BOOTLEG FILES 159: “The New Three Stooges” (1965-66 animated television series).
LAST SEEN: Many episodes are available for viewing at several online video sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A licensed video release from Rhino Entertainment plus too many duped videos.
REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: Stooges fans never loved this endeavor.
CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: N’yuk! N’yuk! N’yuk!
Die-hard fans of the Three Stooges have long dismissed the cartoon TV series “The New Three Stooges” as a waste of paint. But there’s more to it than hating a cartoon show. Most of the fan grumbling has to do with the overall quality of work that the trio produced in the 1960s. Admittedly, late-career Stooges appearances were tame and sedate compared to their raucous prime work in the 1930s and 1940s. Coupled with the slower timing of aging Moe Howard and Larry Fine plus the problems many fans had with Curly-Joe DeRita as the third Stooge, it would seem the funnymen couldn’t do anything right.
But truth be told, “The New Three Stooges” never caught the good break it deserved. Yes, this does not represent prime Stooges – but, then again, nothing could. And it would’ve been unrealistic to imagine Moe and Larry (who were in their sixties by this time) were able to engage in the level of slap-happy mayhem they created three decades earlier. As for Curly-Joe, the poor guy needs to have some slack cut for him. Of course he could never compete with the original Curly Howard, but in his own lazy subversive manner he more than fit in with the lighter brand of knockabout that the Stooges were turning out during this period of their career.
But what about “The New Three Stooges” itself? Yeah, the animation isn’t special. However, it is hardly inferior to the quality of animation that was typical of American television in the 1960s. Back in that day, animated series were cranked out on low budgets and fast schedules. Even the beloved Hanna-Barbera or Jay Ward output was limited and often crude in design and concept.
What few people recognize is how much talent actually went into the creation of “The New Three Stooges.” Edward Bernds, who helmed many of the classic Stooges shorts, directed the live action sequences that wrapped around the cartoons. Emil Sitka, the Stooges’ best foil, was recruited for the live action sequences and he inevitably wound up on the receiving end of a flying pie or other hurled indignities. Paul Horn, the gifted flutist, composed and performed the delightfully jaunty series theme music and the incidental scores that laced each cartoon. And, of course, there was Moe, Larry and Curly-Joe doing the voice performances for the cartoons and having a ball with the frequently trippy dialogue.
“The New Three Stooges” episodes followed a set pattern. A live action sequence found the trio on the verge of some new catastrophe. Either they were assigned jobs they were incapable of handling – as zoo keepers who wind up getting locked in a cage by a chimp, as bakers whose pies are turned into weapons, etc. – or they are embarked in a leisure activity that careens into mini-disaster. As their nuttiness devolves, one of the Stooges (usually Moe) turns to the camera and announces a forthcoming cartoon. When the cartoon was over, the live action sequence resumed and the slapstick situations would be resolved with someone’s dignity being punctured.
The cartoons usually carried some punny or parody title (“Safari So Good,” “Dentist the Menace,” “Clarence of Arabia”) and the Stooges would be in the midst of some misadventure. Usually they are hired to perform jobs that they cannot possible handle. One cartoon found them as car wash attendants who manage to vacuum up the contents of the cars – including the seats and the passengers! Another cartoon places them as organists in a theater showing silent movies. Somehow they connect a plumbing pipe to their instrument and flood the cinema. Yet another cartoon places them in the great outdoors as loggers, but their axe work awakes a hibernating bear (complete with a nightcap atop its furry head) who hammers the Stooges into the ground.
Violence plays a part in the cartoons, naturally, but it still fairly subdued (not only by classic Stooges standards, but also by the standards of other animated series being produced in the 1960s). There’s plenty of gunfire, but no one actually gets hurt in the crossfire. Dynamite explosions leave everyone covered in soot, but in the next few seconds everyone is well-scrubbed and ready for more action.
However, the beloved Stooges routines of eye pokes, stomach punches, blunt instruments to the head and ear yanking are not repeated here. That’s hardly a surprise – at this period, the Stooges were under a great deal of criticism from parents groups and the level of their slapstick was toned down considerably. Even the live action sequences kept the violence to a minimum – an occasional slap in the face and an isolated breaking of a dish on Curly-Joe’s head was thrown in for spice, but the heavy duty physical humor of the classic shorts was nowhere to be found.
What could be found, though, was surprisingly witty and unexpectedly goofy dialogue. For the scripts, Moe was given a wealth of bizarre commentary that could easily generate laughs thanks to his deft delivery. He would order Larry about by commanding: “Get with it, salami skull!” Or he would berate Larry and Curly-Joe by calling them “matzoh heads.” In a live action wraparound, Moe turns to the camera and instructs the viewers to “bend your eyeballs around this next cartoon.”
When the trio is in the middle of a shoot out between cops and robbers, Larry moans: “You know something, Moe? We’re not going to get out of this alive.” Moe, in turn, pauses, and remarks: “That’s what I like about you – you’re an optimist!”
“The New Three Stooges” had two genuine problems. The first was relatively minor: the use of Asian stereotypes in a few cartoons. By today’s PC standards, they are not funny. They probably weren’t all that hilarious in the 1960s. Fortunately, these lapses in taste were very few and far between.
The second problem was more considerable for the series’ viability. There were 156 cartoons produced for the series, but only 40 live action wraparound sequences. To compensate this imbalance, the wraparound sequences were repeated several times. This created a problem when viewers would see a repeated wraparound and assume the cartoon was also a repeat – thus switching away from the show without realizing the wraparounds were being recycled three or four times.
“The New Three Stooges” was produced by Cambria Studios, who also created the TV cartoon shows “Clutch Cargo,” “Space Angel” and “Captain Fathom.” The Stooges co-produced the series through their company Normandy Productions. The series debuted in the 1965-66 season as a syndicated offering, and it remained in syndication as late as the mid-1990s.
Unfortunately, the funny business turned litigious when Normandy Productions brought a lawsuit against Cambria Studios in 1970, charging the animation house failed to provide quarterly financial reports. Cambria won the initial round in court, but Normandy triumphed in an appeals court ruling in 1975. Alas, the victory came during the year that Moe Howard and Larry Fine passed away (Curly-Joe DeRita died in 1999).
Copyright issues relating to “The New Three Stooges” have been complicated. It appears that some, if not all, of the episodes have lapsed into public domain status. Throughout the years, a number of cartoons (with and without the live action wraparound sequences) have turned up in duped versions from video companies specializing in public domain titles. Other cartoons have also popped up more recently on Net video sites. Rhino Entertainment licensed some of the cartoons for a VHS release in the 1990, which is odd given that the duped videos were in release before Rhino’s offering hit the stores, so I would assume that more than a little bootlegging is going on here.
I recently purchased a $1 DVD of some of the cartoons at a local supermarket. The checkout clerk eyed the DVD and remarked (not with any maternal warmth) “Oh, the Three Stooges.” To which I said: “Yeah, I’m going through a second childhood.” But that was hardly a lie – viewing the cartoons again, I happily recalled watching them when I was a kid. The link between a childhood with Stooge-filled laughter and an adult life with Stooge-filled laughter was remarkable. Really, who could’ve expected “The New Three Stooges” to temporarily help me bridge the space-time continuum?
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.