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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shemp Howard Comedy Shorts DVD: More Than the Pete Best of the Three Stooges

Vitaphone Comedy Collection Volume 2
"The Vitaphone Comedy Collection Volume 2 - Shemp Howard [1933-1937]" 2-disc DVD set from Warner Archive shows that the featured performer is much more than the fourth stooge in brother Moe's uber-famous comedy trio. The 21 roughly 15-minutes shorts in the collection nicely chronicle the solo career path of this vaudeville/slapstick master.

The set begins with a hysterical short titled "Gobs of Fun, which has two sailors battling a superior and competing for the affections of a woman who seeming has every sailor in her port. Lines such as a ribald response regarding a question of where to put a mop has this vaudeville production border on the risque burlesque genre, but it is still classic fun that is very clean by 2014 standards.

Howard's role in this one is confined to a bit a part as a night club patron who is seeking game.

Howard has a supporting role in the next film, which is titled "Daredevil O'Dare." This circus-themed outing has Howard playing a huckster at a circus that is exploiting the stupidity and naivety of a true man-child who runs away to join that enterprise.

"My Mummy's Arms" is a particularly Stooge-like  outing that gets Howard wrapped up in a quest for the heart of a woman who is accompanying her father on an Egyptian expedition. The comic interplay between Howard's character and his buddy/romantic rival as good, if not better, than anything that the Stooges produced.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from this film provides a sense of its fun and the talent of Howard.

A series of shorts based on the Joe Palooka comic strip supplement the films that feature Howard playing one shot characters. Howard portrays the titular prize fighter's friend/manager/exploiter Knobby Walsh, which is a role that Jimmy Durante plays in the 1934 feature-length Palooka film.

The first of the seven Palooka shorts featuring Howard is aptly titled "For Pete's Sake" because the titular character plays a significant role in Palooka winning the fight that launches his career and the series of shorts. A train station manager who has the same lanky body, high-pitched voice, and nervous disposition of Don Knotts' Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show" makes an already funny and clever movie hilarious.

The long and short of it regarding these offerings is that they provide a rare and special look at Howard's career outside his Stooge persona. They also make viewers lament the death of vaudeville.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding this collection is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.