Those of you out there whose weeks are already off to a rough start, I implore you to take this small break and celebrate what would have been the birthday of Moses Harry Horwitz. Moe, of Bensonhurst Brooklyn, was the hectoring leader of The Three Stooges and, in his youth, a chronic truant and an avid reader of Horatio Alger books. He would have been 104 today.
For further reading, I direct you to J. Hoberman’s stellar piece on the history of The Three Stooges and its newest celluloid reboot.
I couldn’t at age 10 but I now embrace my inner Stoogishness. The guys may not make me laugh but I do feel a connection. Angry Moe suggests a tyrannical, frustrated immigrant father; the spectacle of dysfunctional brothers squabbling their way through one failed enterprise after another is a nightmare of non-adaptation. Moreover, their shorts do shout out with gratuitous snatches of Yiddish. The best-known occurs in Mutts to You (1938) where Larry, supposedly speaking Chinese, tells a cop to bug off in fluent, idiomatic Yinglish: “Hak mir nisht ayn tshaynik [don’t rattle my tea-pot] and I don’t mean efsha [maybe]!” And, no efsha about it, the Stooges did make a prematurely anti-fascist movie, albeit one so lowbrow as to have escaped the scrutiny of the 1941 Senate hearings that investigated Hollywood for its supposedly war-mongering anti-German movie propaganda.
This notable achievement is You Nazty Spy! in which, wearing an oversized military great coat and combing his hair to one side of his forehead, Moe plays the dictator of Moronika with Curly and Larry his Field Marshal and Minister of Propaganda. The movie was released in January 1940, nine months in advance of Chaplin’s Great Dictator. Additionally striking are the ways in which the Stooges foreground themselves as Jews, shouting “Sholom Aleichem” in unison in their first scene, expressing an irrational love of blintzes and sour cream in another. The sequel I’ll Never Heil Again (1941) is borderline blasphemous including “Yom Kippers” as a country that Moronika plans to conquer.
Dumb, Dumber, Dumberest [Tablet]