Review: Beer Barrel Polecats (1946)

>> Sunday, April 5, 2009

USA/B&W-15m./Dir: Jules White/Wr: Gilbert W. Pratt/Cast: Moe Howard (Moe), Larry Fine (Larry), Curly Howard (Curly), Vernon Dent (Warden)

The Three Stooges often recycled plotlines, gags, and archive footage while producing their 190 short subjects. However, fans of the 6-man trio can often identify a specific short based upon a single bit of business or line of dialogue. For example, die hard Stoogeaphiles would have little trouble naming the shorts associated with the phrases “Maha? Ah ha!” “Hold hands, you lovebirds,” or “We all put the yeast in.” The last classic quote originates from one of Curly’s final films with the team, Beer Barrel Polecats. Unfortunately, beyond that memorable line, the short has little to recommend it.

As the short begins, the Stooges have visited sixteen saloons and have been unable to find a single bottle of beer. Naturally, they decide to mix up their own home brew, and mix it up they do when each of the boys unknowingly adds the yeast to the concoction (Curly doesn’t even bother to unwrap the cakes of yeast, and he throws in the shopping bag as well). After Curly sells a bottle of the extra yeasty brew to a plainclothes detective, the boys end up in prison, where they get in even more hot water when it’s discovered that beer-crazy Curly smuggled in a keg under his coat (with the unlikely excuse that the bulge was a goiter). Forty years later, the Stooges are released from prison, but Moe and Larry make the guards take Curly back when he reveals that the first thing he plans to do is get his hands on a bottle of beer.

Beer Barrel Polecats was produced around the time that Curly suffered a series of minor strokes, and his illness is evident in his appearance and performance. He looks haggard and noticeably thinner, his timing is slower, and he doesn’t quite sound like the character that we know and love (his tone of voice fluctuates between being too high or too low). Despite his poor health, Curly gives a passable performance, and Larry picks up much of the slack by taking more than his normal share of physical abuse. Consequently, the newly filmed scenes play better than one would expect.

What really hurts Beer Barrel Polecats is that the second half of the film is made up almost entirely of excerpts from the previous Stooge shorts, In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941) and So Long Mr. Chumps (1941). Columbia’s shorts department had previously reused footage as a cost-cutting measure, so it made sense to employ the practice on Beer Barrel Polecats to give the ailing Curly a break from filming. However, the excerpted prison footage, filmed five years earlier with a heavier and healthier Curly, only helped to emphasize Curly’s illness in the new segments. What’s more, the old scenes were inserted so sloppily into the story that it ceased to make any sense. First the boys lament that they are about to be hung (In the Sweet Pie and Pie), which seems a very harsh sentence for smuggling a keg into jail. Then, with no explanation, their prison numbers change (So Long Mr. Chumps), and they are looking for Prisoner #41144 with plans to bust him out. Finally, in newly filmed footage, the boys are released from jail, with no mention of their prior death sentence.

Beer Barrel Polecats contains a few enjoyable moments during the beer-making scenes. However, Curly’s poor health and the slapdash use of archive footage spoil this brew.

P.S.--The other quotes mentioned in the review above come from Three Little Pirates (“Maha? Ah hah!”) and Brideless Groom (“Hold hands, you lovebirds.”), both much better shorts than Beer Barrel Polecats.

Drinks Consumed--Panther Pilsner Beer (consumed off-screen)

Intoxicating Effects--Jail time

Potent Quotables--CURLY: That’s it, the last one--one hundred and eighty-five bottles of beer!
MOE: We ain’t gonna run short of beer! Look at those bottles of beer! Hundreds of bottles of beer! Beer to swim in, beer to bathe in… We can wash our clothes in beer!
LARRY: We got beer galore!

Video Availability-- On DVD as part of The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 5 (1946 - 1948).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The Stooges try bootlegging imitation scotch in their first booze-centric short, Pardon My Scotch (1935).

The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 5 (1946 - 1948)


Anonymous April 6, 2009 at 8:52 AM  

The original script to BEER BARREL POLECATS indicates that Curly's health, as generally accepted, was probably not the reason for the stock footage. The unfilmed scenes either did not feature Curly, or he had virtually nothing to do in the scene, and imply another reason altogether. This will be discussed in a future article in The Three Stooges Journal.

garv April 7, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

Interesting. I'd always read that the re-used footage was due to Curly's health. I'd be interested to hear what had been written that was discarded.

BeAStooge April 9, 2009 at 11:48 PM  

Like I said, a future Three Stooges Journal article will examine the details... but a hint(s) can be found by watching POLECATS' "forefather."

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

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