The Three Stooges (2000)
The word stooge has a couple of meanings, one of which is “a performer whose act involves being the butt of a comedian's jokes.” This is undoubtedly the genesis of its application for the Three Stooges, whose act originated as comic foils for the comedian Ted Healy. Yet another definition could equally apply to the team, particularly in relation to their treatment by Columbia Studios - "one who is used for another's profit or advantage".
The film opens in 1959 with Moe Howard, the nominal leader of the Three Stooges, working as a gopher at the studio his team unknowingly made millions for. Flashback to 1925 where he and his brother Shemp, and later Larry Fine, are being abused both on and off-stage by Healy. An acrimonious split with the headliner sees Shemp bow out and younger brother ‘Curly’ join Moe and Larry to become The Three Stooges. The act becomes a hit, and over the next 24 years and a few different line-ups, the Stooges would go on to make 190 shorts for Columbia, never fully realising their true value to the studio.
Though it would be foolish to believe everything depicted here is factual, the biopic remains informative, particularly in its explanation of the team’s origins and even more so in redressing Shemp’s often overlooked contribution to the team. Nevertheless, like the Stooges themselves, this biopic is at its best when Curly is part of the team. Though he could be forgiven for being a little gun-shy after the venom that greeted his performance as John Belushi in the controversial biopic Wired, Michael Chiklis’s second outing as a much-loved comic is affectionately realised.
Film depicts Larry being the Stooge who heard of Ted Healy’s death, with Moe and Curly being unmoved by the news. This is vastly different to the way Moe recalled the event –
“…the Times man was on the phone, and without any greeting aside from ‘Is that you, Moe?’ he asked, ‘Would you like to make a statement on the death of Ted Healy?’ I will never be able to describe the terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Stunned, I dropped the receiver. I don’t know how long I stayed in that phone booth, only that thirty years flashed into my mind along with the memories of my entire association with Ted. I did not know that the tears came to my eyes as I rested my head on my folded arms. Curly and Larry suddenly pushed the phone booth open and dragged me to the train. I followed the boys, sobbing all the way"
Moe Howard, I Stooged to Conquer
Though Joe Besser did have a clause in his contract that stipulated he could not be slapped any harder than a tap, he did partake in the Stooges slapstick humour including, contrary to his depiction in this biopic, receiving a pie in the face in Pies and Guys.