Friday, April 13, 2012

The Three Stooges vs. Abbott & Costello

Today, Friday April 13, 2012, is the day that the brand new Farrelly Brothers movie "The Three Stooges" opens in theaters. This is an event that has been a long time in coming. It was a few years back when this project was first announced. That announcement was immediately met with a lot of questions, doubts and derision from Three Stooges fans around the world. There was a general belief that this movie (if it ever even came to fruition) would suck. The Farrelly Brothers have certainly made a lot of funny movies, but how would they go about bringing the Stooges to the big screen? Would they make it a standard, cookie-cutter gross-out comedy (which seems to be the flavor of the day)? Would they try to replicate the original Stooges experience in every way possible? Would they update the characters to better fit in with today's world? Hollywood is currently very "remake" "re-imagining" and "reboot" happy. The results of these unoriginal ideas tend to be disappointing much more often than not. Whatever the approach, it seemed very unlikely that the Farrellys would be able to capture the magic that made the real Three Stooges such a time-tested classic.

Then the casting choices started to be announced. Names like Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro were supposedly attached to the project at various times. While Jim Carrey is a hilarious actor (when the script calls for it), the other two big names were real head-scratchers. It was certainly a bold move, but one that sent up big warning signs for fans of the Stooges. Unfortunately (or fortunately) those three actors were ultimately replaced. After a few more rounds of casting calls (where Paul Giamatti and Hank Azaria were supposedly in the mix at one time ot another) the new version of The Three Stooges was finally settled upon. The only one who was relatively well-known (to me at least) was Sean Hayes (from the TV show "Will & Grace") playing Larry. Chris Diamantopoulus and Will Sasso ("Mad TV") were to play Moe and Curly respectively (if not respectfully). I personally was heartened to see that they settled for lesser-known actors rather than established big stars. Total unknowns might have been even better, but who knows? Even with the three actors cast there was still much doubt that this movie would be anything worth seeing. It seemed like the whole thing could be a disaster of "Titanic" proportions (sorry I had to add that, with tomorrow being the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking).

Then something unforeseen and surprising happened. The first photos were released of the new Stooges. And, they actually looked very much like the old Stooges. That didn't mean that the movie would be any good of course, but it was nice to see that they were putting some effort into recreating at least the appearance of the stooges rather than doing a total "re-imagination" of them.

Not a great shot, but the first image I saw of the new Three Stooges
And, finally, a number of months ago the first official trailer for the movie was released. I can only imagine that the Farrelly brothers were nervous about what the reaction would be. They simply HAD to know what was being said about this project by Stooge-o-philes ever since it was announced. Well, the trailer was pretty hilarious (in my opinion at least). I've never been a huge Three Stooges fan (see below), but this trailer gave me quite a bit of hope that this movie might actually be worth seeing.

Over the past few months I have gradually gone from being a skeptic to being cautiously optimistic about the movie. An old friend of mine (who is a bigger Stooges fan than I) and I occasionally get a chance to see a movie together. It's a much more rare event than it was back in the carefree days of our youth. It takes a lot more work and planning to pull it off now that we both have wives, kids and homes of our own. Most of the time we try to see science-fiction and horror movies that we're been eagerly anticipating. But The Three Stooges has become a must see for us. It certainly could still suck, but we're excited about going to see it to find out for ourselves.

I am writing this on Friday afternoon. The movie has already been played hundreds of times across the country. As of this moment I still have not read or heard any reviews. It's very likely that the word will get out all over the internet very soon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be deemed worthy by long-time hardcore Three Stooges fans.

And now onto the real reason for this post. I grew up in the 1970s when The Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello were still heavily featured on television. In the Boston area we had some great independent stations that regularly showed them. Other channels would show Abbott & Costello movies and Three Stooges movies and shorts pretty frequently, but there were two channels you could count on to get a regular fix of comedy from these guys. WSBK TV38 would air Stooges shorts on weekend mornings and WSMW Channel 27 (out of Worcester) would air A&C movies on Saturday evenings at 6:00. These were the main times I remember watching them. In one of the greatest links to old-school local TV programming, WSBK 38 actually STILL shows The Stooges on Sunday mornings! Not only that, but they also have had a long-standing tradition of running Stooges marathons every New Year's Eve. Channel 27 stopped its 6:00 Saturday screenings of A&C movies in the early 1980s when the pay-per-view Preview Channel debuted. For a while they still showed A&C films earlier in the day (before Preview Channel programming started in the late afternoon) until Preview expanded and took up most of WSMW's airtime. The channel is still around today, but is now part of the spanish language Univision network.

