This is the second of my two entries in my See You in the ‘Fall’ Blogathon, covering great moments of physical comedy in movies and TV. Click on the above banner to read terrific tributes to same from a wide variety of blogs!
Today is the 71st anniversary of the release of the Three Stooges short subject Gents Without Cents. So I cannot resist sharing my personal history with this delightfully silly film.
I was a huge Three Stooges fan when I was a kid, but as I grew older, I subconsciously decided that I needed more motivation in my comedy. Watching three guys knock each other around just for the sake of it seemed rather pointless.
But one day at the library, during one summer a few years ago, I was hard up for a movie to watch, so I checked out a DVD of Three Stooges short subjects. One of the shorts was Gents Without Cents, which was positive for me in two ways.
First, it was a short that began with the Stooges as fairly regular guys — they were performers rehearsing their act in their apartment. Second, the short featured the “Niagara Falls” routine (also known as “Slowly I Turned”), a famous knockabout comedy sketch that dates all the way back to vaudeville. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, click here for a brief history of it.)
As it happened, my then-8-year-old son watched Gents Without Cents with me. He was so enamored of the sketch, he insisted that we learn it. So that summer, any time we could get someone to sit still for us for five minutes, we performed a truncated version of “Niagara Falls” for them (minus the rowdier slapstick violence — after all, my son was only 8). It remains one of my fondest parenting memories.
My son, the Curly surrogate.
(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
At the start of Gents Without Cents, Moe, Larry, and Curly are rehearsing “Niagara Falls.” But just when they get to a crucial line in the act, there’s tapping on the ceiling, and a light fixture falls on Curly’s head. It turns out that this same interruption happens every time the boys reach that particular point in the act. The trio to resolve to go upstairs and fight with whoever lives on the floor above them who has been disrupting their rehearsals.
But when the Stooges get to the upstairs apartment, they find three leggy women enthusiastically rehearsing a dance number. The boys introduce themselves to the girls as Moe, Larry, and Curly, and the girls give their names as Flo, Mary, and Shirley. (Symmetry in action!) The six of them become friends and go to a talent agent named Manny Weeks (John Tyrell) to show off their talents.
Left to right: Laverne Thompson (Mary), Betty Phares (Shirley), and Lindsay Bourquin (Flo).
At first, Weeks is unimpressed with the boys, but eventually they win him over, and Weeks lets them accompany him to a local shipyard where entertainment is needed for its defense workers during a lunch hour. The Stooges perform “Niagara Falls” to an enthusiastic audience.
“Slowly I turned…”
When Weeks receives a telegram that the scheduled act cannot make it in time, the girls then perform a dance routine, and the Stooges do a comedy sketch as Army soldiers. The Stooges are such a hit that Weeks signs them up to appear in his Broadway show. Moe tries to give the girls a fond farewell, but they’re too assertive for that. The group ends up as three married couples — and don’t ask where they go to spend their honeymoon.
Here’s the movie. The entire short subject is worth watching, but if you want to skip ahead to the “Niagara Falls” routine, it begins at the 8:39 mark. (If you enjoyed this blog entry, click here to read my first blog entry, about Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini.”)