“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of everything. We’ll find fingerprints!”
By my count, The Three Stooges: Cops and Robbers is the ninth compilation of Three Stooges shorts that Columbia has issued on DVD, with one further such disc — GI Stooge — already announced for October release. At an average of six shorts per disc, that means we’ll have about a third of the 190 Three Stooges shorts available to us by the end of 2002. If Columbia can keep up the current rate of four compilations a year, we should have them all in about five year’s time. For the time being, the latest DVD release — The Three Stooges: Cops and Robbers — gives us the usual six shorts, this time ranging in vintage from 1936 to 1949 with four Curlys and two Shemps included.
Calling All Curs — Moe, Larry, and Curly are veterinarians who manage to lose a priceless dog under their care. An attempt to substitute a dog of a lesser pedigree quickly runs awry.
Disorder in the Court — Moe, Larry, and Curly are musicians from the Black Bottom Café and are called upon to testify in court when a dancer from the same café is charged with the murder of the café owner.
Dizzy Detectives — Incompetent carpenters Moe, Larry, and Curly have their applications to join the police force accepted and soon find themselves tracking down an ape that commits burglaries.
Flat Foot Stooges — Moe, Larry, and Curly are incompetent firemen who are only good for keeping the engine and horses looking neat. When a crooked fire truck salesman tries to sabotage their engine, but causes a blaze at the station in the process, the Stooges have to go into real action.
Crime on Their Hands — Moe, Larry, and Shemp hope to get a crack at a real police case when they intercept a tip about the stealing of the Punjab Diamond and head out to solve the mystery.
Who Done It? — The Stooges operate the Alert Detective Agency and are called in by millionaire Goodrich who fears for his life at the hands of the Phantom Gang.
One wants to encourage Columbia with their Three Stooges shorts. After all, they are at least making them available on DVD, which is more than can be said about most other shorts made during the 1930s-1950s. That said, one does get a little frustrated at the rather lackluster nature of the effort at times. After giving us seven shorts on the first DVD, all the rest have had six titles, which is a little skimpy to my way of thinking, especially when there’s no special effort being made to spruce up how the shorts look or offer any sort of supplementary material. The idea of grouping titles by theme is proving to be a bit of a stretch too. The latest collection is a case in point. To me, “Cops and Robbers” implies a police theme in each short, yet one of them deals with veterinarians and another with firemen, with nary a cop in sight.
Aside from all that, I have to say that this latest collection is one of the best so far. All six shorts are of a high standard with 1936’s Disorder in the Court and 1949’s Who Done It? being the best of the bunch. Disorder in the Court is one of four Stooges Columbia shorts in the public domain, so it’s been readily available before on DVD from various public domain specialists. It’s certainly among the handful of the Stooges’ very best efforts. Look for Curly’s swearing-in particularly. For anyone who considers all the Shemp shorts inferior to the Curlys, Who Done It? provides ample and hilarious evidence to the contrary. The ineffective detectives plot always worked well for the Stooges. Here there are some great bits including an amorous camera and a knock-out (literally) ending.
Only slightly less funny are 1943’s Dizzy Detectives and 1948’s Crime on Their Hands (the latter being the other Shemp short in the bunch). Dizzy Detectives opens with some great stock material from 1935’s Pardon My Scotch, but could have stood on its own without it. Look for one of Curly’s trademark elbow-and-foot rotations on the floor. The material was later remade in two Stooges shorts with Joe Besser. Crime on Their Hands is another top Shemp effort and also features one of Kenneth MacDonald’s smooth villain portrayals that graced several Stooges shorts.
I found 1939’s Calling All Curs and 1938’s Flat Foot Stooges to be the least of the bunch, though both are still fairly entertaining. For some reason, I always find plots that involve the Stooges in hospitals less interesting than their others, so the veterinarian angle in Calling All Curs didn’t really resonate for me. Flat Foot Stooges holds extra interest because of the writing, direction and production involvement of veteran funnyman Charlie Chase and an acting appearance by silent comedian Chester Conklin.
All six shorts are presented on the DVD full frame in accord with their original aspect ratios. Compared to some of the washed-out efforts on previous discs in the series, most of the shorts here are pretty crisp looking. All do have their share of scratches and speckles, but black levels are deep and contrast is good. Shadow detail is quite acceptable. Dizzy Detectives looks somewhat rough at the start, possibly a function of the stock footage used, but then it improves noticeably. Disorder in the Court certainly looks better than any of the public domain versions floating around, although on the whole, it’s the darkest looking of any of the shorts on this disc (with some attendant loss of shadow detail).
The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and aside from some occasional age-related hiss delivers the dialogue and sound effects quite adequately. Both English and Spanish sound tracks are provided and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
There is no supplementary material on the disc
If you’re a Three Stooges fan, this latest compilation from Columbia would be a fine addition to your collection. All the shorts are among the Stooges’ better efforts, including a couple of fine examples of Shemp’s work. The transfers are generally quite crisp and also represent an improvement over many of the earlier discs.