Here are a few TV Guide ads for Abbott & Costello movies on Channel 27
"Hold That Ghost"
March 20, 1976

"Who Done It?"
October 2, 1976

"Abbott & Costello go to Mars"
October 23, 1976

Here's an example of just how much A&C and the Stooges were all over Boston TV.  This is an ad for Abbott & Costello's "Here Come the Coeds" on WSBK TV38 on Sunday September 23, 1979 at 10:30AM--a slot usually reserved for Stooges shorts around this time

And here's some images from channel 38's New Year's Eve Stooges 2012 Marathon

Marathon hosts The Andelman brothers (from the show The Phantom Gourmet)

Thanks to TV I was exposed to both The Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello as a kid and have an appreciation for both of them. But I definitely was (and still am) more of an Abbott & Costello fan. They were both classic comedy acts that had a basis in the vaudeville tradition, but were different from each other, and both great in their own way. There were plenty of other comedy acts to choose from (Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Martin & Lewis among them), but I always think of the Stooges and A&C as the cream of the classic comedy crop. That's probably due more to the regularity that channels 27 and 38 aired them back in the day than any actual thought out reason on my part.

Speaking of both teams' background in vaudeville and burlesque, I also feel very lucky to have grown up at a time when they were still on TV a lot.  I wasn't born until decades after vaudeville went the way of the dinosaurs, but I feel that I have some degree of appreciation for that form of entertainment--not only because I'm interested in history in general, but because of the Stooges and A&C.  They both started out doing their comedy live and moved into film, television and radio years later.  Much of their acts and many of their routines were straight from their days in vaudeville.  Since those movies and shorts were still on the air in the 1970s when I was a kid they gave me a sort of direct (or indirect) link straight back to the days of live vaudeville.  Not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I'l bet most kids today have no idea what vaudeville even was.

I've exposed The Little Monster (and now her younger sister too) to both Abbott & Costello and The Three Stooges. I'll let them decide which ones they ultimately prefer (if either). The Little Monster has seen a couple Stooges movies and a few of their shorts. But I do have to admit that she's seen more of Abbott & Costello. Not only am I a bit biased toward them, but I also just happen to own the awesome "Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection" box set, which boasts all 28 movies that they made for Universal.

Image borrowed from

The Little Monsters watching "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" last October

I would argue that most people are either Three Stooges people or Abbott & Costello people (just like there are Elvis people and Beatles people). One can certainly have an appreciation for both, but ultimately would choose one over the other. I'm sure it could be argued that one's preference says something about them. What that might be I have no idea. Of course these days I'm sure there are a lot of kids out there who don't have any idea who these people were and have no interest in discovering them. They are relics from an ancient past that is too far in the past to be of interest, and there are simply too many other high-tech distractions to keep kids occupied today. That fact in itself might just be the best reason for the Farrelly Brothers to make a Three Stooges movie at this time. Long-time fans might have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but if it exposes a new generation to the old comedy teams of the 30s, 40s and 50s then it might not be such a bad thing. And if a few of those kids are inspired to take the time to look even further and find out more about the real Three Stooges (and maybe even some of the other acts), well then it could end up being a very good thing indeed!


Here are a couple images from channel 38's "Sunday With The Stooges" show on April 15, 2012--during the opening weekend of the new Stooges movie.  The tradition continues!


  1. Awesome stuff. Abbott and Costello for life

  2. it's 2015 update this

    1. Well, as far as I know, The Stooges and Abbott & Costello are all still dead, so there doesn't seem to be too much to update--other than the fact that the Stooges movie got pretty mixed reviews. People seemed to really like it or really hate it. I really liked it.