The Columbia Short Subjects department of the 1930s-50s will remain immortal, of course, for being the home of the Three Stooges. But many other comics had series of their own, most have which went straight from the theaters to the home for old crappy movies. They didn’t seem to even make it into TV syndication (which was where the Stooges found a renewed and enthusiastic audience in the 60s and 70s) and frankly, without Youtube, I imagine they wouldn’t be available pretty much anywhere. But thanks (?) to Youtube a lot of them are viewable. Just because they can be viewed, though, doesn’t mean that they need to be viewed. Most are cut from the same story cloth as Stooges movies–private detectives, scary houses, bad repairmen, husbands in trouble etc.–only without the saving grace of Moe/Larry/Curly/Shemp. (Note that I stopped before Joe Besser and Joe De Rita neither of whom, as a Stooge purist, I count as proper third stooges). Many of the comedians were either on their way down (Hugh Herbert) or comedians-in-development like the aforementioned Besser and De Rita.
Joe De Rita who’s best remembered (if he’s remembered at all) for being the last of the Stooges-the irritatingly named ‘Curly-Joe’–had his own short subject series at Columbia and it’s baffling as to why. As a comic he barely registers–neither funny, vulnerable, skilled at stunts and seemingly talent-free. So why have I posted a 1948 short of his called ”Jitter Bughouse’? Because I find this laugh-free comedy fascinating for what it appears to secretly be–which is a view inside the exhausted but entrepreneurial mind of producer/director Jules White. First of all, he casts De Rita in the role of the boss/manager of a gang of three goofy comedian musicians. Was White harkening back to the era of Ted Healy and his THREE STOOGES? But De Rita has none of Healy’s roughhouse charm and the three ‘stooges’–a band known as ‘The Nov-Elites’–shouldn’t be mentioned in the same paragraph as Moe/Larry/Curly/Shemp etc. (Notice that I left out Joe and Curly Joe again). Conversely, De Rita bears a vague resemblance to young Curly–albeit a very meek, watered-down, antic-free Curly. Was White mashing up both the Healy-Stooges incarnation with a little test-run to see if De Rita might fill Curly’s all-too-big shoes or Healy’s long forgotten ones? By adding the lovely Christine McIntyre (she’s a welcome relief when she arrives at 10:08) and Emil Sitka–who does his demonic-nutbag routine–we’re firmly in post-war Stoogeville. The fact that De Rita eventually did become a third stooge thus supports my theory that this film was actually a dry-run of sorts, a testing ground for further ever-weaker comedy efforts. ‘Jitter Bughouse’ has attracted a scant 519 views on Youtube and I’m going to check back in a few days to see if anyone reading this entry has given it a shot. All films deserve a little love, don’t you think? Or at least a few minutes viewing. As a piece of arcana I find it quite interesting. But as a comedy…well, perhaps the funniest thing about it is that the cameraman’s name is Rex Wimpy.