Friday, May 28, 2010

Stooges to the rescue

Though it's not really needed, Meet the Baron (1933) is further proof that the worst films can be made using the combination of the best talent, especially if there is no guidance. Credited writers on this film include Arthur Kober, Norman Krasna, and Herman J. Mankiewicz, all prestigious and successful writers--some even produced on Broadway. The director is Walter Lang, who made good musicals such as State Fair and The King and I and the producer is David O. Selznick of Gone With The Wind fame. Put them together in order to promote a second-tier radio comic, Jack Pearl and his character Baron Munchausen, (who faded from peak popularity within two years of the release of this movie) and you have a 70-minute time-filler whose best moments are provided by naked women (what else?) and The Three Stooges (really).

I am not one of those cases of arrested development who idolizes the Stooges. Sure, I grew up on them, but only because they were on TV during the witching hour after it was too dark to play outside and just before we sat up for dinner. But I never thought their comedy made any sense or was very funny, and have always preferred Laurel and Hardy and even Abbott and Costello as far as teams go.

As I've aged and seen more of their work, especially in support of other performers in feature films, I appreciate the precision and timing of their work as a team. Nobody mentions it, but the Stooges sing together very well--not as a joke, or to exhibit their characters, as L&H do, but as a matter of good music making. Their act, especially in their days with Ted Healy (as in Meet the Baron) was clearly partly improvisational, but they are always tight, picking up cues and moving deftly into place as needed. They were a well-oiled machine, and not as dependent on the silly sound effects devised for them at Columbia Pictures as they would appear to be. Moe in particular is a very skillful anchor man, keeping the act in constant motion, which makes up for the lack of character consistency or narrative logic in their routines. Even Edna May Oliver can smoothly dovetail her snooty old lady act with the Stooges.

By the way, this is the film with the sequence (see below) in which girls sing "Clean As A Whistle" while appearing to be naked behind curtains of water. The number doesn't end (how could it?) because they run out of water and send for the Stooges to solve the problem.

I mean, what are you going to do with a movie that can't even make Jimmy Durante funny?

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