Dr. Rich Edwards

Breakdown of a Gag, Episode 7: Making Old Gags New (Again)

29 posts in this topic

A discussion thread covering clips from The Three Stooges and Blake Edwards on reusing or recycling classic gags. 

 

This Breakdown of a Gag is part of Module #4.

 

Enjoy discussing this Breakdown!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting to note from the attached from Wikipedia that the Stooges were first on ABC in 1949, but did not enter syndication until 1958. Again, studios holding out, until they saw that money could be made.   (see Television section of the article)

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Stooges

 

Also that they did several other space movies prior to Have Rocket Will Travel (a pun on the TV show - that ran from 1957 to 1963)

 

- from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Stooges_filmography (see below)

 

19571958
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Man, Vince Cellini really flubs one of the great jokes at the end of this!

 

Two examples of modern revisiting of gags come to mind when watching this episode.

 

1. Don't know if there is a direct antecedent to this gag, but the setup and payoff could've been done in 1901. From one of the funniest TV shows in recent history, Broad City.

 

 

 

2. Can't find the clip from Jackass Number Two, but there is an homage to the facade of the house falling around Buster Keaton. In the version at the end of the movie, it works the same as the Keaton gag but then a wrecking ball hits him. Funny enough. But in the end credits, they show the one where the house falls and HITS Johnny Knoxville who is then stunned and in deep pain. Just years after seeing narrow escapes, seeing the one time it fails is a shocking twist.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I loved the video by giving the audience a visual history of how gags could become new again in a different twist. I have not seen The Great Race because my mom was occupied with the television last night, but it certainly looks delightful after watching the clip on the video. I believe the analysis and examination of these gags helps me to understand what the comedian of filmmaker was going for in this type of field.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As television began to rival film, it also ignited an influence over film as a medium, as some major stars lent their talents to the "small" screen and vice versa. An attempt is made with The Three Stooges in bringing them into the forefront of the modern times in the clip from Have Rocket, Will Travel. Their gag is still the traditional knockabout routine involving a hammer and, of course, the heads of each Stooge.

 

However repetitive, these types of gags always bore a relevance and never veered into an antiquated territory of comedy. Which brings me to the second clip presented, The Great Race, and the classic pie in the face.

 

This particular comedic routine I liken to a pie in the face gag on cocaine. It's an entirely silly, high octane scene involving tens of characters, some of which, are irrelevant to the plot. The multitude of people is purposed to create a massive feel of this quintessential gag. The characters are used to craft, then heighten the epic scaled pie war, additionally queued by inciting slapstick(esque) music.

 

Evolving gags also evolved with film and television, as noted by Dr. Edwards. This rousing pie battle is colorfully amusing with its bountiful richness of the rainbow-like spectrum. Television and film merged seemingly into one big spectacle during the 1950s and 60s, as the past paved way to the future.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really enjoyed the explanation of how television changed the medium of slapstick comedy. The clips with The Three Stooges with the hammer gag has been done to death, but there something special about it, where it takes the right people to execute it well. It shouldn't work and it should be considered ancient, but it is apart of comedy history. The famous pie fight in "The Great Race" represents lunacy at its finest. Everything and everyone is covered in food, and looking at it closely, it seems like they have a really great time filming it and making sure that it came off as realistically as they could. 

 

By the way, the famous pie fight is like the lost scene from "Dr. Strangelove", which was cut because it was too silly. In a way, it is like they edited it back in, but in a different film. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps it was at this point that comic filmmakers--and filmmakers in general--began to understand the pure distinction between "homage" and "remake" to the point where many of their own tastes took a turn for the better. Or, at least, forced them to consider new ways of searching for comedic forms. (Of course, studio execs often didn't feel this way, which is why we still see debacles like "The Magnificent Seven Redux." Rule: we should only see remakes of poorly made films, never remakes of perfectly made films.) The pie fight scene, as colorful and playful as it may be, is simply over the top for the sake of being over the top. Unlike Lucille Ball and a handful of others who knew how to take an original gag and wring something new out of it, this was merely playing something out over and over ad nauseum while the actors involved--some of whom could often be coaxed into really fine comedy--flopped about like fish out of water. The one great thing to come out of it was the era of creativity that followed, even with all of its brashness, stumbles and great fumbles, forced by this seeming emptiness.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Great Race was an homage to the old slapstick films. It presented a clear good guy (all in white) and clear bad guy (all in black, with the mustache twisting). Running with that was a modern element - the equality of women - which was big in the 1960's but also echoed back to the 20's with the suffragette movement. Even the credits, with hissing and cheering, seemed to recall the old days.

The pie fight (and the bar room brawl) are iconic slapstick things which it payed tribute to, and tried to out do.

