There were many incarnations of the Three Stooges over the years. While Moe Howard and Larry Fine were always there, four different individuals filled the role of the third stooge. They began in vaudeville with Shemp, who was replaced by Curly as the act moved to the screen. Shemp returned when Curly fell ill in 1946. When Shemp died nine years later he was replaced briefly by Joe Besser. The “last stooge” was Curly Joe DeRita. His time with the act saw the group having a resurge in popularity due to their old shorts appearing on television. This led to a series of feature films made in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The second of which was a big Technicolor Cinemascope fantasy film…1959’s Snow White and the Three Stooges.
The story is sort of the Snow White story you know, with a few changes here and there. The Princess Snow White (Carol Heiss) is the most beautiful girl in the land, and so her wicked stepmother, the Queen (Patricia Medina) plots to have a huntsman eliminate her. He doesn’t have the heart to kill her, though, so he allows her to escape and she runs off to the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. However, the little guys are on an extended journey. Fear not, for the traveling medicine show of the Three Stooges is in the area and they have an open invitation to stay at the dwarfs’ cottage whenever they want. Also along with the stooges is their handsome ward Quatro (Edson Stroll)…who is actually Prince Charming. He also escaped the murderous Queen as a boy, but has no idea of his royal heritage…or that he was betrothed to Snow White.
Soon the Queen and her evil second in command, Count Oga (Guy Rolfe), figure out Quatro’s true identity and have him captured. The stooges attempt a rescue, but though Quatro fights gallantly, he ends up dead. Or so everyone thinks. He actually ends up with a group who want to defeat the queen and starts planning an attack on castle. Meanwhile, the queen hatches her plan to get rid of Snow White once and for all with that ultimate of weapons…the poison apple.
There’s one important thing I forgot to mention about this film…there’s figure skating, too. Yes, you heard me right…the Three Stooges in a fairytale with ice skating. Carol Heiss was an Olympic skater in the 50’s, so both an opening musical number and a dream sequence later in the film take place on skates. It’s more than a little strange. The sequences are well done; though the skating versions of the stooges are clearly doubles. It brought back memories of going to see the Ice Capades with my grandparents every year at the old Chicago Stadium. I will say, though, that Heiss is a better skater than she an actress, for sure.
The big problem with the film, though, is that it doesn’t make good use of the Three Stooges. With the boys now appearing regularly on kiddie TV, this movie is coming right at the time where some parents were starting to complain that they were too violent for kids. So here we get a kinder gentler version of the stooges. There’s very little slapping, only a rare head clunk, and I don’t think there was a single eye gouge in the whole thing. The bits of slapstick that are there are done without the usual sound effects, so they aren’t as funny. Bottom line is, the stooges are never allowed the opportunity to be the stooges. Sure their loyalty and camaraderie is good for a few smiles, but their violent charm is gone.
The production is still fairly impressive, though. The sets are quite nice, invoking images of older swashbucklers like The Adventures of Robin Hood. Edson Stroll certainly tries to put on his best Errol Flynn and if he’s anywhere near a stairway he’s sure to have a sword duel on it. A few nice matte paintings are employed, as well. It’s certainly not the most spectacular production, but it does make decent use of the Cinemascope process. Clearly, though, this is a film that was made with kids in mind. On that level it certainly has it’s charms. Without the violence of the classic Stooges films, however, it was a bit too flat for this fan.
This review is Forgotten Films’ contribution to the Cinemascope Blogathon, hosted by Wide Screen World and Classic Becky’s Brain Food. Visit those sites to check out all the great posts from a wide variety of film bloggers.