‘Commotion On The Ocean’ (1956) is the 174th short comedy made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed on Tuesday, January 17th 1956 and released on Thursday, November 8th of that year. The abbreviated shooting schedule (a single day) was due to the fact that Shemp Howard had died six weeks prior to the filming (on Tuesday, November 22nd 1955–he and some friends were driving home after an evening at the prize fights when Shemp expired of a heart attack in the backseat). Technically, the Three Stooges still owed Columbia Pictures five more comedies on their current contract and nobody’s ever gotten rich in show-biz by showing compassion; Columbia didn’t give a shit if Shemp was dead or not, they were going to get those last five comedies. Accordingly, writer Felix Adler and director Jules White plundered the Stooge archives and came up with two previous Shemp shorts, ‘Dunked In The Deep’ (1949) and ‘Crime On Their Hands’ (1948). and cobbled them together into one new short. The necessary connecting footage was shot using Shemp’s double Joe Palma, leading to the creation of the phrase ‘Fake Shemps’, meaning body doubles more often than not poorly deployed. The clearest Fake Shemp in this one comes at 1:57 where, for reasons that elude me, a short bit of new slapstick between Moe and Larry was inserted in which ‘Shemp’ becomes entangled. Palma dutifully covers his face and the incident passes without much notice. However the singles of Moe and Larry place Shemp’s shoulders in frame–and they don’t appear to be a real persons shoulders, but rather a stuffed mannequin’s. (Perhaps this leads us to a new category– ‘Stuffed Shemp’s’). The other new, connective scenes feature Moe and Larry as a comedy duo–and boy, do we miss that third stooge! At one point it appears that Shemp’s absence was of some concern to Adler and White and so a quick exchange between Moe and Larry was inserted:

  • Moe: “I wonder what became of that Shemp?”
  • Larry: “You know he went up on deck to scout for some food.

The ghoulishness of having your longtime partner (and in Moe’s case brother) die yet being forced to act as if he’s alive can’t be overlooked. As such, ‘Commotion On The Ocean’, while largely laugh-free, is an interesting experience of the ‘meta-viewing’ variety; just what was the atmosphere on the set like on that sad Tuesday, January 17, when only two stooges remained to clean up the remains of the third…


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2 Responses

  1. I gotta say, this statement would make my girlfriend cringe, but this weekly analysis of the 3 Stooges films has given me a new appreciation for the work of Shemp in the group, (ANY analysis of The 3S for that matter would do it). Very pro Curly from childhood, I was actually still disappointed when the first non-Curly film came up in your queue. Buit giving him a fair chance, he is good. thank you for taking me here, albeit late in life. 🙂

    1. I’m with you Gary. Shemp appeals to me more now in middle-age then when I was a kid. I’ll always put Curly on top but there’s a subtle characterization that Shemp brings that’s clear to see when one’s a little older. He’s got what so many of us have inside; bravado, fear, confusion, cowardice, optimism.

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