 

The running gag of Leslie remaining immaculate throughout the fight is one of the things that makes it different. The very colorful pies was another thing that made it fresh. The pie fight could still be used even 10 years later (Blazing Saddles) in still fresh ways. Hedly, fleeing from the good guys, walks in on a huge pie fight. He quickly ducks back behind the door, and comes out again with pie on his face as a disguise! A very funny gag. So you can see how comics keep coming up with new twists on old gags.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Great Race . . . also echoed back to the 20's with the suffragette movement. Even the credits, with hissing and cheering, seemed to recall the old days.

 

I think the time period of The Great Race is during Teddy Roosevelt's presidential administration (1901 to 1909) because, if I recall correctly, Maggie DuBois tells Baron von Stuppe of Pottsdorf that he will have to answer to President Teddy Roosevelt after the baron imprisons her.

 

Someone mentioned that the period presented in The Great Race predates the classic era of silent film, and if my memory is accurate, that would be true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the time period of The Great Race is during Teddy Roosevelt's presidential administration (1901 to 1909) because, if I recall correctly, Maggie DuBois tells Baron von Stuppe of Pottsdorf that he will have to answer to President Teddy Roosevelt after the baron imprisons her.

 

Someone mentioned that the period presented in The Great Race predates the classic era of silent film, and if my memory is accurate, that would be true.

 

I believe the time of the film was 1908. So that is around the time women were fighting for the right to vote, which they got in 1920. In the Great Race Maggie and Mrs. Goodbody were suffragettes, which is a movement of the silent era which also paralleled the sixties women's rights movement. So the film reflects the ideas when it was made while also echoing back to the times of the silent era.

 

It does not really predate the era of silent film, rather it is set at the beginning of that era. We saw the first silent film in our studies was 1896 and Keystone Studio was founded in 1912, and Chaplin started with them in 1914, but D.W. Griffith started making films in 1908.

 

To me the film seems a bit later, despite the time stated, because of the style of the cars. I cant imagine cars in 1908 as sophisticated as the Leslie Special. I could be wrong. But it would seem to be closer to mid to late teens in that sense. I wonder if they were trying to  put it BEFORE World War I, because you couldn't have a race across France during that time period, so you couldn't set it from 1914-1918 for that reason. :)

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember watching the Three Stooges on television growing up and enjoyed the gags. Their timing and interaction worked well even when they brought in Shemp. It was good to see many of the gags in the movies. The hard thing I've always had getting past was the second Curly Joe. To me his timing and interaction with the others was a bit off. But the gags still worked.

 

Blake Edwards does go over the top with the pie fight. At the time I first saw the film it seemed just right. But now seeing it again less could have been more. But the addition of color did add to the scene. And as noted Tony Curtis was dressed in white. The 50s and 60s had the good guys in white. To me the film Those Magnicient Men and Their Flying Macines was much funnier and the slapstick gags done well.

 

For me bring back the comedies of the 20s and 30s plus films like Blake Edwards made me want to learn more. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe the time of the film was 1908. So that is around the time women were fighting for the right to vote, which they got in 1920. In the Great Race Maggie and Mrs. Goodbody were suffragettes, which is a movement of the silent era which also paralleled the sixties women's rights movement. So the film reflects the ideas when it was made while also echoing back to the times of the silent era.

 

It does not really predate the era of silent film, rather it is set at the beginning of that era. We saw the first silent film in our studies was 1896 and Keystone Studio was founded in 1912, and Chaplin started with them in 1914, but D.W. Griffith started making films in 1908.

 

To me the film seems a bit later, despite the time stated, because of the style of the cars. I cant imagine cars in 1908 as sophisticated as the Leslie Special. I could be wrong. But it would seem to be closer to mid to late teens in that sense. I wonder if they were trying to  put it BEFORE World War I, because you couldn't have a race across France during that time period, so you couldn't set it from 1914-1918 for that reason. :)

 

Lest we (including me) forget, it's a work of fiction. The director and the writers of The Great Race could have done almost anything they wanted in the name of fun and slapstick!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Three Stooges were a great comical influence to me because Brazilian television broadcasted them until the 1990s frequently. Laurel & Hardy were another major influence with its movies running frequently on Sunday afternoon TV, and it is really interesting to see how their kind of comedy was really close to whats was being done in 1930s. The clip explored on this episode makes it really clear.

