Because of the delay in the start of this week's thread, I had a draft of this comment on my computer for a few days, and kept fussing with it and (perhaps unfortunately) adding to it. Now that Metaldams has started the thread, I see that my estimate of this short is similar to his. It's a good one, but most of the good things in it were done better in subsequent shorts—or, in the case of the hat business, perhaps in someone else's movie, though I have only Metaldams's word for that, as I haven't seen the Buster Keaton movie to which he refers.
There is no indication of the offense for which the boys have been sent to prison or exactly how long they have been in it, but it is clear that they have made themselves at home there. Curly dusts a framed sign that says "Home, Sweet Home" while a canary, behind bars of its own, sings nearby. It seems to be a way of life that suits them as well as riding the rails, begging, or lazing in bed all morning, to name some of their occupations in previous shorts.
Apparently they are so accustomed to life behind bars that it has never occurred to them to use "the tools that we've been using for the past ten years" (a gag previously used in Pardon My Scotch
) to break out until they get a letter from their mother demanding their help. But then, one wonders, what have they been using the tools for? And how on earth did they ever get them into their cell? Have they been in prison for all those ten years? These are, of course, questions that can't be answered. (The guard describes the premises as "jail" rather than "prison," but the striped uniforms suggest a long-term form of incarceration. Later, in the penthouse suite, the boys march to the marriage ceremony in prison style, each with a hand on the shoulder of the one in front of him, which adds to the suggestion that they have been behind bars for a long time.)
Despite their tearing the letter from their mother into three pieces as soon as the guard hands it to them, Moe manages to read from a perfectly intact sheet. It says that their father has divorced their mother to marry "a blonde"—a term that gets used in this short as if it were a byword for "golddigger." Once they have remembered their collection of tools, they put them to use in breaking out. This seems to be easy enough to do, with a bit of unwitting assistance from the dim-witted guard ("What you need is a hacksaw. . . . Imagine, a hacksaw in jail! Ha, ha!"). It takes only a bit of drilling and an impact from the head of a dummy that is supposed to be Curly (though it has a full head of hair) to knock a hole in the wall, and apparently passing through that hole is all that they need to do to walk away from the jail or prison entirely. When we next see them, they have inexplicably acquired complete outfits of civilian clothes, and go on their way with no thought of being caught by the police.
There are lots of fine comic situations in this short: Stooges in prison, acting like comfortable homebodies; Stooges using heavy tools to break out of prison (though in a more businesslike and therefore less funny way than in later shorts); Stooges out of prison, trying to get through the gate of their father's house, for which purpose one of them (Curly) happens to be carrying a concealed sledge hammer; Curly trying on hats, with a flat cap that repeatedly returns to his head even after being thrown away; Stooges in a fancy apartment, handling, and sometimes trying to steal, the goblets and trays (with appropriate punishments administered by Moe); and the big action of the short: two identical Curlies in flight from the bad guys, falling down an elevator shaft (to no ill effect—although, as I understand, Jerome Howard suffered a nasty blow to the head in filming this) and running up and down stairs.
Despite the violent climax of the short, in which the Stooges get dropped from the top of a fourteen-story building (to no harmful effect, of course), there seems to be less Stooge-on-Stooge violence in this short than in most. The only really satisfying bit that I recall comes when Moe applies the serving tray to Curly's head as Curly peeks around the corner.
--Moe gets a liquid accidentally blasted into his face by Larry not once but twice, or rather three times: once with the mixed drink in the penthouse and twice in prison with the oil cannister.
--The sleeping-sickness patient from Dizzy Doctors
(Frank Mills) reappears here as one of the thugs trying to kill "old man Howard." (Recognize the squeaky voice?) By the way, if the surname of the senior Curly is "Howard," and Larry, Moe, and Curly are brothers, then Larry must be Larry Howard in this short! On the other hand, there is no clear indication that Larry is the brother of Moe and Curly in this short: he could be simply a friend who goes with them wherever they go.
--Eddie Laughton, who first appeared in the Stooge shorts as a desk clerk in Three Little Beers
, does a winning turn as Daisy's flippantly homicidal boyfriend.
--"Speak to me, kid!" says Moe to Curly when Curly, posing as the father of both of them, has fainted. Apparently no one finds it odd that a man would address his father as "kid"!
--"I'm in a hurry all over!"
--This is, I think, the first instance of a routine that will be used, with variations and improvements, many times over: the use of blows to the head of Curly (or, later, Shemp) to gain access to an idea believed to be lodged in it:
Curly: I've got an idea at the back of my head!
Moe: Well, bring it out front! (Raps him on the back of the head)
Moe: Well, what is it?
Curly: You knocked it clear out!
I'm glad that they held on to the gag for further improvements later.