Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing Tip #13: Writing About Yourself

Yours truly with comedienne GL Douglas at churches Making Movies
Last year, I was invited to give a seminar about screenwriting at the Churches Making Movies Film Festival in Newark, New Jersey.  It is a great organization, and I was only too happy to do it.

I spent the weekend talking screenwriters, both actual and aspiring, and the question I was asked most often was:  "How do I write a script about my life?"

The question wasn't really surprising.  I believe most people who write do so to work out some deep inner turmoil or reveal some inner truth.  That was certainly true in my case, and I believe it is a positive impulse.  As I said in my earlier blog, Make It Real, I strongly recommend that you reach inside and find that kind of emotional truth every time you write.  Still, my answer was the same to everyone who asked me about turning their life into a movie:  "Don't."

Many of these people had very compelling stories, often involving some youthful trauma that they were able to overcome.  Some of the stories would probably make very interesting films.  Still, I recommended against it.

Why?  Because screenplays are the wrong format.  Godard famously said "Film is Truth at 24 fps."  Well, that might be true of film, but it is certainly not true of screenplays.  Screenplays are inherently artificial.  Short of haikus, screenplays are perhaps the most highly-structured form of writing imaginable.  They are certainly more structured than life itself.  As a published memoirist, I can tell you that you have to be fully prepared to followed the truth of your story where ever it goes.  That isn't always possible in the screenplay format when you must adhere to a three act structure and hit certain plot points at certain times.

One of the reasons I never seriously considered converting my memoir to a screenplay is because I knew I would have to compress time in some areas, extend it in others, combine characters into composites, etc., to make it fit the format.  Every little change would detract from the truth, as I remembered it.  I was not prepared to make that sacrifice.  I knew many people would be skeptical of the events I was about to relate, so I didn't want to change them just to fit an arbitrary format.  (That said, I did change some names and places to protect the identity of people.)

So should you write your story?  Certainly.  I have talked to a number of memoirists since my book was published and they all found the process liberating. However, I would recommend writing your story as a book first.  In the pages of a book, you will be able to follow the truth more freely.  And who knows....  If your book gets published, someone might actually pay you to turn it into a screenplay.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

2016 Kairos Prize Finalists

Being a 2012 winner of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, I always follow the contest and I want to congratulate this year's ten finalists.  It is a great accomplishment, and, if you're like me when I reached this stage, you are now feverishly googling the competition.  I wish you all the best. Hopefully this will be the beginning of an exciting ride for you.  MovieGuide treats the winners well!  Check out my blog to read more about my experience:   Winning The Kairos Prize.

Donald Driscoll for SHOWDOWN AT DAMASCUS
Marlon Jones for MISDIRECTION
Harry Kleinman for WIND AND A PRAYER
Christopher Lovick and Wayne Sable for HEAVEN’S MESSENGER
Steve Lucas for THE WEEDING
Birgit Myaard for THE HAND OF A WOMAN
Mary A. Quigley for MACY’S GRACE

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short Story: To Die A Hero

     Pressing assignments have forced me to neglect my blog, so please allow me to continue to entertain you with some old writing.
     Most of my early writing was comic in nature.  I have been finding bits and pieces of skits and plays and even comics (with my own illustrations) as I search through an old chest of papers.  Most of my writing was fragmentary.  I have very few completed pieces prior to college.
     The following story was my first serious attempt to write a short story.  It was written during as an assignment at in Dr. Carl Behm's creative writing class at Towson State in the Fall of 1982.  As my memoir relates, my estranged girlfriend Kathy found the tone of the story dark and suicidal. She called to express her concern about my mental health. I don’t think I was suicidal at the time, but, in retrospect, this story might have been a harbinger of things to come.  (I originally planned to include this story in my memoir as an appendix, along with other writings contemporaneous to the events I described, but, fortunately for the sake of my readers, I didn't do so!)
     I have made no effort to improve or correct the piece.  This is, more or less, the assignment I turned in for class.  Sadly, I forgot the grade.


