‘Playing The Ponies’ (1937) is the 26th short film made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed from Wednesday, May 12 through Wednesday, May 19, 1937 and was released on Friday, October 15th of that year. I present this film to you today in honor of the decision to shut down Churchill Downs in order to figure out why a dozen horses have died there over the past few months. (I personally find horse racing as decent and humane as dwarf-tossing and am filled with loathing for the owners of the horses who take those silly photos after the race with the exhausted animal whilst hoisting a gold cup in the air). The film’s extensive second-half horse-race sequence is likely responsible for the extended shooting schedule–one full week is almost twice the amount of time normally allotted for a typical Stooge shoot. The first half of the film, which takes place in a diner owned and run by the Stooges, is padded at length with labored cooking jokes and a hyper-focus on the three boxes of cordials by the cash register, one of which contains a vile after-meal treat called ‘pepperinos’ which wind up becoming a major focus of the plot. The diner set is a very attractive quasi-streamline moderne design and is worthy of more attention than the action that takes place on it. But the second-half racing scene is extremely well done, with a number of stunts that don’t appear to be tricked-up but actually are achieved practically. I cringe at the thought of what they put that horse through–or perhaps horses (plural) since they likely had another one standing by in case of the first being felled by mistreatment and exhaustion.
It’s worth noting (barely) that this racing comedy comes in the same year as the Marx Brothers ‘A Day At The Races’, and was actually shot three weeks prior to the MGM Marx extravaganza’s release. The fact that the Marx Brothers film was two years in the planning and execution while the Stooge film had probably been scripted a week before the shoot leads us to conclude that ‘Playing The Ponies’ was likely made in order to capitalize on the ballyhoo surrounding the bigger movie. Which brings me to the dumbest Wikipedia sentence ever constructed. It can be found on the bottom of the ‘Playing The Ponies’ entry but I won’t bother you with looking it up. Here’s the sentence in full:
Playing the Ponies would later be remake of 1937’s A Day at the Races starring The Marx Brothers (Groucho Marx, Chico Marx and Harpo Marx) release by MGM (the film were produced by MGM writer, film producer, director and “The Boy Wonder” Irving Thalberg who died in 1936 after the filming began).
Come on, guys. Keep up!