 

The second clip is a little bit different because we see the movie director exploring what he can in terms of technical possibilities for slapstick. A lot of color, major editing job, big scenarios and so on. In the movies, slapstick was becoming bigger than ever. And that was happening to all kinds of Hollywood movies in generall, it is good to point it out.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Three Stooges were hysterical.  Sometimes a little too violent for me with the hammer and slapping  a lot of the time.  I understand it's slapstick according to the five conditions.  They do exaggerate their actions, especially in the opening sequence when they jump out of bed and are getting their clothes on; they are physical as well as violent, and certainly Make believe in going up in a rocket in 1959.  My younger brother, when we were kids, LOVED the three stooges and used to wave his hand in front of my face with the "Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck".  It was annoying, so that's my problem with the Three Stooges.

 

The Great Race is great!  I loved it when I saw it the first time in the movie theater.  Jack Lemmon's two different roles only show him to be versatile as well as talented.  As Dr. Gehring said, Lemmon was outstanding in comedy, and won an Best Actor Oscar in a dramatic role for Save the Tiger.  Of course, he also won best supporting for Mr. Roberts.  The tooth sparkle on Tony Curtis, who was THE male icon back then is so cool.  I'm sure Tony didn't go up in the basket upside down and had a stunt double, but whoever it was was amazing. A throwback to Houdini?

 

Curtis and Lemmon were a good team in Some Like it Hot of 1959, so it makes sense that Blake Edwards would want to pair them in this film.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think anyone could do physical slapstick on the same level as the Stooges.  When The Three Stooges aired in 2000, I first learned about their original--and violently literal--stage act.  Later, when the trio enter movies, they discover how their gags can include sound effects.  Michael Chiklis, who portrayed a very believable Curly, turned to brother Moe (very well played by Paul Ben-Victor) and said something along the lines of "now my ears won't ring for hours when you hit me."  I believe Curly died first, and of a stroke.

 

I know The Great Race has gone down in history as one of the biggest in history, but there begs a question: How many pie-fights exist?  Has anyone ever given a number? 

 

Has anyone in class ever been hit in the face with a pie?

 

(raises hand)
 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Three Stooges were hysterical.  Sometimes a little too violent for me with the hammer and slapping  a lot of the time.  I understand it's slapstick according to the five conditions.  They do exaggerate their actions, especially in the opening sequence when they jump out of bed and are getting their clothes on; they are physical as well as violent, and certainly Make believe in going up in a rocket in 1959.  My younger brother, when we were kids, LOVED the three stooges and used to wave his hand in front of my face with the "Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck".  It was annoying, so that's my problem with the Three Stooges.

 

The Great Race is great!  I loved it when I saw it the first time in the movie theater.  Jack Lemmon's two different roles only show him to be versatile as well as talented.  As Dr. Gehring said, Lemmon was outstanding in comedy, and won an Best Actor Oscar in a dramatic role for Save the Tiger.  Of course, he also won best supporting for Mr. Roberts.  The tooth sparkle on Tony Curtis, who was THE male icon back then is so cool.  I'm sure Tony didn't go up in the basket upside down and had a stunt double, but whoever it was was amazing. A throwback to Houdini?

 

Curtis and Lemmon were a good team in Some Like it Hot of 1959, so it makes sense that Blake Edwards would want to pair them in this film.

Curtis and Lemmon were absolutely perfect in an absolutely perfect film directed by a genius.

I was also a devoted fan of the Stooges, mimicking all they did (as best I could) with my friends...when I was in elementary school. But the repetition does grow old, even if repetition is one of the conditions of slapstick.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many of us in this course have seen the Three Stooges thanks to television, whether it was on the weekends or after school.  The trio used many of their gags over and over in different situations, so it was a natural to bring those gags into their 1st feature film.  The sound effects add to the pain.  Many do not like the antics because they are violent and look painful, but we got to know that if we attempted those gags we'd get hurt and could not go "into the next scene" unscathed.

 

The amazing pie fight from The Great Race looks like a Three Stooges idea of heaven.  And to have it in color adds to the spectacularly epic caloric violence!  Everyone gets hit, except our hero, and even Miss DuBois gets it (so reminiscent of the aristocratic women in Stooges pie fights).  No one is immune but deep down inside it is probably a cathartic release for the bakers and the minions of the aristocracy that want a little payback.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think anyone could do physical slapstick on the same level as the Stooges.  When The Three Stooges aired in 2000, I first learned about their original--and violently literal--stage act.  Later, when the trio enter movies, they discover how their gags can include sound effects.  Michael Chiklis, who portrayed a very believable Curly, turned to brother Moe (very well played by Paul Ben-Victor) and said something along the lines of "now my ears won't ring for hours when you hit me."  I believe Curly died first, and of a stroke.

 

I know The Great Race has gone down in history as one of the biggest in history, but there begs a question: How many pie-fights exist?  Has anyone ever given a number? 

 

Has anyone in class ever been hit in the face with a pie?