     It was rush hour. The right side of the street was filled with cars leaving the city. The left side was practically empty. Melvin Calcunn, bookkeeper, stood quietly on the bus stop observing the world around him.
      Melvin noticed a mother and daughter across the street from him. The mother looked a little frazzled. From the expression on her face and the packages in her arms, he could tell that she had spent the entire day shopping with an active child in tow. The little girl was cute and appeared to be five-or-six-years old. She had long blond hair and was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and jacket. She was happily bouncing a little red ball on the sidewalk as she stood near her mother.
     Melvin watched the child bounce the ball up and down. He watched the ball bounce into the street. He saw the girl walk, unnoticed by her mother, into the street to get the ball. More importantly, he saw something neither the mother nor the little girl saw. He saw a speeding car appear over a rise in the street.
     The car was moving fast, at least fifteen miles over the speed limit. The little girl, walking towards the ball with her back to the car, was going to die. Melvin sensed this all and made his move.
     It was a strange sensation. It was as if everything in the world slowed down except for his mind.
     His black vinyl briefcase seemed to hang in the air for a moment after he released the handle before it began to slowly drift to the ground. Melvin knew he was running as fast as he could but it seemed an eternity between each echoing thud of his feet hitting the ground.
     His eyes inspected everything.
     The little girl, who was just beginning to pick up her ball, still had her back to the oncoming traffic. Her mother’s eyes were on a store window across the street. She didn’t know her daughter was about to die.
     Melvin looked to his left. Two cars, almost side-by-side, approached him in the northbound lanes. The two cars didn’t concern him. He knew he would be out of their way long before they reached him. Looking into the faces of the drivers, he knew he had frightened them more than they frightened him. He only hoped neither of them over-reacted and endangered them all.
     Melvin looked to his right. He began to study his adversary. The car was a beat-up, multi-color Ford Pinto. It was an early model which was showing its age. It was moving fact, around forty-five-mile-an-hour in a thirty-miles-an-hour zone. The long-haired teenager who was driving the car had just caught sight of the child. He didn’t start applying the brakes yet, and the girl was only about sixty-five feet in front of him. No, Melvin thought, he couldn’t stop in time.
     Melvin’s eyes once again returned to the little girl as he continued to move slowly towards her. Her back was still to the car, but she was beginning to turn as a loud screeching noise filled the air. Melvin turned his head to the right and could see that the driver of the Pinto was beginning to apply his brakes. It’s about time, Melvin though as he realized that the car had advanced much closer to the girl while his head was turned. He could see the sheer horror in the drivers’ face. He was just probably realizing that he would not be able to stop the car in time.
     Suddenly, Melvin’s ears were filled with various echoing sounds. His ears shuddered under the blaring noise of the horns of the cars approaching from the south. Melvin knew that they were over-reacting. He had already passed over the double yellow line. In front of him, the air was filled the sound of screams. The little girl had completed her turn and began a loud, shrill scream as she froze rigid with fear. There was another scream too. Melvin glanced to the mother to see her packages drifting slowly to the ground as she screamed. She was beginning to move too, but Melvin knew she was too far away to do any good.
     The car, skidding and sliding as the tires tried to grip the street, was now about fifteen feet away from the child. Melvin knew that there was only one thing that he could do to save the child. He felt his weight being thrown forward and his feet lifting off the ground as he stretched his arms. He felt himself flying, actually flying.
     He felt a tremendous surge of emotions as he flew with his arms outstretched to toward the helpless child. However, the emotions did not stop his mind from realizing what was bound to happen. He realized that he was quickly losing altitude and would land directly in the path of the skidding car. He only hoped he hit the girl with enough force to knock her out of the way. He prayed he would die a hero.
     As he drifted through the air, he tried not to worry about the outcome. There was nothing that he could now one way or another. Everything depended upon the laws of physics and gravity. The car, which was sliding gently to the right, was locked into place by force and momentum. The child was locked into place by face. Melvin knew he was locked into his course by gravity and momentum. His destiny could not be changed.
     The world returned to normal speed.
     Melvin’s left hand crashed into the girl’s shoulder and he violently pushed her out of the way of the oncoming automobile. She would live, he though as he felt the impact of his body against the surface of the street. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the right tire of the approaching Pinto.
     There was a smile on his face as he died.
     Melvin rolled over on his side as a loud buzzing noise rang in his ears. He opened his eyes to see a sliver of the early morning sunlight entering his bedroom between a gap in his drawn curtains. With a yawn, he reached out and turned off the alarm clock. He felt good, really good.
     Melvin got and sat lazily on the side of the bed and tried to recapture the dream. He wanted to relive it again before it melted and dissolved into his unconsciousness. It was drifting away. He could see the details blurring but he knew the sensations he felt at the heroic moment would never leave him. He had died a hero.
     Melvin glanced down at the clock again. He was shocked to see that thirty-five minutes had passed since he woke up. Leaping from his bed, Melvin began to hastily remove his blue, cotton pajamas. He had to hurry, he was more than a half-an-hour behind schedule.
     He was in a hurry, but he felt uneasy rushing his daily personal hygiene. Personal hygiene was a matter that he had learned to take very seriously. He knew that one personal hygiene error in the morning could be responsible for an entire day of embarrassment. More than once Melvin found himself sitting next to a person on a bus who was breathing noisily or sitting less than placidly, which made him wonder if he had used the proper quantity of deodorant. In a case like that, he would rush to the men’s room at the office as soon as he arrived to check himself.
     After a few hurried, but carefully orchestrated, minutes in the bathroom, Melvin rushed to the closet to choose the day’s apparel. He did not worry about his style of dress. He was a good dresser, almost too good.
     He had seven dress shirts, all of them white. It wasn’t like he had a shirt for each different day of the week. He didn’t have a Monday shirt, a Tuesday shirt or a Wednesday shirt. However, he made sure he didn’t wear a shirt twice until he wore all of them once. He washed all of the shirts on Friday. Friday was his washing night.
     Melvin knew he was a good, proper dresser. He read a book which told him what colors, fashions, and styles a person should wear for business and acted accordingly. He had three suits and six ties. His suits were the recommended gray, blue and black. All of the suits had stylish thin lapels, of course. He stopped wearing bowties because the book said the wimpish Wally Cox look was definitely out. He had six narrow ties, all of which had at least a touch of red.
     Melvin knew he didn’t have to be embarrassed by what he saw when he looked into the mirror. He didn’t always have that confidence, especially not before his boss, Mr. Dedzen, complimented his appearance in front of the entire Records Department. Mr. Dedzen said he wished everyone presented as favorable impression as Melvin did. Melvin was happy to receive the compliment. However, the next day began a gradual process of toning down his appearance. He did not want his fellow workers to think that he was trying to out dress them.
     Melvin glanced down at his watch and realized he would not have time for his usual sparse, but wholesome, breakfast. However, he did have enough time to look through the morning paper. He quickly went out of the door of apartment and got his newspaper. After pouring himself a small glass of milk, he searched to see if anything interesting had happened in the world.
     He skipped the first and second pages of the newspaper which tended to be devoted to international and national affairs, as well as politics and the economy. Those subjects did not interest him. He went to page three where the human interest stories could be found. This was his favorite section. He scanned the headlines but he didn’t find any stories worth reading.
     Next he flipped to the local section of the newspaper. For the most part, Melvin was less interested in the local news than he was about national news, but he sometimes found worthwhile stories in the local section. On the fourth page, he found a story that did interest him. It was about a local house fire.
     It was pretty much a typical fire story. A tenement apartment house in the worst part of the city caught on fire, trapping two children on the third floor. Before the fire engines arrived, a man rushed into the smoke-filled building to save the children. The man, an unemployed janitor, was rushed to the hospital as a result of smoke inhalation and released later that day. Both of the children were unharmed.
     Hero stories interested Melvin. In fact, he kept a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of various heroes. However, this story did not fulfill the prime requisite of all the stories in the scrapbook. All of the heroes in his scrapbook died saving the life of another person.
