The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Soup to Nuts

I grew up watching The Three Stooges, and I'll always love them. Most fans know of their comedy shorts, usually running about 15-20 minutes, but their movie careers? Not nearly as well known. Their later movies with Curley Joe DeRita are readily available, even popping up on TV occasionally, but the same can't be said for their early entries prior to their Columbia shorts. Their feature debut? A 1930 comedy called Soup to Nuts.

Working at a costume shop, Ted (Ted Healy) isn't much of a worker, instead hanging out with three of his friends (The Three Stooges) as they work at a local firehouse. That costume shop is in trouble though, the owners sending in a new young businessman, Carlson (Stanley Smith), to clean things up and get the business back on track. Wouldn't you know it though? Carlson falls madly in love with the older owner's daughter, Louise (Lucile Browne), and we've got an issue. At the same time, Ted is trying to appease his whiny girlfriend, Queenie (Frances McCoy), who seems to be interested in him because he can pay for an occasional dinner. Whatever will all these crazy folks do? Can everything be fixed?!?

Does anything jump out from that plot description? One, it doesn't sound very funny. Two, the Stooges aren't in it much. From director Benjamin Stoloff, this 1930 comedy clocks in at a slim 70 minutes and for lack of a better description, is light on actual laughs. This is still very early in the sound era, and it shows. Studios and writers were still figuring out how to transition stage and theatrical work to feature films, what worked and didn't work. The end result is an odd middle ground that's neither theater or film. The humor is broad and not so funny, and the story drifts from one uninteresting subplot to another. Win-win, huh?

I watched this one because of the Three Stooges in their feature debut. For several years before they really took off, the Stooges worked with Ted Healy, the trio acting as sidekicks to the better known comedian. Thankfully by 1934, their contract ended with Healy, and they were able to branch out on their own. They never looked back, becoming an integral, iconic part of American pop culture. Forty-plus years since they released anything -- shorts, films, TV cartoons -- and they're still an instantly recognizable group. Another fact that gets lost in the shuffle at times? The original Stooges were Moe Howard, Larry Fine and.....Shemp Howard, not Curly. Shemp eventually went solo, Curly replacing him in the act, in the process becoming the most popular of all the Stooges. So at this early point in their career, it was the Howard brothers, Moe and Shemp, working with Larry so don't be too surprised if you check this one out.

Take the Stooges out of this movie, and you've got one of thousands of movies that have generally been forgotten by Hollywood, studios and fans over the years. With them? Because they're underused and/or ignored, it's barely watchable. I was fast-forwarding like crazy when they weren't on-screen. The potential is there for the trio though. When they're on-screen, it's fun to watch from the fast-paced dialogue, the physical humor as the trio slaps and hits each other into oblivion. It's all there. A highlight late in the movie has them doing their routine with Ted Healy in front of an audience, the quartet showing they were good together. Too bad there wasn't more of the Stooges. There's also an odd fourth Stooge (played by Fred Sanborn), a mute, bow-legged fireman with some incredibly bushy eyebrows. So about that....yeah, they made the right decision sticking with three rather than four.

Let's keep this short. Do you like The Three Stooges? Give this one a shot with very modest to low expectations. This is not the way to introduce yourself to the comedy legends. If you're looking to do that, check out some of their early Columbia shorts. I've got a feeling if this is your first introduction, it's probably going to be your last. Besides, they're only on-screen for about 15-20 minutes.

Soup to Nuts (1930): */****

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