Thursday, November 19, 2009
HERCULES , Moe , Larry and Joe?
THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES (1962)
In the late 50s when Joseph E. Levine brought over HERCULES (starring Steeve Reeves) from Italy, muscleman pictures were a hot commodity, and epic tales of these larger-than-life heroes were pounded out one after the other. At the same time, the decades-old Three Stooges comedy team was enjoying a successful comeback in a series of full-length features from Columbia (most of them dealing with fantastic subject matter) to usher in the kiddy matinee crowd. Situating the bumbling Stooges against a feisty Hercules was a grand idea, even if most sword and sandal pictures were shot in Scope and vivid color (the producers do have a laugh about here, where the opening credits read, “In Glorious Black and White”).
In THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES, the boys (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Joe De Rita) are working in a drug store, right next door to the residence of nerdy, cowardly inventor Schuyler (Quinn K. Redeker, also in Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY). Schuyler has built a time machine, but his blueprints are muddled by the mean Mr. Dimsal (George N. Neise, also one of the “Frankenstein” aliens in THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT), the owner of the drug store who has sights on Schuyler’s girlfriend, the lovely Diane (Vicki Trickett). Being the nice guys that they are, the Stooges try and help spruce up the time machine, yet they along with Schuyler and Diane wind up being transported back to the days of ancient Greece. Landing their wacky aircraft in the center of a battle, they are at first treated as heroes, sent from the gods, by General Odius (Neise), who is aided by the mighty Hercules (Samson Burke). But when the Stooges and their companions realize they’re on the wrong side and release Ulysses from evil Odius’ dungeon, they are sent to the galleys where Schuyler builds his muscles up to Herculoid proportions. When they finally escape, Schuyler is promoted as "Hercules" in a live thrill show to raise enough traveling money to rescue Diane from Odius’ wrath.
Okay, if you can get past Joe Rita as the third Stooge, and if you can past the fact that these guys are not in their prime (Moe was around 65 at the time), then THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES is the perfect way to waste 90 minutes, and you may get a few chuckles out of it. The Stooges still work fine as a comedy team, and even though they’ve slowed down a bit and the usual formula (in all their 60s features) of young lovers as sidekick support is present, the movie is still loaded with enough sight gags and routines (some borrowed from their classic shorts) that make it worthwhile in the capable hands of veteran Stooge director Edward Bernds. As a Hercules who is converted from thug to good guy, Samson Burke is a decent figure, but he’s no actor. One of the most memorable bits in the film concerns a giant Siamese Cyclops monster (played by twins Marlin and Mike McKeever) who Curly Joe sedates with his everlasting supply of “calm down” pills. In smaller roles are the man most associated with the Stooges, Emil Sitka, as an old shepherd; Hal Smith (“The Andy Griffith Show”) as the jovial King Theseus Of Rhodes and; Gene Roth (who was in such Stooges shorts as DUNKED IN THE DEEP and HOT STUFF) as a soldier. Reportedly Larry Fine’s favorite of the Stooges’ features, the film’s success led to Columbia making a three-picture deal with them, and THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, THE THREE STOOGES GO AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAZE and THE OUTLAWS IS COMING followed.
This is the fifth Stooges feature film that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released on DVD (only their first Columbia feature, HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL, remains unreleased on the format), and the quality is superb. For the first time on home video, MEET HERCULES is shown in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. The black and white source material is in excellent shape, with sharp detail, deep blacks and fine contrast, with no evident dirt or other blemishes to be found. The mono audio track is sufficient and serves the films well. Optional English subtitles are also provided. The only extra is a promo trailer for Sony’s two colorized Stooges shorts DVD collections. (George R. Reis)