     Glancing at his watch again, he knew he would have to leave immediately to catch the seven-ten bus. Grabbing his overcoat and briefcase, he left his apartment and walked briskly to the bus stop. The bus stop was only a half a block away and he got there a full minute before the bus arrived. 
     Usually Melvin caught the six-forty-nine bus. The seven-ten was usually so crowded that he couldn’t even sit down. When the bus did arrive, Melvin suspected he would have to stand until he got off to transfer to his second bus. Days like this made him wish he still drove his car to work.
     He owned a spotless ‘seventy-nine Nova. He kept it in a garage about a half a mile away from his apartment. Once and a while he would drive out to one of the large shopping malls in the suburbs, but for all intents and purposes, he hadn’t used the car for years.
     Driving was easier and safer, he wouldn’t deny that. However, that was also the problem. When he drove, he had total control over his environment, and regardless of how hard he tried, he found it almost impossible to resist the temptation to remain in his comfort zone. He had to leave his comfort zone if ever intended to be more than what he was now. Taking the bus forced him out of his safe world.
     The trip was uneventful. As he had feared, he had to stand. Actually, he didn’t mind standing too much. Standing gave him a better view of what was going on in the bus. Melvin scanned his fellow passengers. They were male and female, black and white, well-dressed and not so well-dressed. A variety of people filled the bus, but none of them looked like a homicidal maniac about to strike. When he finally reached the skyscraper where he worked, he left the bus the same who had stepped on it. Maybe tonight, he thought as he stepped down onto the sidewalk.
     Another day, another dollar, Melvin thought as he entered the building. The same thought entered his head every time he entered the building. There was a time when he would consciously try not to think that, but he always did. After a while he stopped trying.
     Melvin was at work minutes after the elevator door opened to reveal the large room filled with desks. He didn’t spend the first half-an-hour of the day talking and gossiping like the vast majority of the people in his department. In fact, he rarely conversed with his co-workers, except within the line of duty. They were just a bunch of middle class idiots who would never do anything with their lives. They would never be anything more than what they were now. They would live until the age of 67.5 years then just die. The only who would go to their funerals were the people who had to. Looking around the office, he could see a vast number of people who have two car funeral processions. He used to hate them, but now he only felt pity.
     He was called a book keeper, but, in reality, he was little more than a book comparer. All of the accounting and book keeping chores of the huge bank he worked for were done by computers. However, for legal reasons, the bank kept physical records. Melvin worked eight hours a day, five days a week, comparing the computer printouts and the accounting journals to make sure their were no discrepancies. He hadn’t found an error in five years. Over the course of his thirteen year career, he had found only two mistakes.
     Lunch time. The office was deserted. Most of the people were eating at the cafeteria or at nearby eateries. Melvin ate lunch at his desk, as he always did. He was eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he had prepared the night before and packed neatly into his briefcase.
     Melvin was munching on his sandwich when a door to the office opened. Raising his eyes, he saw Bea Allenson enter the office. When she saw him, she smiled and waved. Melvin choked on his sandwich. She continued to walk toward another exit. Before she left, she turned and said, “See you on the bus stop tonight, Mr. Calcunn.” 
     “Okay,” Melvin answered feebly as he watched her smile and walk out of the office. Melvin cringed. If he had known he was going to see her, he would have prepared something better to say.
     Bea Allenson, a secretary from the Investments Department, was the closet thing to a girlfriend that Melvin had. She was pretty and always nice to him. He knew that she was single but also knew that a woman as charming as her had to have a steady boyfriend. He was tempted to ask someone in Investments about her, but he was afraid it would get out that he was interested in her. If she found out, she would probably get mad and stop talking to him on the bus stop after work. He couldn’t jeopardize that.
     After work they would take the same bus. She did not take the bus all the way to her home, where she lived with her mother. She had a car but she parked it on an inexpensive lot about a mile and a half from the building. The moments he spent with her on the bus were priceless. Too bad that she had to have a boyfriend somewhere.
     The afternoon passed more quickly than usual. As page after page of ledgers and computer printouts passed in front of him, Melvin was ashamed to realize that he had spent most of the time thinking about Bea. He tried to stop thinking about her, after all, there was no reason on earth to believe she was thinking about him. Why should she? On the outside, he realized that he was little more than just another bland book keeper. How could she possibly know that he was going to be a hero one day?
     After work, Melvin waited for Bea between the entrances of their bank’s main branch and the corporate offices. He tried to act calm and nonchalant. When she came out, he did not want her to think he was waiting especially for her. He wanted it to look like a coincidence. Finally, he decided that it would be less obvious if he waited in front of the building closer to the bus stop.
     It was two minutes before Bea stepped out on the street. She was almost at the entrance of the bank branch when the first shot rang out.
     The sound stunned everyone on the street. It was not until the second shot that Melvin realized that the sound was coming from inside of the bank. Shaking off his shock, Melvin moved away from the building where he stood. He was in the center of the sidewalk when the first gunman ran out of the bank.
     He was a big dude dressed in an Army jacket and wearing a stocking over his head. He had a pistol in one hand and a brown shopping bag in the other. He was heading directly for Bea, who was frozen in terror.
     Melvin stopped for a second to determine his strategy as the second gunman burst out of the bank doors. He was smaller than the first man, but dressed in a similar manner. As he was leaving the bank, the third and fourth shots rang out. 
     Melvin saw the smaller man knocked forward as if he were hit by an invisible sledgehammer. As he fell forward, it was as if he had been hit in the center of his back with the same sledgehammer. The man hit the sidewalk with tremendous force. He didn’t move. He was dead. Melvin had never seen a real dead man before. His eyes were glued to the corpse until he heard a strangely familiar scream.
     Melvin’s eyes moved upward and he saw a sight that shocked him to his core. The big gunman had grabbed Bea and was using her as a shield. With his back to the street, the gunman told everyone not to move or he would shoot her. Everyone on the street froze, afraid to breathe.
    Melvin saw what he had to do. He decided to do it.
     Screaming louder than he thought he could, Melvin began to run toward the gunman. Hearing the scream, the big man turned sideways and pointed his gun at Melvin. He shouted a warning, but Melvin did not stop.
     Melvin saw a burst of light erupt from the front of the pistol. The light was immediately followed by a hard, burning sensation in his shoulder. He had never before experienced anything like the searing pain, but he did not stop.
     Again, the gunman squeezed the trigger. Melvin felt a tremendous jolt to his ribs, practically doubling him over. He went blank for a second but he did not lose his balance and continued toward the gunman. Opening his blurring eyes, he saw that he was only a few feet away from his opponent. Screaming again, he forced himself onward.
     He felt himself colliding with the gunman. He did not know whether or not Bea had broken free, but he knew what he had to do. At once, both of Melvin’s hands groped blindly for the pistol. When he thought he found it, he struggled to point it toward the gunman while he squeezed down on the hand. The pistol fired again. Both of the men fell to the ground afterwards.
     Melvin was barely conscious of the activity around him. He could hear people hovering around. He could feel hands touching him. Most importantly, he could hear Bea’s sobs and feel her arms around him. As he felt the life drain out of him, Melvin smiled.
     Suddenly he heard a clear but confused voice. “Melvin, Mr. Calcunn, are you all right?” he heard Bea ask.
     Melvin opened his eyes and discovered that he was still standing next to the building. He was confused for a moment before he realized that it had all been a dream.
     Damn it, why?
    “I’m okay,” Melvin said, regaining his composure. “I was just thinking.”
     Bea smiled. She looked so good. “Okay, but we’ve got to hurry or we’ll miss the bus.”
     They got to the bus stop right before the bus arrived. The bus was crowded so they stood together and talked. Bea did most of the talking, as usual. Melvin was content to listen. He liked the sound of her voice. She gave him a big smile before rang the bell and got off the bus.
     Melvin watched her from the window. The bus began moving slowly again in the heavy traffic, staying slightly behind her. Melvin noticed that a man seemed to following her. A tall, lean man. A dangerous man.
     Bea turned into the alley between two buildings and walked toward the lot where she kept her car parked. Melvin watched the lean man reach into his pocket as he turned to follow her. As the bus passed the alley, Melvin thought he saw a glimpse of metal in the man’s hand.
     Melvin dropped his briefcase and rang the bell.
    The bus driver stopped the vehicle and glanced into his mirror. No one moved. No one even bothered to meet his eyes. After a moment, the driver muttered a curse and pressed the gas pedal.

