‘Gents Without Cents’ (1944) is the 81st short comedy made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed from Wednesday, June 14 through Friday, June 16, 1944 and was released on Friday, September 22nd of that year (the 266th day in the Gregorian calendar). The abbreviated shooting schedule (three days instead of the usual four) is due to the fact that a large chunk of the film–the vaudeville routine most people refer to as ‘Niagra Falls’– had been shot for an entirely different movie, the 1943 wartime musical feature ‘Good Luck Mr. Yates’, and then dropped from the release version. Never one to think of a scrap as anything but a potential meal, Columbia’s short subject unit head Jules White built a new short around the already filmed routine. It appears that “Good Luck Mr. Yates’ has something to do with a “thrilling tribute to our home-front heroines’. Does that get us closer to understanding why the orchestra is populated by men wearing helmets? It was probably set in a riveting factory.
The ‘Niagra Falls’ routine was an old vaudeville sketch, properly referred to as ‘Slowly I Turned’. A number of different comedians claimed authorship for it over the years including Joey Faye, Harry Steppe and Samuel Goldman but there were no royalties to be had for vaudeville routines. Like casual everyday jokes, the creators were invisible and the material was passed around via word of mouth. It’s possible the Stooges knew the routine from their own vaudeville years and suggested including it in ‘Good Luck Mr. Yates.’ But why was it cut? It’s a memorable routine and memorably performed by the Stooges–later Abbott and Costello would do a version in their early 1950s TV show and Danny Thomas and Joey Faye also did it on ‘The Danny Thomas Show’. Somehow, though, the Stooges seem to own it–whenever I’ve heard it described it’s always referred to as a Stooges routine, and a beloved one at that. Note also Larry’s screw-up at the end of the sketch (12:27)–he and Moe are supposed to be in sync while saying ‘step-by-step, inch-by-inch’ but Larry reverses the order. (Of course it would be Larry who would blow the line—he was routinely denounced by co-workers as lazy, never on time, unrehearsed, playing cards and betting on horses etc.) Why the director decided to live with it instead of grabbing a second take is a mystery buried deep in the tomb that contains the residual shards and ashes of B-movie wartime musicals.
‘Gents Without Cents’ is a mixed bag–there’s plenty to skip over (a stupid and protracted bathtub gag where the three of them mime taking a bath with their clothes on) as well as the hideous gymnastic act performed by the justly forgotten team of ‘Lindsey, Laverne and Betty’. The Stooges also do a dopey laugh-free sketch set during World War 1. But of interest is a Danny Kaye-style number called (I suppose) “Rat-tat-toodle-oodle-day-ay”. The scat singing section features parodies of Tojo (Larry), Mussolini (Curly), and Hitler (Moe) and coincides neatly with world historical events; D-Day was on June 6th and filming on ‘Gents Without Cents’ commenced ten days later.