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Jewish World Review
Sept. 4, 2008
/ 4 Elul 5768
With humor as their weapon, the Three Stooges took on Hitler
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT)
So you think this is all there is to the Three Stooges: Moe gets mad, pokes Larry in the eye and hits Curly on the head, followed by a torrent of flying pies, nyuk, nyuk, nyuks and woo, woo, woos.
Well, how about the Three Stooges as Nazi fighters?
It turns out that the screen comedy trio of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard (Moe's little brother) made the first Hollywood films to satirize and lampoon Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government. And these shorts, daring for their time, are included in the just-released DVD set "The Three Stooges Collection, 1940-1942, Volume Three" (two discs, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $24.96, not rated).
"You Nazty Spy!" hit the theaters in January 1940, nine months before Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator." It was a time when most of the Hollywood studios remained reluctant to address dramatically or comedically the Nazi state, its persecution of Jews and the war Germany had started in Europe in 1939.
The timidity of the studio heads was based on several factors they didn't want to close down the European market for Hollywood films, and they were being pressured from conservatives and isolationists in Congress who opposed U.S. involvement in the European war and were concerned about Hollywood making "propaganda" films attacking the fascists.
Warner Bros. broke the ice with its 1939 production of "Confessions of a Nazi Spy," but, as film historian Michael E. Birdwell writes in his book, "Celluloid Soldiers: Warner Bros.'s Campaign against Nazism," the studio faced the opposition of the Production Code Administration (Hollywood's censors). Its director, Will Hays, stated that given the nation's policy of official neutrality, no studios could produce any more anti-Nazi films.
But that didn't deter the Three Stooges and Columbia Pictures from making "You Nazty Spy!," written by Clyde Bruckman and Felix Adler and directed by Jules White. Historian Lynn Rapaport, writing in the San Diego Jewish Journal, points out that film shorts were not as closely regulated or censored as feature films, so perhaps the Stooges' efforts were unnoticed or ignored.
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"You Nazty Spy!" was released with a disclaimer, "Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle," which was patently ridiculous because the short depends on Moe's physical resemblance to Hitler particularly after he pushes his hair back on one side and gets a piece of black tape stuck to his upper lip.
As a paper-hanger named Hailstone from the country of Moronica, Moe becomes the foil of three evil government officials who want to overthrow their king and form a dictatorship. So Hailstone becomes dictator, even ranting in his speeches like Hitler, with Curly turning into Field Marshal Gallstone and Larry being appointed Minister of Propaganda Pebble.
The short is filled with references to beer-hall putsches, the appeasement at Munich, book burnings and "concentrated camps" for dissidents, and the Nazi leadership the Stooges is depicted as raving idiots.
The Stooges returned to the same roles in their July 1941 short, "I'll Never Heil Again," also included in the DVD set. This time the opening disclaimer reads, "The characters in this picture are all fictitious. Anyone resembling them is better off dead."
There's more Hitler-mocking oratory by Moe, a swastika made out of snakes and disputes with other Axis powers that culminate in a football game with a globe of the world taking the place of the ball.
The tone remains madcap as usual, but there's a clear and strong political message in lines such as this from Curly, now known as Field Marshall Herring, to Moe's Hailstone: "We bombed 56 hospitals, 85 schools, 42 kindergartens, four cemeteries and other vital military objects."
Lawrence Jeffrey Epstein, author of "Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair With Comedy Teams," reports that "You Nazty Spy!" was Moe and Larry's favorite Stooges short, and the trio was evidently proud to have made several anti-Nazi films. Like many Jewish Americans in show business, the Stooges had changed their names to appear less ethnic Moe and Curly were born Moses and Jerome Horwitz, while Larry was originally Larry Feinberg. But their films were always filled with Yiddish words, and their Brooklyn accents ("soitenly") were hardly disguised.
The rest of the 21 shorts in this collection contain the usual assortment of Stooge-style cartoonish mayhem, silly puns and juvenile humor, the kind that has endeared the trio to (mostly) boys and men for decades.
But at one particularly perilous time in history, these three Jewish comedians, these Three Stooges, fought back against the fascists with the only weapon they had their sense of humor.
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© 2008, The Sacramento Bee
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