To find out if I was indeed trapped in a suicidal spiral at the time I wrote that story, check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Five Favorite Dylan Albums

Here's a list of my five favorite Bob Dylan albums.  My criterion?  Basically my own personal taste, and not their place in the canon of popular music.  I think many Dylan fans will be surprised that I tend to favor the later Dylan, but, then again, that was the Dylan of my time.  I picked the five albums that I enjoy listening too most in their entirety.  Albums that I find myself skipping tracks on were disqualified from the list.

(I know I should probably start with number five and work my way down to number one, but I am going in the reverse order since that is more reflective of my Dylan journey.)

1).  Infidels.  1983

Infidels was my real introduction to Bob Dylan.  I grew up without much interest in popular music -- aside from The Beatles.  My mother had both of Dylan's earlier greatest hits albums, but I never found myself drawn to them.  I wasn't into that whole folky thing.  However, one afternoon I was sitting in the Film Lab at Towson State and I read a favorable review of this album in the Towerlight, our student newspaper.  Somehow it inspired me to go over to Record and Tape Traders and pick up a copy.  And it blew my mind.

I had never heard a song like the opening track "Jokerman" before.  I found it equally cryptic and illuminating.  I was mesmerized.  Bob sounded like an Old Testament prophet.  "Freedom, just around the corner for you, but with truth so far off, what good will it do?"  Amen, brother.  The critics hailed this album as Dylan's return from Christianity, but they weren't listening.  Christianity seemed to permeate ever track.  I think the verse to the song "I & I" succinctly sums up the relationship between God and man.  "I and I, in creation where one's nature neither honors nor forgives, I and I, one said to the other, no man sees my face and lives."  Pretty deep stuff.  At least to me.  At the time.

And the musicianship....  Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor going neck-to-neck on the guitars backed up by the ace rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.  Things don't get much better than that.

The hunt was on for more Dylan.
2).  Highway 61 Revisited.  1965

After wearing down my copy of Infidels, I started researching Dylan in order to discover where to go next.  The arrows all pointed toward Highway 61 Revisited.

What an immense flood of words floating above a lively accompaniment.  I would later understand that Dylan was exalting in the ability to say whatever he wanted on this album, and the previous one, Bringing It All Back Home, after tiring of the restraints of folk music.  The album was rife with anger and judgement, as exemplified by "Like A Rolling Stone," which looked at the revolution he helped start and found it distinctly wanting, but it was also filled with humor.  A new songwriter myself, I could picture him smiling to himself as he reached for some of the most outlandish rhymes.  Listening to the album, I was surprised how the critics were later caught off-guard by Dylan's quote/unquote Christian period.  The Bible often showed up in his work.  Think of the opening of the title track:  "God said to Abraham:  kill me a son.  Abe said:  Man, you must be putting me on."  He's already wrestling with the divine.

Depending on my mood, this album often tops my list.  Highway 61 Revisited is definitely more influential, but Infidels was my first love.
3).  Oh Mercy.  1989

When I became a Dylan fan in 1983, I didn't realize that he was entering his creative nadir.  Although I always found something of value on each of his albums, it became tougher and tougher to wade through albums like Knocked Out Loaded, Down In The Groove, and Dylan &The Dead.*  I would take solace in his earlier work, but I couldn't help but wonder when, if ever, the real Dylan would show up again.

He did in 1989 with Oh Mercy.  I loved this album from the very first note as Dylan looked out at our "Political World" and discovered that "Everything Is Broken," and warned us about "The Man In The Long Black Coat."  Not only did I like the songs and the world-weary voice, I also loved the swampy production provided by Daniel Lanois.  It seems to me that, for the most part, Dylan's production seems to be rather slapdash:  A group of musicians gather around Dylan, they run through the songs a couple of times, and that's that.  Here, as on Infidels, which was skillfully produced by Mark Knopfler, Lanois places the songs in meaningful sonic context.

It was a great return to form, but it would be almost a decade before he would put together such a strong collection of original songs.

*Actually, I don't think I ever bought Dylan & the Dead.  After seeing one of the shows on this tour in Philadelphia, I didn't see the need to own the album.  Dylan's songs lost their distinctiveness when playing with the Dead.  They all seemed to blur together into the traditional mid-tempo Grateful Dead bop.  A pity.  I had seen Dylan play three songs with the Dead at RFK in Washington when he was touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Those three songs, which were also staples of the Dead's repertoire, were fabulous.   However, a whole concert of Dylan and the Dead together result in a dulling sameness.

Perhaps it was the contact high from the audience....

4).  Blood On The Tracks.  1975

Dylan seemed like an unstoppable creative force during the 1960s, but the 1970s found him much more muddled as his work careened wildly from genius to WTF.  Blood on the Tracks was definitely his best album of the decade.  It was the first of many acclaimed comebacks.

The album opens with one of Dylan's most celebrated tracks, "Tangled Up in Blue," and the blue mood continues throughout the rest of the album.  Returning to a simpler stripped down sound than some of his previous albums, most of the songs seem to look back at a past relationship.  Most critics credit turmoil in Dylan's marriage, which would eventually end in divorce, as the inspiration for the material.  However, to this day, Dylan contends that the album was not autobiographical.  Not that it needed to be.  At least for him anyway.  I certainly recognize myself in some of those songs in some of my more melancholy moments.  This is not an album I listen to often, but when I am in the right mood, it resonates very deeply.

5).  Love and Theft.  2001

Welcome to the new millennium, Bobby.

In this self-produced album, Dylan delivers a strong set of songs, backed up by his touring band, which stylistically reflect his interest in pre-rock popular music forms.  In "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum," the old master remains as cryptic and intriguing as ever, and "Mississippi" easily ranks alongside best of his songs ever.  There isn't a bad song on the album.

Dylan himself considers this album to be part of a trilogy with Time Out of Mind, that preceded it, and Modern Times, that followed it.  Critics tend to hail the Grammy-award winning Time Out of Mind as the best of the three albums.  I prefer this one.  I appreciate Time Out of Mind, but a certain gloom hangs over it.  This album, however, is filled with wry humor and experimentation.   Dylan seems to be enjoying himself, and the masks he puts on, during album.  I enjoy it, too.

Honorable Mention:

Personally, I find it hard to believe Bringing It All Back Home didn't make it.  Every song is a classic.  I tried to include it in lieu of practically every other album on the list after the first two, but it kept getting pushed back.  I will credit it as number six.  I will confess that I am not quite as fond of Blonde on Blonde.  Most critics say it is his best album ever.  It certainly contains a number of classic tracks, but I have a hard time listening to it all the way through in a single sitting.  While creatively lost in the 1990s, Dylan released two albums of himself playing old folk and blues songs solo on acoustic guitar.  I really didn't care for the first one, Good As I've Been To You, but the second one, World Gone Wrong, is really terrific and moving.  Even better are the liner notes where Dylan describes why he chose the songs.  Usually, Dylan is too oblique for my taste in his prose writing, but these liner notes really gave a glimpse of his soul.   If this was a Top Ten list, John Wesley Harding would have definitely made it, even though Bobby Boy needed Jimi Hendrix to teach him how to really play "All Along The Watchtower."  Desire features some of his best story songs.  My favorite one on the album is "Black Diamond Bay."  I love how Dylan switches the perspective of the narrator, taking a step back from the material, in the final verse.  He employs the same device later in "Blind Willie McTell," an outtake from the Infidels album, which is one of the best songs he wrote.  The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is my favorite of his early albums.  It would definitely make my Top Ten List.  The official release of The Basement Tapes would have made my list once upon a time, until I grew a little disillusioned with it upon discovering how many overdubs were added.  I recently picked up the new "bootleg" version of the untouched original recordings.  I have figured out where they go in the official Dylan canon yet.  Although I always enjoy listening to Dylan exploring his faith, whatever it might be at the particular moment, none of his three strictly Christian albums would have made my Top Ten list.  The first one, Slow Train Coming, is generally regarded as the best one, but I prefer the harder rocking third album, Shot of Love, the best.  The album's final track, "Every Grain of Sand,"  is one of his best songs ever and a great depiction of trying to live the Christian life.

