In my younger days, I spent many summer afternoons watching old Three Stooges films on channel 32 in Chicago. My grandfather especially loved the stooges, so I have fond memories of watching them with him. Their films were shown on television over and over summer after summer. I imagine I have probably seen all of their 190 short subjects at some point. Well, maybe 189 of them, because I know that it wasn’t until now that I got to see their very first short subject. It is perhaps one of the most atypical stooges films, 1934’s Woman Haters.
In this film the boys play the newest members of the Woman Haters Club. The organization is against its members becoming romantically involved with any woman. After a ceremonial eye poke from the group’s leader (frequent stooges co-star Bud Jamison) the boys are in the club. There’s just one problem, eventually Larry becomes smitten with a beautiful young woman, Mary (Marjorie White), and proposes to her.
Of course, Moe and Curly try to talk Larry out of the wedding. He’s all set to break it off until he hears what Mary’s father did to the guy that tried to break off an engagement with her sister. So, the two are married and hop a train for the honeymoon. Moe and Curly follow them, however, and start causing trouble. When Mary overhears them talking about the Woman Haters club, she decides to cause some trouble of her own. She starts flirting with the other two causing them to rethink their woman hating ways. Naturally, there’s lots of slapping, eye-poking, and head clunks as the three battle for her affection.
Now, even though I’ve been referring to the stooges and Moe, Larry, and Curly, that’s actually not the names they go by in this film. Moe is Tom, Larry is Jim, and Curly is Jack. Even stranger is that Larry…er Jim…is the primary character. Traditionally, Moe was the boss of the stooges. Larry tended to side with either Moe or Curly (or Shemp, Joe, whoever) depending on who had the upper hand. He rarely took the primary role. And while we’re on the subject of things that are out of the ordinary, the stooges sing in this one! This film, though the first short for the stooges, was actually the sixth film in Columbia’s Musical Novelties series. Almost all of the dialogue rhymes and is delivered in a sort of sing-song manner. Though amusing, at times, the rhyming does eventually wear a little thin.
Though there is some fun to be had with this film, it’s clear that at this point the studio may not have really known what to do with these three knuckleheads. There are hints of the type of comedy the stooges would become known for, but these moments feel somewhat tacked on. Likewise, the classic personalities of the stooges are only halfway there. They aren’t really allowed to be themselves. Curly’s voice isn’t even as high-pitched as it would be later.
Now, I don’t want it to seem like I’m giving Woman Haters a big eye-poke. When the stooges are allowed to do their thing they are still hilarious in this short. Leading lady Marjorie White is also very funny. Her petite but feisty character is a good match for the boys. The premise is also well suited to the stooges, even if the musical nature is not the best fit for them. However, I will say that the ending is a bit confusing, featuring Moe and Curly as old men still hanging out at the Woman Haters Club visited by their long-lost pal Larry.
Woman Haters will provide a few smiles, but the stooges really didn’t hit their stride until their next film, Punch Drunks…which is certifiable classic. This film is still worth a look, but thank goodness we didn’t come to know the stooges as Tom, Jim and Jack!
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