Review: Cuckoo On A Choo Choo (1952)

>> Sunday, December 2, 2007

USA/B&W-15m./Dir: Jules White/Wr: Felix Adler/Cast: Larry Fine (Larry), Shemp Howard (Shemp), Moe Howard (Moe), Patricia Wright (Roberta), Victoria Horne (Lenore), Reggie Dvorack (Carey, the canary)

During the Three Stooges years at Columbia, they produced 190 short subjects. Some were comic gems (Three Little Pirates, Punchy Cowpunchers), while others were groaners (most of the Joe Besser shorts), but the very bottom of the barrel was Cuckoo On A Choo Choo. Unfortunately, since Shemp Howard spends almost the entirety of this so-called comedy schnokkered from the contents of his little brown jug, Cuckoo On A Choo Choo is one of the few Stooge shorts that I am obligated to review.

In a parody of A Streetcar Named Desire, Larry plays a Marlon Brando-type (ripped t-shirt, bad attitude, and all) who has stolen a railroad car named “Schmow.” He shares the boxcar with his girlfriend Roberta and her overly emotional sister Lenore. Larry wants to marry Roberta, but she refuses to go through with the ceremony until Larry can convince Shemp to marry her sister. Unluckily for Larry, Shemp is a dedicated drunkard who wants nothing to do with the union. Instead, he prefers getting stinko on joy juice and dancing with a giant canary that only he can see (a parody of the invisible rabbit in Harvey). Railroad agent Moe wedges himself into the party in order to bring the boxcar thieves to justice, but his plans change when he realizes that the love of his life, Lenore, is amongst the miscreants.

Although it was understandable for the Columbia shorts team to look towards popular culture for ideas for new Stooge vehicles, it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that a send-up of A Streetcar Named Desire would be a good vehicle for the boys. Few laughs are to be had in this comic misfire. Larry Fine is over his head in trying to burlesque Brando, and Moe (who was usually the engine that propelled the story and comic business) is given little to do. Only Shemp manages to garner a few giggles with his drunk shtick, and the fact that he was able to milk a little mirth from this weak material is proof of his considerable comic talents.

While not recommended, those brave enough to endure Cuckoo On A Choo Choo may find some enjoyment for the shear weirdness of the short--especially the scenes with Carey, the invisible canary. It is an odd film indeed in which Larry Fine’s Brando imitation is not the strangest sight on display.

Drinks Consumed--Unnamed booze (likely whiskey) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, physical violence, and seeing things

Potent Quotables--SHEMP: (after being hit) I’m shot!... or half shot, or I ought to be shot. Oh, I guess, I’ll have a shot. (He takes a long drink from his bottle) Horrible, but I like it.

Video Availability--Not yet available on DVD, but Columbia has plans to release all 190 Stooge shorts in chronological box sets over the next couple of years.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Moe, Larry, and Shemp are at their most stewed in Love At First Bite (1950).

The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time


Anonymous September 26, 2008 at 2:40 AM  

I love the Stooges...and have a special fondness for the really BAD Shemp and Joe films---- they are SO outrageous! Films like
Baby-Sitter's Jitters, Income Tax Sappy, Goof on the Roof, and Outer-Space Jitters are the lowest of the low...and yet hilarious and endearing in their own off-beat way. In fact, I will often turn to THEM for late
night "therapeutic" viewing instead of the overly-familiar Curly shorts.

HOWEVER, "Cuckoo on a Choo-Choo" is BEYOND abysmal---it is TOTALLY without merit, and surely stands as the ABSOLUTE WORST of all 190 Stooge comedies, making the above-named films seem like "Citizen Kane" by comparison.

Anonymous December 27, 2008 at 6:36 PM  

Though some say it doesn't meet the standards of the Three Stooges oeuvres, rather than trash 'Cuckoo on a Choo-Choo', might it be permissible to treat it as a work as yet not fully understood?

Aren't great statesmen, artists, and men of science scorned in their own time, only to be recognized for their achievements long after they've shuffled from this mortal coil?

For the moment, I'll defer to the Stooges, knowing that in time learned men will surely recognize Cuckoo on a Choo-Choo for the symbolic epoch it truly is.

That said, throughout Cuckoo, didn't Shemp prattle on and on, something about how he put the fountain pen in the whipped cream? Was that supposed to be some drunk-o 'invention' of his? Or did this mean something of greater signifigance?

Next time it's on TV, maybe I'll mix up a little Scotch & Lestoil and ponder this work in depth.

Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
27 December, 2008

kindersczenen April 27, 2009 at 4:39 PM  

Man, oh man! This short doesn't really deserve to be lumped in with the other 189, it's soooo bad. In fact, it's so bad, it's good! I mean, it makes no sense--you have Larry trying to be Brando?! The hell? I've read Streetcar, I've seen the movie, and I still don't get Larry as Brando even though his T-shirt's ripped.

And...that's it--I really can't say anything about it, it's so good it's bad. Also, in Cuckoo, Shemp's prattling on about SOMETHING, but it's in Heavenly Daze (and its remake Bedlam in Paradise) that he's talking about the infamous fountain pen that writes under whipped cream.

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