There were many third stooges over the years. It started with Shemp, then Curly took over when the act got big. Shemp came back when Curly got sick and stuck with the act until his death. He was replaced in 1957 by Joe Besser. Truth be told, Besser is probably my least favorite stooge. He’s many people’s least favorite stooge. His whiny persona was a stark contrast to Curly and Shemp. However, he was a skilled comedian who had a successful career making short subjects before he joined up with Moe and Larry. Although our somewhat spooky short today, is actually a bit of a remake of a Three Stooges classic..it’s 1951’s Fraidy Cat.
Besser is teamed up with Hawthorne (full name Jim Hawthorne but credited only as “Hawthorne”). The boys work for the Wide Awake Detective Agency. Problem is, all the places they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on have been robbed in recent days. Rumor has it that the robberies are being pulled off by a large ape. Besser and Hawthorne are given just one more chance not to screw things up.
The duo heads off to the antique shop they are supposed to guard. Unknown to them, the ape is already inside. As they investigate, the two detectives get more and more scared. At one point, Joe sits down in a rocking chair to relax, while a cat sits right next to it with it’s tail moving back and forth underneath the rocking legs of the chair. Of course, when the tail gets caught, Joe freaks out. At one point he is so scared that he jumps into a bed and put the covers over his head. He doesn’t realize that he has also knocked a rubber mask of a sinister face onto his foot. So every time he peeks above the covers, he sees the devilish face staring at him. There is also a gag late in the film involving Joe getting his head stuck in a prop guillotine and a mannequin head that Hawthorne assumes is the decapitated Joe.
In wasn’t until after I started watching Fraidy Cat that I realized this was a remake. Visions of Curly doing many of the same gags Besser was doing were dancing in my head. Though it’s not beat for beat, this is a remake of the 1943 Stooges short Dizzy Detectives, which is a certifiable classic. While I admire Besser’s talents as a comedian, this short just can’t escape the fact that Moe, Larry and Curly did it better…much better. Beyond the truth that you can’t out Curly Curly, this short really does reinforce how well the three person dynamic worked for the Stooges. Here we have just two characters, so Hawthorne has the impossible task of trying to be both Moe and Larry…and it just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t help that Hawthorne is not at all impressive in this short. His delivery of the lines is a bit too bombastic and he can’t seem to figure out whether he should be the straight man or mug for the camera. Besser still delivers some solid laughs, though. Yes he’s doing Curly’s gags, but adds a bit of his own touch that is still funny.
For Halloween viewing, Fraidy Cat doesn’t play up the spooky elements of the story quite as well as the Stooges original does. From a comedy standpoint it’s only mildly amusing. In the end, the film will primarily be of interest to Stooges completists.