Worst Album:

I never heard Dylan, the outtake album Columbia released to spite him after he left for Asylum, but they say that it is pretty bad.  I don't hate Self Portrait as much as people did at the time of its release.  That's probably because I never sat down and really listened to it.  I can't say that I really hate any of Dylan's albums, but there are a few that just don't gel with me no matter how many chances I give them.  They include:  New Morning, Planet Waves, Street Legal, Down In The Groove and Knocked Out Loaded.

I haven't heard the Christmas album yet.  Or his Sinatra wannabe one.  They kinda scare me....

Have you bought my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking to God" yet?  If not, you really should.  Get it on paperback or kindle here:  BUY IT NOW!  (How about that for subtle?)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 Kairos Prize Semi-Finalists

Being a 2012 winner of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, I always follow the contest and I want to congratulate this year's Semi-Finalists.  It is a great accomplishment and I am happy to see some familiar names on the list.  I wish you all the best. Hopefully this will be the beginning of an exciting ride for you.  MovieGuide treats the winners well!  Check out my blog to read more about my experience:   Winning The Kairos Prize.

Karen Aaker for THE SURRENDER
Judy Belshe-Toernblom for THE FORGIVENESS DANCE
Alexandra Boylan, John Graham and Andrea Polnaszeck for WISH FOR CHRISTMAS
Karen Bruchey for STANDARD OF LIVING
John Connell for THE DUMB OX BELLOWS
Donald Driscoll for SHOWDOWN AT DAMASCUS
Sandra H. Esch for TRACKS IN THE SNOW
Melody George for YOUR LOVE IS STRONG
Joseph Granda for OUT OF THE FLATIRONS
Randall Hahn for ON THE SPARROW
Billie Harris for HONEY
Dennis J. Hassell for THE FARMER
Jonathan C. Hetz for THE SAMARITAN
Bob Johnson for ON SUMMER’S WING
Marlon Jones for MISDIRECTION
Brendan Kelly for GIANT
John Kestner for THE OFFSIDE KID
Tara Kirk for A WEEK WITH NICK
Harry Kleinman for WIND AND A PRAYER
Ryan LaForge for FREEDOM
Connie Lanyon-Roberts for BRIDGE AT MORNING STAR
Debbie Lollie for THEO’S HEART
Christopher Lovick and Wayne Sable for HEAVEN’S MESSENGER
Steve Lucas for THE WEEDING
Kenāta Martins for IN MY GARDEN
Birgit Myaard for THE HAND OF A WOMAN
Kim Nowlin for THE WATCHMAN
Lance Ochsner for THE COLD ALONE
Rich Orstad for ENDURANCE
Kyle Portbury for SAILFISH
James Provost for CROSS THE BRIDGE
Mary A. Quigley for MACY’S GRACE
Mike Reid for THE TRIBUTE
Paul Rowlston for 93 DAYS
Michael Russell for SAVING GRACE
Jason Saylor for AMAZING GRACE
D. Scott Shultz for THE FALCONER
Annette Siegal for TWO WOMEN
Jeff Sussman for THE SHEPARD
Maggie TerryViale for THE CRY OF THE DAFFODILS
Doug Van Bebber for BLACKJACK
Jonathan Vermeer for HOPE UNSEEN
Virginia Williams for THE LEAST OF THESE
Charlotte Winters for ACROSS THE SOUND
Laura Woodworth for TWO KEYS

Pssst.  I might be making an announcement about my Kairos-winning script soon.  Until then, check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Three Stooges: An Analysis

The following is my final paper from my "Film In Culture" class at Towson State University circa 1983.  The class was taught by Professor Barry Moore and dealt mainly with films from the French New Wave and with iconoclastic American directors of the 1970s like Robert Altman.  Therefore, Dr. Moore was not pleased when I told him my film paper would be about interpersonal communication within The Three Stooges comedy team.  He told me he would fail me if I wrote this paper.  Being an iconoclastic student of the 1980s, I did it anyway.  Here it is, with errors intact, but photos have been added.   (BTW, the paper was heavily footnoted, but since I lost the attribution pages, I will not be including the footnotes here.)


by Sean Murphy


The Three Stooges were unique.

Leonard Maltin devoted a chapter to The Three Stooges in his book Movie Comedy Teams and opened it with this quote from an article from a 1937 issue of The Motion Picture Herald:  "The public, upon which the screen depends for its existence, appears  . . . to be roughly divided into two groups, one composed of person who laugh at The Three Stooges and the other made up of those who wonder why."  This quote is, as Maltin observes, as accurate today as the day it was written.

Between 1930 and 1965, The Three Stooges appeared in no fewer than two hundred and twenty motion pictures.  That is a feat unparalleled by any other comedy team or comedian in the history of American sound films.  In fact, I believe that the end of their film career was caused more by their age than a lack of public acceptance of their material.

In 1930, Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Fields, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges were all actively involved in the film industry.  However, by the 1960s, The Three Stooges were the only members of that group still starring in motion pictures for a living.  Over those long years, the United States experienced tremendous shifts in social attitudes, mores and tastes.  Those changes destroyed the careers of many top comics in the film industry.  However, The Three Stooges, mainly because of their television exposure, ended their career more popular then they were at the peak of their powers in the late thirties.  In the United States today, I feel that it could be argued that the work of The Three Stooges is far more familiar to the average American than the work of such undisputed comic geniuses as Chaplin and Keaton.

In spite of their long and productive career, The Three Stooges have received practically no serious attention from critics or students of film.  Even Leonard Maltin, who wrote about the Stooges in at least two books, kept his writings mainly limited to their history and filmography.  The main reason why most critics ignore The Three Stooges is the fact that they specialized in a low form of slapstick humor, which is considered unworthy of serious study.  I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that The Three Stooges were the most creative, inventive or funniest comedy team in the history of film.  However, I do believe that The Three Stooges became the undisputed masters of a very limited, but timeless, form of slapstick humor.

In this paper, I will attempt to discover why The Three Stooges were able to conquer a genre which only a few comedians could master.   I will attempt to explain the internal, interpersonal relationships in this team which makes the comedy work.  I will not do this by researching the opinions and interpretations of the critics, which would make this a very short paper.   Instead, I will intensively study four Three Stooges short subjects.  The films, "Hoi Polloi," "Pardon My Scotch," "Three Little Beers," and "Tassels In The Air," were all made between 1935 and 1938 and are, in my opinion, generally characteristic of The Three Stooges' style and work at the peak of their powers.  This paper will consist of three parts; a history of The Three Stooges, a study of the short subjects, and the conclusions that I will draw from the short subjects.

(Barry Moore notes, in red pencil: " Maybe you should write a long book on them is there is such a dearth of material on them."  Hard to tell if that comment was sincere or snark.  At the time, he was rumored to be writing a book about Paul Mazursky.)

History of The Three Stooges

The Early Years

The comedy team known as The Three Stooges evolved slowly in the vaudeville theaters of the teens and twenties.  Moe Howard, who was born in 1905, was the first member of the team to enter show business after he ran away from home in 1914.  Moe made his show business debut performing on a Mississippi riverboat and later acted in numerous troupes performing a wide variety of material including Shakespeare.  After World War I, Moe's brother Shemp, who was born in 1901, joined him in vaudeville and they formed a blackface act.

Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, Ted Healy
In 1923, Moe and Shemp got a temporary job with a comedian named Ted Healy.  Moe and Shemp were hired to heckle Healy from the audience, but they got along so well together that the heckling became a permanent job.  In 1928, the group was joined by another vaudevillian named Larry Fine, who was born in 1911.  Larry started in show business at an early age like the Howards and was working in an act called The Haney Sisters and Fine when he joined the Ted Healy act.  The new act became known alternately as Ted Healy and his Gang, Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen, Ted Healey and his Racketeers, and Ted Healy and his Stooges, although only one title was used at a time.

This act became a top act in the vaudeville circuits and even appeared in Broadway Revues.  In 1930, the group made a film entitled "Soup to Nuts."  After making their film debut, the team went back to playing in the top vaudeville circuits and in Broadway Revues.  In 1933, MGM hired the team and they went to the West Coast to make movies.  However, by that time, Shemp had left the group to accept an offer he received from Vitaphone and was replaced by Curly Howard, who was born in 1911.

At MGM, Ted Healy and His Stooges appeared in a number of feature films, such as "Dancing Lady" starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, mainly in supporting roles.  The team also starred in a number of experimental color short subjects.  However, the Howard brothers and Larry Fine were, by 1934, prepared to break with Ted Healy and form their own act.  It was at that time that the Stooges caught the attention of Jules White, who was in the process of forming the short subject department at Columbia Pictures.

The Columbia Short Subjects

The finest films made by The Three Stooges were made during their years at Columbia.  The Stooges began their long and fruitful association with the studio in 1934 when they made a short subject called "The Woman Haters."  This film, told entirely in rhyme, wasn't particularly characteristic of their later work.  It was their third film that won The Three Stooges their long term contract with Columbia Pictures where they would keep making short subjects until 1957.

(Barry Moore, always a disciple of the auteur theory, asked here:  "Who wrote and produced them and how were they treated?")

The short subject in question, "Men In Black," was nominated for an Academy Award as the Best Short Subject of 1934.  This marked the first and last time that the Stooges would be nominated for an Academy Award.  However, the film was so successful that the team was offered a contract to make eight, eighteen-minute (later reduced to sixteen-minute) short subjects each year.  Moe Howard remembers "that the films were budgeted at $27,000 a piece."

Moe Howard also recalled that the group would devise the idea for a short by "thinking where the Stooges would be most out of place."  Later, when the budgets became very restrictive, the shorts were designed to make use of sets that were made for more expensive films at Columbia.

The Three Stooges themselves were an integral part of the writing of their shorts.  Director Edward Bernds described the process of writing a Stooge comedy as such:  "We'd usually have kind of a bull session in which the boys would wander all over the place, ad-libbing routines, reminiscing, and I would take notes.  I would borrow from old scripts also, but mostly I listened.  I would stockpile routines, devise some sort of a framework for them to hang onto.  I would then write a rough draft script and call them in.  They would go through the first draft; it would give them other notions, and I would make cuts and additions, and somehow hammer out a further draft so that it was pretty much agreed upon by the time it got into a final draft."

(Barry Moore, always the grammarian, advised:  "indent and single space long quotes.")

In 1946, after making 97 shorts for Columbia, the Three Stooges underwent their first change in personnel since the early 1930s.  Curly Howard had been ill for sometime.  It was becoming very noticeable in the films he made so he decided to retire.  Curley was replaced by his older brother Shemp, who had managed to to achieve success in short subjects and supporting roles in feature films such as W.C. Fields' "The Bank Dick" after leaving the Healy act.

Shemp remained a member of the team until 1955, making 78 shorts, before his untimely death forced his removal from the act.  Shemp was replaced by Joe Besser, who appeared in the last fifteen shorts that the Stooges made.  Unfortunately, by the time Besser joined the team, the quality of the films had sadly deteriorated.  The later films lacked the energy of the earlier shorts.  Also, budget restrictions limited creativity and forced the Stooges to make films that could employ stock footage from their earlier pictures.  Some of the last short subjects made by The Three Stooges were filmed in less than a day.

By 1956, the Stooges were the last group making short subjects for Columbia.  The Three Stooges finished their last short in January of 1957.  However, the team had made so many films that Columbia was able to continue releasing new shorts until 1959.  Within a year after the Stooges' contract expired, the short subject department at Columbia was disbanded.

The Later Years

After the team's contract at Columbia expired in 1957, no other studio was interested in signing them to a contract.  This is not surprising since the genre the Stooges worked in, short subjects, was almost entirely extinct.  Instead of retiring, the Stooges decided to embark on a personal appearance tour.  However, before the tour began, Besser decided to leave the act to be with his wife, who was seriously ill.  At this point, while The Three Stooges were unknowingly on the verge of rebirth, they talked of disbanding the act.

Rebirth for The Three Stooges came when Columbia released 78 of their shorts to television in 1958.  Success was immediate.  Within a year, 156 television stations were playing their films.  The demand for the shorts was so great that Columbia decided to release all 190 Three Stooges short subjects to television.

The Three Stooges, now joined by veteran comic Joe DeRita, who was nicknamed Curley Joe, found their personal appearance tours extremely successful.  The Three Stooges became so popular that Columbia decided to rehire them to make feature films in 1959,  The first film they made, "Have Rocket, Will Travel," proved successful and they made ten more features (eight in starring roles) before making their last film, "The Outlaws Is Coming," in 1965.

The Three Stooges continued to tour and make appearances on various television shows until the death of Larry Fine forced the disbanding of the act.

A Study of the Shorts


In this section, I will study the relationships between the members of the team, as well as the way in which each member relates to the outside world.  I will graph the interactions by watching the shorts and recording their interactions on a communication chart.  I will use a communication chart with four circles; one for Moe, Larry, Curly and the outside world.

All of the circles will be connected by various lines.  The two outer lines represent verbal communication between the person where the line begins to the person where the line points.  The inner lines represent physical contact between the members of the group including punches, slaps, pokes, kicks, etc.  The numbers written on the lines indicate how many times the members communicate with each other in that form.  The outside world will be connected to the individual Stooges with only one line in each direction which will record all contact.

(Barry Moore asked in red pencil:  "Where did this idea come from?"  The answer:  A communication class I was taking concurrently.)

I will also record the number of times each member of the group solos.  I will define a solo as a comedy bit or routine that is executed without the assistance of the other two members of the group.  I will also record each time a pair forms for the purpose of comedy, without the assistance of the third member of the team (though the third person may be present in the frame at the time.)

(Barry Moore added in red pencil:  "This is a form of criticism very close to what is known as structuralism.")

"Pardon My Scotch"

"Pardon My Scotch" was released on August 1, 1935.  It was the ninth short subject that The Three Stooges made for Columbia.  The film was directed by Del Lord, a comedy veteran from the Mack Sennett Studios who directed a great number of films by The Three Stooges.  (Incidentally, Jules White re-discovered Del Lord, who ended up selling cars after his Mack Sennett days.)  The supporting cast in this film includes Billy Gilbert, a fine supporting comic who work with some of the best comedians of the 1930s.

