Tuesday, March 24, 2020


This Columbia two-reel comedy short was made in late 1945 and released in 1946, just before Shemp rejoined The Three Stooges, when Curly’s stroke made it impossible for him to work any longer. Evidently, Shemp had been brought back into the act for live appearances earlier in 1945, to fill in when Curly was too tired to perform and needed rest.

Tom Kennedy, who specialized in slow-witted policemen or thugs, had a long comedy career going back to 1915 and silent films. He was perfect for Columbia shorts and worked in a number of them, including being paired with Monte Collins and with El Brendel. He could turn on and off the punch-drunk persona like a faucet when he needed to, and appeared in many dramatic roles, not just comedy. He was still working in 1965, when he died at age 80!

SOCIETY MUGS is a re-make of the Three Stooges short TERMITES OF 1938----remember, the one where a fancy society party needs a few “refined” male escorts, and the hosts mistakenly engage Acme Exterminators rather than Acme Escorts? It even re-uses two of the same supporting players (Bess Flowers and Lew Davis), though no footage is recycled. I haven’t done a side by side comparison of the two shorts, but essentially, with no Moe present, Shemp becomes the dominant party, with Tom Kennedy filling in for Larry (of course, no one can fill in for Curly). Stooges regular Gene Roth, as the butler at the rich house, is subject to a lot of abuse when Shemp and Tom arrive with armfuls of exterminating equipment, and Roth shows what a good physical comedian he is. The maid here, Petunia, is played by Libby Taylor, who has the honor of having worked in three Ted Healy films (after the Stooges broke with him), as well as a 1939 Three Stooges film from the Curly era, and then this 1945 film with Shemp. It’s a shame they didn’t have Three Stooges Conventions back in the day—she’d be one of the most in-demand celebrities with that kind of background. Also, with Bud Jamison and Vernon Dent being for most fans the two supporting actors most associated with the Stooges and most abused by their physical comedy, it’s interesting that in the 1938 Stooges original, the role of honored party guest Lord Wafflebottom is played by Bud Jamison, and in this 1946 Shemp remake, the role is played by Vernon Dent!

Lord Wafflebottom mentions to one of the other guests that he’s a foreigner who is not familiar with classy American society, so he figures a good example to imitate in the etiquette department would be the two gentlemen from the escort bureau….and of course, since everyone is sucking up to the Lord, they then imitate him, as he imitates Shemp and Tom. You can imagine where that heads.

There is a chamber music group playing during the party here, and the flute player is none other than silent comedy great Snub Pollard, who reinvented himself as a supporting actor in the sound era and performed, often unbilled (!!!), up through the early 60’s, appearing in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE and Jerry Lewis’ THE ERRAND BOY. He gets a nice though brief scene opposite Shemp, where Snub’s flute is grabbed away from him, and Shemp tells him he doesn’t know how to make that flute swing. Once Shemp starts playing flute, like the Pied Piper, he attracts dozens of rats from the walls, meaning the exterminators can finally ply their trade. The second half of the second reel (the short runs 16 minutes) is basically Shemp and Tom destroying the place as they go after the rats, drenching and bopping and bashing the guests in the best Columbia short tradition.

Shemp has always been capable of carrying his own comedy shorts—he’d done it since the 30’s, though he was often paired with a second comic talent, often Daphne Pollard, whom I'd assumed (until looking it up tonight) was Snub's sister (like Snub, she is originally Australian), but they are no relation! What a small world (see SMOKED HAMS lobby card).

The Warner Archive has an excellent collection of Vitaphone shorts featuring Shemp, 20 shorts from 1933-1937, called ‘Vitaphone Comedy Collection, Volume Two: Shemp Howard’. As for SOCIETY MUGS, it’s on You Tube, and in excellent quality, not a common thing for Columbia shorts, which are either not on You Tube or in blurry quality from 16mm TV prints that look like they were shot off the wall when someone projected them in their living room. Please, Sony, while we are all still alive, make the huge body of Columbia shorts available to us from your vaults….Harry Von Zell, Monte Collins, Vera Vague, the team of Eddie Quillan and Wally Vernon, Andy Clyde, Harry Langdon, Hugh Herbert, Walter Catlett, Schilling & Lane, etc. We need more than just the Stooges, Buster Keaton, and one volume of Charley Chase, as wonderful as they may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Leave it to Shute to deliver the goods! Keep 'em comin', Bill! Cheers! Alvin Bishop