‘Oily To Bed, Oily To Rise’ (1939) is the forty-second short film made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed from Thursday, March 16th through Monday, March 20th, 1939 and released on Monday, October 6th of that year. Make sure to pause and crank up the volume at the ten minute mark; Curly bumps his head into the door while walking backward and singing ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ and you can hear the crew crack up. A nice little ‘meta-moment’ of Stooge-ology.
These were not exactly easy films to make. We know that the studio worked a six-day week during those years and, by examining the above dates of the filming, we see that its likely they worked from the Thursday through the Monday without taking Sunday off. Breaking the film down into sections, it seems unlikely that it could have been accomplished in less than five shooting days as there are a number of complex elements at work. There are quite a few car stunts, a good deal of soundstage process work–the rear projection of the car as well as Curly ‘riding’ the oil gusher toward the end–and the explosion of the oil well (at 13:45). Curly is told to sit on the gushing well to cork it and a long shot shows some sort of Curly-Dummy bouncing on the gusher (14:20). Was it being controlled by wires? Was there a special unit assigned to these films to develop and create stunts such as these? When you consider that this was one of nine shorts made by the Stooges that year, one can see how prodigious and exhausting the work schedule must have been for all. And remember, the Stooges weren’t the only two-reel comedy series on the Columbia lot. There was also Andy Clyde, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Hugh Herbert, all with series of their own. Multiple scripts were simultaneously being churned out by different teams of writers but only a handful of directors handled all these shorts–Jules White (who directed this one and who was the head of the short-subject unit) and Del Lord handled most of them, with a few being directed by Charley Chase and White’s brother Jack (who used the pseudonym Preston Black). In the mid-forties Edward Bernds became White’s ‘second’ director and it was just the two of them after Del Lord died later in the decade. What awful materials were used to create the ‘oil’ that they coat Curly in and that Moe gets in his face? In his autobiography Moe Howard recalled this event from the making of the film:
I remember once when the prop man concocted a smorgasbord of gook: chocolate, whipped cream, asbestos chips, linseed oil, ketchup, and other unknown goodies. The plot had us in one scene trying to repair a water pump. After many attempts, I took a screwdriver, knelt down, peered into the mouth of the pump, and jiggled the screwdriver inside of it. Gazing up the opening, I jiggled again and then looked up a third time. Suddenly, a blob of assorted gunk got me right in the eye … and … it took hours to clean me up for the next scene.