Thursday, 17 November 2016
SPOOK LOUDER (1943)
For The Three Stooges 69th Columbia short in 1943, director Del Lord chose to remake a comedy he’d shot for Mack Sennett in 1932 called The Great Pie Mystery. The significance of the title will soon become clear (or rather unclear) as Spook Louder is a bizarre and slapdash slap-stick effort that has one surreal gag that works and one that makes no logical sense at all amidst the mayhem.
A reporter (Stanley Brown) looking for a story interviews crackpot Special Investigator Professor J. Ogden Dunkfeather (Lew Kelly) who we can tell is a dingbat on entry as he studies a skull with a magnifying glass and concludes dandruff-related suicide from it. In flashback, he relates the story of Ted Lorch’s barking mad wealthy spy Mr Graves and how he relates to our trio. The Stooges classic line-up still of Larry, Moe and Curly begin as door-to-door salesmen hawking a reducing machine gizmo consisting of a skull-cap rigged up via wires to a complicated box of valves which jiggles the wearer furiously enough to shake off excess pounds (or make cocktails, as Curly helpfully suggests).
They are admitted to Graves’ mansion by his butler Charles Middleton, best known as the suavely menacing Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials and later as we shall see in the Bowery Boys’ own horror-comedy Spook Busters (1946). Graves mistakes the Stooges for his new caretakers, who are happy to go along with the chance to make some actual money despite the evident fact that he is insane with anti-Japanese spy paranoia. It turns out his madness is partly fuelled by his dastardly invention of a Death Ray of which he proudly boasts: “It will destroy millions!” While he heads to a secret Washington meeting, he instructs the Stooges to defend his eerie home from Jap spies, equipping them with a cartoon cannon-ball bomb plus wick for defence.
As Graves leaves, an American spy threesome led by Stooges’ regular Stanley Blystone lie in wait, dressed as a skeleton, a devil and for some reason a priest respectively. Larry, Moe and Curly then spend the next ten minutes negotiating such spooky elements as a cat tinkling the piano’s ivories and a hairy taloned hand abducting Moe and then trapping his head in a revolving book-case (played to better effect in Young Frankenstein). This scene contains the film’s funniest nonsense gag where Curly retrieves some volumes from a shelf and is repeatedly bashed by a boxing-gloved hand whose owner is never explained.
The skeleton-outfitted spy appears at the door prompting the lily-livered Larry’s hat to inflate in fear, echoed by Moe’s literal hair-raising in terror. Goodness knows how these characters function even in their make-believe world as they’re even terrified of a face-painted balloon! The team’s reliance on constant panicky ‘nyah-ahhh-ahhh’s to mask a lack of quality soon grates, rendering this a weak two-reeler mostly devoid of decent laughs. By the time Curly accidentally lights the bomb wick and blows up the house and spies with it, it’s not the only bomb on offer.
The oddest running sight-gag is a recurring pie-in-the-face hitting the trio from an unknown assailant. Each time we cut back to the increasingly-curious reporter dying to know the phantom pie-flinger’s identity, the Professor teases out the answer till finally admitting it is in fact he before receiving a faceful himself. John Cleese talked of the ‘internal logic’ of comedy plotting in his rigorous approach to structuring the peerless Fawlty Towers. Here, we are confused rather than amused by even a reliable laugh generator like a custard-pie because we don’t understand where it comes from or why. Shame on Mr Lord for passing-off such a half-baked gag in a weak-kneed comedy.