‘Income Tax Sappy’ (1954) was the 153rd short film made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. No dates are available for its production period but the film was released on Tuesday, February 2nd, 1954 so we may assume it was photographed sometime during the calendar year 1953. It’s one of the weakest of the Shemp entries but, despite not being funny, remains interesting to me as a rumination on the psychopathology of Moe Howard. In most of the early to middle-era Stooges shorts (1934-50) Moe’s violence serves a purpose: he’s the boss, the person responsible for keeping this family of three morons organized and free from authority’s grasp. Given the incompetence of his partners one can understand his frustration, though it’s hardly possible to excuse his violence. Nonetheless, it’s how he runs things and the others are resigned to it. But somewhere around the early 50s Moe’s violence takes on a masochism that’s unusually disturbing. It becomes more of a reflexive pursuit, a kind of hobby which he indulges in, using any excuse to inflict new atrocities that are usually over-responsive to whatever the offense was that triggered him. The effect on Larry and Shemp is to make them more like abused children, living in fear of the authority figure who will cruelly inflict punishment upon them at any time whether deserving or not. Thus the humor of the earlier Stooge interactions–based on Moe’s flailing attempts at imposing order upon the team–has diminshed, leaving us with a dark, angry, violent man who is by now wallowing in wielding his brutal authority. He’s also reduced the others to his servants, angrily ordering them around to make his lunch, make coffee etc. Oh well. At least Joe Besser isn’t in this one.
To finish things up: the two IRS agents who come to arrest the Stooges at the end are played by Stooge regular Vernon Dent and Joe Palma (Shemp’s stunt double and the ‘Fake Shemp’ we see in the shorts finished after Shemp’s death). Dent received no screen credit and would appear in only three more Stooge shorts. Apparently he was already suffering from diabetes when this film was made and was losing his eyesight. Only two years later Shemp was dead. Dent attended the funeral and was, by that time, completely blind and had to be led to Shemp’s casket. Character actor Emil Sitka was one of many at the event who did not know Dent had lost his sight Sitka remembered:
Vernon came into the parlor, wearing a yarmulke like everyone else since this was a Jewish ceremony. He was led in by his arm, and brought up to Shemp’s casket. The man accompanying Vernon told him, “this is Shemp.” Vernon was staring straight ahead at the wall – it was then that I realized he was blind. Vernon felt Shemp’s hand, then his face very gently. Everyone else had been filing past the casket quickly, but Vernon took his time, giving a last goodbye to his friend. It was one of the most moving things I ever saw.