Those Wacky 3D Stooges!
Ann says my gravitating toward The Three Stooges might imperil our relationship. Are all women so hostile to them? I couldn’t be bothered with the team growing up. Maybe that’s for cutting teeth on their dreadful late-term Columbia features at the Liberty where my only solace was a jumbo Baby Ruth and whatever diversion the trailers provided. Lately I’ve come to enjoy them a lot more. You might almost call it a twilight of life discovery (though hopefully I’m a little early for that). Stooge comedies are in a way best when they’re baddest. I’m all for reversing standards when it comes to these boys. Bring on the stock footage, threadbare sets, and Curly in decline. By these criteria, Volume 8 of Sony's DVD series should be most rewarding of all. The last group out (Vol.7) included long awaited Spooks and Pardon My Backfire, both shot in 3D and here available with glasses for home viewing. My own experience with depth screens has always been problematic. Theatres around here invariably bungled the process. Usually it was too dark projection to blame. 3D needs a lot of light. My exposure to House Of Wax was limited to single-strip reissues indifferently presented. You couldn’t help coming away from these wondering what all the 50’s fuss had been about. We agonized through Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein at Greensboro’s Janus Theatre in 1972, from which I emerged with a headache worse than ones Cody Jarrett got. Showing 3D right required considerable expertise in the booth. Sloppy exhibition was no small reason it flashed in the pan. Nowadays 3D is back and thanks to digital projection, more popular than ever. There are still kinks insofar as watching on our own TV’s owing to technical blocks I won’t pretend to understand. You’d risk migraines watching Spooks were it longer than sixteen minutes. Everything’s thrown at the camera but chairs we’re sitting in. I like 3D best when it’s purely exploitative. Spooks is that in spades. Were the presentation better, this would be the fun DVD to beat for 2009.
Most first-run theatres in 1953 got Spooks with Fort Ti, a western starring George Montgomery . Columbia offered them as a full service 3D program for summer audiences. You needed left and right prints of every reel and these had to play in perfect synchronization. If one broke, the whole show fell into disarray. Union chapters struck to force two-man booths for projection, as a lone operator might go mad trying to coordinate it all. New York’s Criterion Theatre premiered the Fort Ti / Spooks combination and Showman’s Trade Review sent a man to check out their newly installed 24 by 42 foot screen. Fort Ti had been shot in standard 1.33 to 1 ratio, but the Criterion blew it up to 1.85 wide, a not uncommon practice among theatres eager to jumpstart a panoramic revolution. The Technicolor at times seems pallid, said STR’s observer. There was a break in the morning period and a period in an afternoon showing when the "right eye’ 3D went blind, thought to be due to an arc’s blowing. Even Broadway palaces weren’t immune to third dimentia episodes, it seemed. Still, the Three Stooges in first-time 3D got fantastic rentals, with Spooks earning $93,000 domestic from stereo bookings, along with $27,000 from 2D engagements. The team’s average take from the previous 1951-52 season of eight shorts had been $37,350.