The film opens with the Stooges working as carpenters for a druggist.  The druggist is upset because Prohibition is about to end and his supplier can't fill his liquor order.  He leaves the Stooges in charge of the store as he leaves to look into the matter.

When the liquor salesman drops by, the Stooges mix him a fixer-upper and the salesman mistakens it for scotch.  The salesman decides to pawn off the Stooges as Scot distillers to his boss.  The Stooges are invited to a dinner party at the boss' house and the predictable chaos ensues.

The Communication Chart:

(Barry Moore remarked:  "Needs a better looking graphic.")


It is obvious from the chart that Moe talks the most and that he is responsible for the vast majority of the physical contact.  The chart also shows that Larry speaks the least, and does not have physical contact with any of the other members of the team.  I would like to add that four of the six times Moe struck Larry, he also struck Curly.

Concerning contact with the outside world, most of the Stooges' communication was spoken in unison in response to questions from other characters.  However, in non-unison communication, Moe took the role of the straight man with non-Stooge characters and Curly used interactions with others for humorous results.


(1).  Moe - None
(2).  Larry - Once - Larry prepared a meal of flowers while sitting at the dinner table.
(3).  Curly - Once - At the dinner table, he fought with the roll he was eating.


Although Moe did not solo, he struck each of the others after they did so.


(1).  Moe & Curley - Once - They couldn't agree on which direction was right.
(2).  Moe & Larry - None.
(3).  Larry & Curley - Once - They accidentally saw a table in half that Moe was standing on.

"Hoi Polloi"

"Hoi Polloi" was released on August 29, 1935, and was the tenth short subject that the Stooges made at Columbia.  The film was directed by Del Lord.  This film was remade twice as "Half-Wits Holiday" in 1947, and as "Pies and Guys" in 1958.   Stock footage from "Hoi Polloi" was used in the film "In The Sweet Pie and Pie" in 1941.

In this film, two professors argue whether being a gentleman is a product of heredity or training.  The professor who believes in training bets he can train anyone.  The Three Stooges become the subjects of this experiment with predictable results.

The Communication Chart:

(Barry Moore remarked, perhaps accurately:  "Besides communicative patterns, more is needed on the comedy style itself.")


This chart shows that "Hoi Polloi" is a much more violent film than "Pardon My Scotch."  As in the first film, Moe does the majority of the speaking and hitting.  In fact, Moe hits his fellow Stooges more than he talks to them!

Larry engages in more physical contact in this film than he did in the previous one.  However, all three of the times Larry hits Moe, he does so unintentionally in cooperation with Curly.  Larry's physical contact with Curly is also unintentional.


(1).  Moe - Twice - Moe has short comedy routine while learning table manners.  Later, at a party, he has an encounter with a girl.
(2).  Larry - Twice -  Larry has a short comedy bit while learning table manners.  He also has a problem with his shoes while dancing.
(3).  Curly - Six - He engages in various encounters with the other characters in the film.


Moe and Larry share an equal number of solos, but Larry's solos are longer.  Curley solos the most by a wide margin.  The longest episode in the film occurs when Curly dances with a spring attached to the seat of his pants.


(1).  Moe & Curly - Once - Moe catches Curly attempting to steal a bottle of champagne and some silverware.
(2).  Moe & Larry - Once - Larry loses his shoe on the dance floor and Moe repeatedly kicks him as he retrieves it.
(3).  Larry & Curly - Once - They accidentally toss a can of trash over the garbage truck and hit Moe.


As in "Pardon My Scotch," it seems that every time Moe and Curly team up, the encounter ends with Moe hitting Curley.  Also, it seems every time Curly and Larry team up, they inadvertently do something that affects Moe.

"Three Little Beers"

"Three Little Beers" was released on November 28, 1935.  It was the eleventh short subject the Stooges made for Columbia.  It was directed by Del Lord and written by Clyde Bruckman, who worked with many comedy greats including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy and even Abbott & Costello.  (Bruckman, who sadly wrestled with alcoholism, would later commit suicide using a gun borrowed from Buster Keaton.)  The film also featured a frequent Stooge nemesis Bud Jamison.

In this film, the Stooges are beer truck drivers who sneak onto a golf course.  Needless to say, the golf course will never be the same.

The Communication Chart:


In many ways, this short differs from the first two films, but the majority of the differences cannot be detected in the basic communication chart.  Some, however, do.  Notably, Moe strikes Larry almost as many times as he strikes Curly in this film.  Also, Larry does not initiate any physical contact with his cohorts in this film.


(1).  Moe - Three - All of the solos involve his activities on the golf course.  The longest scene in one in which he makes hundreds of holes while he attempts to hit the ball.
(2)  Larry - Two - His solos are similar to Moe's solos.  His longest solo depicts him ruining a green by pulling up a root.
(3).  Curly - Four - His solos are much like his cohorts.  His longest solo involves him chopping down a tree to get a golf ball.


This is the first film examined in this paper in paper in which Moe has more solo routines than Larry.  However, like the earlier films, Curly's solos are the longest, most elaborate and the funniest.


(1).  Moe & Curley - None.
(2).  Moe & Larry - None.
(3).  Larry & Curly - None.


The lack of teaming makes this short differ dramatically from the first two films  Instead of teaming, this film uses parallel editing between the various solos on the golf course.  This lack of teaming could also explain why Larry does not hit Moe throughout the course of the film.

"Tassels In The Air"

"Tassels In The Air" was released on April 1, 1938 and was the thirtieth short subject that the team made at Columbia.  This short was directed by the talented Baltimore-born comedian Charley Chase, who, though largely forgotten now, starred in a fine series of short comedies at the Hal Roach Studios.  This film is a partial re-working of his own 1933 film "Luncheon At Twelve."  This film also features Stooge regulars Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison.

In this film, The Three Stooges are painters who are mistaken by a woman to be famous interior decorators.

The Communications Chart:


This film is very uncharacteristic for The Three Stooges.  Not only is it a partial remake of one of director Charley Chase's short films, but it also reflected his more verbal and situational humor as opposed to the knockabout slapstick the team specialized in.

The overall decrease in physical contact is very noticeable on the Communication Chart.  This is the least violent short examined in this paper.  The film is also notable for the increased interaction between Larry and Curly, both physically and verbally.   However, Moe's physical contact remains evenly divided between Larry and Curly.


(1). Moe - None.
(2). Larry - None.
(3). Curly - None.


Aside from some short scenes in which each of the Stooges mistakens paint brushes and paint cans for food and drink, there were no solos during this film.


(1).  Moe & Curly - None.
(2).  Moe & Larry - None.
(3).  Larry & Curly - Twice - The two play checkers on a tile floor with cans of paint.  Later, they have a verbal exchange when they argue which direction is right.


Although there was little actual teaming in this film, there is a stronger informal bond between Curly and Larry, with Moe acting as a mediator between the two.  Unlike the other films, when Curly and Larry team up in this film, Moe does not suffer as a result.

