‘Booby Dupes’ (1945) is the 84th two-reel short subject made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed from Wednesday, September 27 though Saturday, September 30, 1944 and released on Saturday, March 17, 1945. The film rests firmly in the bottom rung of the Curly shorts, with labored sight gags, unfunny situations and uncertain pacing, an ‘exterior beach’ set that is so incredibly an ‘interior beach’ set that it makes you wonder if that was part of the joke (it wasn’t). The film could be called a remake of Laurel and Hardy’s classic ‘Towed In A Hole’ (1932) but, in fact, wholesale plagiarism is the more appropriate term. The story–the boys are fish sellers who decide to sell their car to buy a boat and catch fish themselves thereby ‘cutting out the middle-man’–is the same but its the weird repetition of L&H gags in the hands of the Stooges (the car they drive has a radio that’s actually a 78RPM record player underneath the hood) that make it a rather astonishing exercise in comedy appropriation. The director Del Lord (one of their best) also wrote the script and ten years earlier he’d been working for Hal Roach, L&H’s producer, directing short comedies with Billy Gilbert and Ben Blue. So he most certainly knew the original and–who knows?–maybe did a little uncredited work on it as well, thus giving him the confidence to rip himself off.

‘Booby Dupes’ can be looked at by Stooge-ologists as a sort of ‘bridge film’ between healthy Curly and unhealthy Curly. The first half of the movie features the Curly Howard of old, with sharp timing and confident moves but as the film progresses things seem to slow down for him. His physical comedy is all but depleted and when he gamely attempts to jump in and out of the boat one fears for his balance. My guess is that the chronic brain injuries he had suffered over the previous ten years as a result of head trauma began to prevent him for having the energy for making it through a four-day shoot without a noticeable slowdown. Add to that the fact that Moe’s brutality in this film toward his partners is painful to watch, plus the ending where Air Force flyers think the Stooges are ‘the Japs’, and ‘Booby Dupes’ is one of the least enjoyable of the Curly outings. So why am I showing it? Because in the pursuit of all things Stooge we must be completists. And even a low point for the Stooges is instructive and often funny in spite of itself. Unless, of course, we’re talking about one of the Joe Besser shorts…


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