I normally don’t review shorts, but Half-Wits Holiday (a reworking of the 1935 Three Stooges short Hoi Polloi) marked a milestone for the Stooges, since it was Curly’s last film.
Curly Howard (born Jerome Lester Horwitz in 1903) had suffered a series of minor strokes in 1945, but during the filming of Half-Wits Holiday in 1946, he suffered a severe stroke, which ended his career. (Curly’s older brother Shemp, an original member of the trio, stepped in, and appeared in dozens of shorts with Moe Howard and Larry Fine until his death in 1955.) Curly lived until 1952, but he was unable to perform during the last years of his life.
In this burlesque version of the Pygmalion myth, a couple of egghead “scientists” — Prof. Sedletz (Theodore Lorch) and Prof. Quackenbush (Vernon Dent) — argue over environment vs. heredity and make a $1,000 bet. Quackenbush believes in environment, and claims he can take a man from the lowest strata of life and turn him into a gentleman after just one month in the right situation and with the proper instruction. Enter the Three Stooges. Guess who’s going to win the bet?
When Quackenbush asks Larry, Moe, and Curly if they’d like to make $1,000, Moe asks, “Who do we have to murder?” (And because it’s Moe, he sounds serious.) Quackenbush’s lovely daughter Lulu (Barbara Slater) is home from college, and offers to help tutor the Stooges (see poster above). A month passes, and the Stooges make their grand entrance in society. Moe and Larry acquit themselves well for a few minutes, but the kleptomaniac Curly bites the diamond ring off of a grand dame’s finger when he kisses her hand, pockets champagne (a word he can’t even pronounce), and steals a load of silverware. And before you can say “Sword of Damocles,” a pie stuck to the ceiling falls on a woman’s face, and the party devolves into a pie-in-the-face-athon.
When I was in high school, I bought a $2 VHS tape featuring two Three Stooges shorts, Disorder in the Court (1936) and Sing a Song of Six Pants (1947). I watched it frequently, which led my mother to declare the Three Stooges entartete Kunst.* She even compared them with New Kids on the Block, as a high-water mark of how pop-culturally unenjoyable I should find them. But you know what? I refused to apologize for loving the Three Stooges when I was 15, and I refuse to apologize today.
Unlike every single other genre, I judge comedy by only one criterion — does it make me laugh? The Three Stooges may be aggressively lowbrow, but they crack me up every time. I love them. There, I said it. I’ll say it again. I love the Three Stooges. I would marry them if I wasn’t already married and they weren’t all dead.
*It’s just an expression. My mom’s not a Nazi.