 

(raises hand)

 

I also saw the movie “The Three Stooges” in 2000 and I have to say it gave me a greater appreciation of their films. I had no idea how seriously they took their funny little movies and how hard they worked to make them appealing to their audience.

 

I agree in the “Breakdown of a Gag” that their method of retooling the hammer gag was simply to put it in a rocket ship. However, I think the trio gave the scene much more thought than that. By the time “Have Rocket Will Travel” came out Columbia had already released their shorts to TV. As stated by many people on this board, their acts were very familiar. The trio, I believe, knew that gags like the hammer act were what people wanted and expected. From my own personal experience, I used to watch The Three Stooges in California with my roommate, her brother, and several neighbors. The guys knew the acts so well they could repeat the verbal portions and sound effects of the physical slapstick. It was always fun to watch because these grown men in their 20’s and 30’s. Which brings me back to my point, even though the gags were old people always enjoyed seeing them because no one did them better than The Three Stooges

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Old gags new again, I think it was so great using old gags and bringing them back to life in new incarnations. Whether they were recreated by newer talent or by the originals, i.e. The Three Stooges, Ed Wynn, etc.  These are funny gags and what may be old to our grandparents are new fresh gags to us. Keaton was prime example of re-using his gags in Red Skelton vehicles or Marx Bros. films. It shows how tried and true the material is and how great the artists were who performed them.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I still love the Stooges. It amazes me that they are still as popular today. This is mostly because besides being enduringly funny they also made so many shorts for Columbia which were sold off to television stations wanting to cash in on the continued marketability of slapstick. How many classic Hollywood dramatic actors are as popular today with new fans? Not many but mention The Stooges or Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball or Laurel and Hardy and most people will smile and admit they're fans. The Stooge's violence never bothered me because everything is so exaggerated, especially the sound effects that even as a kid I knew not to take a hammer to my brother's skull.

 

Honestly, "The Great Race" is one of my least favorite comedy films. It just doesn't make me laugh, not even the over the top pie fight, and I love watching pie fights (no I've never been hit in the face with one). I can watch the Stooges in, "The Sweet Pie and Pie" and Laurel and Hardy's classic pie fight in, "The Battle of the Century" over and over but for some reason Blake's just leaves me, "meh." I've tried watching the movie a few times with friends who love it but as they roll on the floor with laughter I get up to make popcorn. It's just too overdone to me. The gags feel forced and Wood's comedic ability falls flat. So, just as some of us love the Stooges and others don't I guess comedy as everything else is a deeply personal thing.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like the verse from the book of Eccleastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Inventive comedians have always tried to give a fresh spin on their old material. The hammer bit from the Stooges was effective and funny, although I'm inclined to agree with Vince Cellini about Curly Joe. I hope to post something more in depth about the Stooges later this weekend. The pie fight scene was funny too, an obvious throwback to the past. At least there was an obvious backdrop for pie. And viewing that scene did make want some brandy.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When something is funny, it's funny the 100th time you see it as it was the first time. The Three Stooges are funny. I still laugh at them even though it is stupid, I feel like I was I could get away with some of the antics they get away with. We all know people that could use a hammer to the head on a regular basics.

 

A pie in the face is funny too. And what fun it would be to be in a pie fight with your friends. Don't laugh at someone that gets a pie in the face because as we see from this clip, you are next.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the most interesting things about Module 4 is how the emergence of television resulted in a renewed appreciation for slapstick, via variety shows, sitcoms, and re-showing of earlier slapstick films. Like the Chicago series of Three Stooges and Little Rascals (Our Gang) Richard Edwards mentions, I knew those acts through repeated showings on TV in the 1960s and '70s. Getting to know them in our living rooms, they and their old slapstick routines became familiar and beloved. That Columbia would bring back the Three Stooges a quarter century later for Have Rocket - Will Travel is no surprise, nor was the fact that they would resurrect violent slapstick shticks like the hammer routine - that's how we knew and liked them (for those of us who liked them). 

 

When pie fights are revived in films, there's always a sense of nostalgia for the silent days, not only in The Great Race (1965), but also in Hollywood Cavalcade (1939), a tribute to early slapstick days I'm surprised hasn't been mentioned in the class, and multiple TV shows, including Laugh-In, The Brady Bunch, Bewitched & Three's Company.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Television.... the medium that may have felt like a cheapened version of the movie-going experience, slowly becomes hugely popular, and in its wake, the slapstick comedians rise above and have renewed life!  It almost makes you wonder if the 3 Stooges would have been as wildly popular and well-known today if it weren't for the technology of television and its influence on society.  This was a fantastic transition to bring those old gags and slapstick routines to people and an era that may have quickly forgotten the silent and earlier ages of slapstick... and I am forever grateful!  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us