(Barry Moore remarked at this time:  "I think you need a greater sense of generality to put the Stooges into perspective here.")


It could be argued that it is impossible to uncover the inner workings of a comedy team which has made over two hundred films by examining only four films.  That is an understandable argument.  However, the information obtained by studying these four films I have chosen gives a great deal of insight into The Three Stooges.

One problem makes it difficult to ascertain the true screen characters and relationship between The Three Stooges.  The problem is that the characters played by Moe, Larry and Curly are not the most well-defined and well-rounded characters in the history of film.  There are undeniable generalizations and an undeniable hierarchical relationship.  However, after watching a number of Three Stooges films, one does not get the same sense of character and personality that one would get after watching a Laurel and Hardy film.

Although there were exceptions, Laurel and Hardy would rarely sacrifice their carefully-honed characters and relationships for the sake of a laugh.  The Three Stooges were not as solid in their characterizations.  The nature of their characters and relationships bend with the demands of the script and gag.  The shifts are not so great as to change the hierarchical order, but there are discernible differences.  These changes can be seen especially well in the way the Stooges relate to the other characters in the films.

Most people credit the resistance of many moviegoers have to the team to the crude, knockabout humor, I think the main problem is the shallow characterizations.  Chaplin, for example, relied heavily on the same style of humor, but he also gave the audience an character whose motivations could be understood.  The lack of character definition makes it difficult to understand the Stooges' overall motivations, since they have a tendency to differ from film to film.  These changes in motivation do not make the gags any less funny.  However, the changes work against audience identification with the group.  Without that identification, the audience never really sympathies with the Stooges.

(Barry Moore noted:  "Working in shorts can do this.  However, the silent comedians seemed to overcome this.")

The Characters:

Moe is the boss.  He is unquestionably the dominant member of the group.  He is the leader and the enforcer.  The other two follow his instructions or incur his wrath.  Moe does not allow any insubordination.

When dealing with non-Stooges, Moe is generally the straight man.  When he interacts with other characters outside of the presence of the other Stooges, Moe seems almost like a fish out of water.  Moe seems unable to deal effectively with women, probably because his character is a bully by nature and he realizes his normal behavior would be unacceptable against a woman.

Moe's response to non-Stooge men depends on the relative status of the person.  When the person is a servant, or holds a similar low status position, Moe will approach him from a position of dominance.  However, Moe does not talk back to, or attempt to dominant, men of higher social status.  He's not Groucho Marx, who was an equal opportunity offender.  Moe respects authority.

When dealing with Curly, Moe works to retain leadership even though Curly does not seriously challenge it.  He will strike Curly for little or no reason.   His relationship with Larry is less violent because he has nothing to fear from him.  Larry rarely stands up to him.

Moe's character is defined by dominance.  This perhaps explains why he has a tendency to solo less than the other two Stooges.  Without the presence of his cohorts, Moe loses his dominance and therefore his character loses its effectiveness.

Curly is the wildest and most free-spirited of the Stooges.  Curly Howard was a very versatile comic, and the character he plays reflects it.  His wide range of expressions and noises makes him ideally suited his solo episodes in the films.  His actual character is hard to explain.  Much like Harpo Marx, he seems capable of anything.

(Barry Moore added:  "Curly's a child, like Harpo.")

Curly is submissive to Moe, but that does not stop him from questioning Moe's ideas and rules.  Curly's questioning is generally innocent or good-natured.  He does not strive to upset the established hierarchal order.  When Moe strikes him, Curly generally responds first by making some sort of noise.  If Moe strikes him again, and he generally does, Curly will attempt to strike back.  However, Curly's attempts to hit Moe have a tendency to backfire.  In practically all of their encounters of this sort, Moe remains in the dominant position.

Curly's relationship with Larry is not as well-defined.  When the two of them are together for a prolonged period of time without Moe's supervision, Curly will attempt to dominate Larry.  However, for the most part, Curly and Larry tend to regard each other as equals.  Moe's total dominance places them in the same boat.  Curly and Larry will both attempt to defend each other if they feel Moe is being unfair.  The relationship between Curly and Larry is generally downplayed in the films.  That is a pity because "Tassels in the Air" shows that there was a lot of comic potential in that relationship.

Curly uses his encounters with non-Stooges to the fullest potential.  In conversation with outsiders, Curly is likely to make a humorous statement.  His crazy behavior is funniest against the backdrop of the normal world.

Larry is the hardest member of the troupe to define.  His individual identity is almost entirely erased by his submissiveness.  However, when he is alone, Larry's routines more resemble those of Curly than those of Moe, though they are not quite as wild.

Larry is extremely submissive to Moe and hardly ever strikes him knowingly.  In fact, most of the time he hits Moe, he does so accidentally with the assistance of Curly.  Occasionally, Larry will stand up to Moe, but such revolts are infrequent and short-lived.

When dealing with Curly, Larry shows more individuality.  He is not submissive to Curly, and perhaps even feels superior to him.  (This is the same way Curly treats him.)  However, Larry does not attempt to dominate Curly, except in conjunction with Moe.  Occasionally, Larry will attempt to intervene with Moe on Curly's behalf.

Larry's overall position and role within the team is unusual.  He seems to be the least essential member of the group.  In fact, he appears almost unnecessary.  But is he?  Would the shorts work as effectively without him?  I don't think so.

If Larry were removed from the team, and the basic relationship between Moe and Curly didn't change, the team would not work as effectively.  My study illustrates that when Moe and Curly join together in a solo pairing, the two end up exchanging blows.  Granted, the Stooges exchanging blows can be very funny, but if overdone, it loses effectiveness.  Unless Moe and Curly changed their basic relationship in Larry's absence, they would have to be frequently separated in the films in order to keep them from becoming repetitive.

In order to separate the two,   Moe and Curly would both have to solo more frequently.  This would be good for Curly, who excelled in his solo routines.  However, since Moe's character is based on dominance, his ability to solo effectively is limited.  Without Larry, Moe would be forced to fade into the background as Curly carried the films.

The films, and the team itself, would lose its sense of balance without Larry.  Larry, although his character is very weakly defined, is an integral and necessary part of the team.  He is the glue that holds The Three Stooges together.

(Barry Moore, disappointed, wrote in his trusty red pencil:  "Conclusion?")

The End

(In his conclusion, Professor Barry Moore wrote:  "An interesting and in-depth look.  I found the last few pages to be the best.  I didn't feel the communication charts were conclusive.  Overall, a very decent paper on a different subject.  B+)

Wow.  If you remember, Barry told me that he would fail me if I handed in a paper about The Three Stooges.  Winning him over on this subject was one of my greatest sales jobs during my college years.  (I certainly wasn't able to display the same skill in Amway, or with my college sweetheart for that matter!)

Looking back on this paper, and its subject matter, I am reminded how much of my love of film came from watching short comedies during my youth.  My favorites were Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, but I also greatly appreciated the short films of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals and Charley Chase.  When I imagined myself in the film business at the age of twelve, I didn't see myself as an actor, writer or director.  I wanted to be a producer like Hal Roach and run a comedy factory.

It didn't quite work out that way, but I did manage to make a few films....

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.