“Pies and Guys”
Produced and Directed by Jules White. Screenplay by White and Zion Meyers. Story by Zion Meyers. Filmed May 6-7, 1957. Released June 12, 1958 by Columbia Pictures.
Cast: The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe Besser), Milton Frome, Gene Roth, Emil Sitka, Greta Thyssen, Harriet Tarler, Helen Dickson. This is a remake of the 1946 Stooges comedy “Half Wits Holiday,” using footage from the older movie that features Symona Boniface, Victor Travers, Mary Forbes, Al Thompson, Barbara Slater, Johnny Kascier, and Judy Malcolm.
By 1958, the short comedies that would be seen in theaters to open the feature film program were pretty much defunct, having been taken over by television. Even the durable Three Stooges had ceased production on their long running short films series by the end of 1957. However, they had filmed so many new comedies, short films featuring the trio remained in release until early 1959. This is because by the late 1950s, producer Jules White was essentially remaking older shorts by filming a few new scenes with the Stooges and splicing them into scenes from the earlier movie. “Pies and Guys,” featuring Joe Besser with Moe and Larry, is a remake of a 1946 movie they did with Curly (“Half Wits Holiday.”). So, they filmed some scenes with Joe, added footage from the old Curly movie and put together a new production in a couple of days. Since these films were being run in theaters, not many in the audience would remember a Stooges comedy that ran eleven years earlier, and would figure they are seeing a completely new movie. It would be a few months before the comedies were released to television.
The plot is a classic take on “Pygmalion,” where two pretentious professors attempt to use the Stooges to settle an argument as to whether manners are hereditary or environmental. The man arguing in favor of the latter concept uses Moe, Larry, and Joe, three uncouth plumbers, as his subjects, and attempts to teach them proper table etiquette, better reading skills, etc.
Even though it is a scene-for-scene remake of the Curly movie, “Pies and Guys” actually improves upon its predecessor. When Curly made “Half Wits Holiday,” he had been in poor health for some time and his screen appearances showed it. He was slower, his voice was altered, and his vitality was diminished. The original film ends with a massive pie fight, but Curly does not appear. He suffered a stroke on the set and was taken to the hospital. Moe and Larry finished the movie without him. This makes it easy for director Jules White to use the pie fight footage from the earlier film, cutting in a few shots of Besser getting hit, and edit it into the proceedings. There is an eerie quality to seeing long dead performers like Victor Travers (died in 1948) and Symona Boniface (died in 1950) showing up in the stock footage, but for the uninformed viewer, it doesn’t matter.
Unlike Curly in the earlier film, Joe Besser has a great deal of energy in this remake. His childish bratty character responds nicely to attempts for imposed maturity, as he pronounces the words “page nine’ in his readings as “pagga-ninny” and, when the frustrated professor tears out his own hair in anger, Joe reaches over and places the discarded locks onto his own bald head.
By this time, the Stooges realized a lot of their audience was children at movie matinees, so they toned down the violence a bit. So when they pantomime proper table manners during a make believe meal, and a hungry Joe crawls over and slurps milk out of the house cat’s dish, the non-violent silliness is wonderfully off-kilter. Joe Besser was a funny man, and while he doesn’t settle into the Stooge humor with the same finesse as Curly or Shemp Howard had, he holds his own with a character he’d established as far back as the vaudeville stage (he even shared the stage with the Stooges on Broadway decades earlier). Besser lends his own comic touch to the proceedings with Moe and Larry anchoring each scene with characters they’d, by now, honed to perfection.
Comparisons are really not necessary. “Pies and Guys,” taken solely on its own merit, is a funny movie that has energy, slapstick, corny dialog, and a climactic pie fight. Who needs anything more?