heard as the footage quickly cuts to the presidential limousine speeding down Dealey Plaza with its fatally injured passenger.
We then cut back to the Stooges. Larry exclaims: “You shot that guy!” Moe chimes in: “And killed him, too!” Curly goes into his “Woo-woo-woo!” chant and the Stooges run off.
The film then returns to footage from the Dallas crime scene, with police looking skyward to the open window of the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository Building. The Stooges’ closing theme music of “Three Blind Mice” is played as a quick montage shows Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as president, the flag-draped coffin of President Kennedy in the funeral procession, little John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting the passing coffin, and the eternal flame burning at the presidential graveside. The closing credits feature Curly’s “N’yuk! N’yuk! N’yuk!” laugh and sound effect of a fist pounding a Stooge skull, with Curly shrieking in shock.
“Single Gun Theory” is the ultimate “What the f**k?” movie – it’s in the worst possible taste, but it is perversely funny. Watching President Kennedy’s coffin accompanied by Three Stooges music and sound effects is a new high in dark comedy.
The guy who created this is one Charles Ellis, who lives in Baltimore. Sadly, he did not respond to my interview request for this article. However, postings that he left on YouTube offer a clue to the film’s history.
It appears that “Single Gun Theory” was made during the mid-1970s. In that pre-video era, Ellis took his clips 8mm footage from “Three Pests in a Mess” and from 1963 newsreels of the Kennedy assassination (there were still theatrical newsreels in the early 1960s). He then grabbed a 16mm camera and filmed the 8mm on a front screen projection rig. The resulting visual style is bootleg-worthy grit.
“Single Gun Theory” played in some festivals, where reaction was violently mixed. Either audiences laughed so hard that they couldn’t stop or they booed at the film’s tasteless humor. Even today, it gains polarizing results.
For the digital age, Ellis added the closing credits “N’yuk! N’yuk! “N’yuk!” and head bonk. Oddly, he also changed the film’s name to “Single Dunce Theory” (it is also listed on YouTube as “Three Dumb Assassins”). The original film also identified its creator as “Dave Ellis,” whereas it is now credited to “Charles Ellis” (the filmmaker’s full name is Charles David Ellis).
Ellis reportedly was contacted by attorneys representing the estate of Abraham Zapruder, who shot the heavily bootlegged color film of the Kennedy assassination. However, “Single Gun Theory” doesn’t include any of that footage and the Zapruder lawyers couldn’t sue Ellis.
As of this writing, it doesn’t appear that “Single Gun Theory” has been extensively bootlegged. There’s never been a video release and the only copy I found is the one posted on YouTube by its creator. However, its unauthorized use of copyright protected footage will prevent it from ever being seen in proper commercial channels.
Not everyone is in love with this film – one YouTube member angrily posted the message “My grandfather is Jerome Howard “Curly” (and) this is hardly humor.” Sorry, Curly Jr., but “Single Gun Theory” is one of the best underground shorts of all time. Yes, it is an assault on good taste, intelligence and the Kennedy family’s feelings. But, hey, it is a classic of quickie cheap laughs. N’yuk! N’yuk! N’yuk!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at
Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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