The Three Stooges are an American institution, an inimitable comedy act that several decades later are still remembered fondly and still watched by generations whose parents weren’t alive when their comedy shorts were originally released. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a fan since I was a child, both of the classic “Moe, Larry, and Curly” trio and the “Moe, Larry, and Shemp” trio. (I can watch and even enjoy Curly Joe DeRita and Joe Besser, but there’s a definite drop-off, since those two are just imitating Curly, while Shemp was his own man.) So when I found out that there was a pilot made for a Three Stooges television series (and not the animated series put out by Hanna-Barbera years later, let alone the abominable Robonic Stooges), I was curious why I hadn’t heard of it earlier, and why it never took off. America loved the Stooges, so it was hard to believe that they couldn’t get a TV pilot picked up.
OK, all of America except this couple.
As it turns out, it was arguably because of the Stooges’ popularity that the pilot was shelved. Columbia Pictures reminded the Stooges that they were under contract, and could not launch a TV series that might compete with their two-reel comedies. So the pilot was never picked up or aired, and remained obscure until it lapsed into the public domain, at which point it started being released on home video as Jerks of All Trades.
The concept for the television series was that the Stooges would try out a different occupation every episode; for the pilot, the trio are interior decorators, and in typical Stooge-like fashion, they wind up wrecking the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pennyfeather (Emil Sitka and Symona Boniface).
All in a day’s work for a Stooge.
Made in 1949, this was after Curly unfortunately had to retire due to a debilitating stroke. Shemp fills the role of the third Stooge, and while he doesn’t have the manic energy of Curly, his more laid-back style works well for the piece; one of his strengths is that he can match Moe’s sullen indignation while still remaining a lack-wit. Unfortunately, this is one of the few things that really works well in this pilot. Some of the gags are familiar, being recycled from earlier material, and others just don’t quite hit the mark. The pilot was shot in a day, and the feeling of a rush job is evident in the picture. The Three Stooges are usually masters of timing — it’s one of the hallmarks of their work — but here everything is just slightly off. George Cahan directed, but I’m more inclined to blame the short production time for any problems of timing instead of the director or the Stooges themselves. There’s also a verbal gag involving a hapless salesman (Joseph Kearns) that takes up too many of the short’s 19 minutes. An additional problem is one of pacing; there isn’t quite enough of a plot to string the gags together, nor quite enough gags to mask the absence of a plot.
In the end, Jerks of All Trades winds up occupying an odd little niche for a reviewer. It’s got a few laughs here and there, but not as many as a Three Stooges short should have. I can’t really recommend it for casual Stooges fans — there are better shorts out there, whether with Curly or Shemp. But I know there’s not a lot of point in dissuading hardcore Stooges fans. The novelty factor alone of being a lost TV pilot may be enough to make it worth seeing for a completist. But just be aware that taken by itself, it’s a sub-par offering.