We enter a new realm of Stooge shorts, as IF A BODY MEETS A BODY is considered a short where nobody argues there is something wrong with Curly, and it will continue to be this way for the final eleven shorts that follow. For years I have always suspected something happened to Curly in between the filming of IDIOTS DE LUXE and this short, and upon doing research over the past few weeks, I now know this to be correct.
IDIOTS DE LUXE was shot in October 1944. While there are some signs Curly is ill, as there have been for a lot of the shorts over the past few years, his appearance and performance weren't as dramatically alarming as things are now. Though released before IDIOTS DE LUXE, the feature ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES was shot in December 1944, the last filmed footage before IF A BODY MEETS A BODY. Not exactly classic Curly, but again, not as bad as what was to follow. Upon digging through Joan Howard Mauer's biography, CURLY: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY OF THE SUPERSTOOGE, Moe sensed there was something wrong with Curly in January 1945 and suggested Curly see a doctor. Curly's condition was considered so grim that he spent several weeks in a sanitarium to recuperate in January into February 1945. Again, the short we're talking here is March, the previous filmed appearance December, so obviously in the interim, Curly was having severe health issues, and it shows.
The blown match gag to me is the worst bit, Curly's reaction to being struck by the match a good five seconds too late. This is the same man who five years earlier made reacting to getting sprayed by water from pipes a high art form. This is a dramatic fall. Some of Curly's deliveries were really unconvincing too, the worst being when he says, "Oh, I can't look at this. I can't. I can't." That is the most wooden I have ever heard Curly.
The final thing I will say about Curly's health is out of the eleven shorts that followed, he was better in all of them than he was here. I really think Jules White had no idea what he was getting into and came unprepared. The later Curly shorts, while there is obviously something wrong, are not this dramatic. I really think they planned in advance and either found ways to write around Curly, coach him better, or simply use Larry more.
Forgetting about Curly's health for a moment, I have also made it known Stooge scare comedies in general are not my favorites, and this is no exception. There are no really great gags to me, no stand out scenes, and the dead bodies, while effective in straight horror movies, really bring the comic mood down further. IF A BODY MEETS A BODY is also a remake of THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE (1930). It wasn't a funny script when Stan and Ollie did it either, and we'll get to that film in the coming months. As stated in the link above, Fred Kelsey plays the detective in both films!
Despite all the gloom and doom, I will say the look of this short is fantastic. The thunder and rain, the great dark exterior shot of the house, the shadows lit up against the wall, it at least has the look of a good black and white horror film. Also, Larry is funny in this one throughout, check out his reaction in the final shot when they find out Curly inherits sixty seven cents. I also dig Moe threatening to tear Curly's tonsils out and using them as a bow tie.
Really sad seeing Curly like this, and it will be this way for the shorts we discuss over the next couple of months, but hey, guess what? Next week, we get to say hi to Edward Bernds and see one of those above mentioned shorts where they found a way to work around Curly's illness. Looking forward to discussing it.