Everything happens to me.
So, it’s come to this. In a way, this final match-up is the one that I had hoped to see since the very first round. Both are iconic stooge foes who left us something unforgettable. But for me, the choice of the ultimate, most memorable stooge villain of them all is clear.
First we have Gene Roth in his most indelible role with the stooges — thanks in no small part to one oddball catch phrase. Mr. Borscht (I always heard it as “Bortch”) is ridiculous — and on a personal note, he looks just like a black-haired version of what my grandfather looked like in his middle-age — shocks of hair, bushy mustache, barrel chest. But it’s that ridiculous line, “gif me dat fillum,” that I think accounts for the performance’s iconic status.
That line is actually repeated only four or five times in the film — but in our memories, it almost seems as incessant as “yum yum, eat em up” in Kid from Borneo. And, although it’s been a few years since I’ve seen Dunked in the Deep or Commotion on the Ocean, I could swear that the repetition of “gif me dat fillum” on the soundtrack (often from off screen) might have as much to do with the quick and cheap way those films were being shot as anything else. Perhaps there simply wasn’t enough dialogue recorded to vary Bortch’s verbal threats, necessitating the repetition of “gif me dat fillum.” So, the editing may be at least partly responsible for the thing we all probably love the best about Bortch.
So, in Bortch, we have this overbearing villain with a legendary, ridiculous piece of dialogue that has become a byword for Stooge fans ever since.
And then, we have Richard Fiske. And here is where I have to first give you some background:
My earliest Stooge memories go back to around 1969. I was just starting kindergarten, and the Stooges were broadcast every morning at 7AM on our local WTEN in Albany, NY. That continued well into the 1970s, and in those days our local TV package was dominated by Curly shorts. It wasn’t until we began receiving cable TV from New York City and Boston in the mid-70s that my friends and I began receiving heavy doses of Shemp the Stooge, let alone Joe Besser.
So, in those early days, it was all about the Curly shorts. And somehow or other, the Stooge film that seemed to show up more than any other — the one that really worked its way into my memory — was Boobs in Arms. And, of course, Boobs in Arms is remembered most of all for that basic-training scene featuring the apoplectic, emotionally fragile drill sergeant, played by Richard Fiske.
(Now, that same basic training scene is also distinguished by having been recycled for Dizzy Pilots — another Curly short that became ultra-familiar to us kids due to its constant repeats on TV. [In fact, Moe the balloon’s ineffectual “oh, I’m floating!” distress call from Dizzy Pilots became a catch phrase among my kid friends and I.])
So, Richard Fiske appeared in the Sgt. Dare character role in two frequently viewed films — giving us Stooge fans double the chance to witness an amazing and rare Stooge-film performance.
Here’s the thing: Boobs in Arms — at least the second half of it — is all about Richard Fiske’s character. The stooges basically play foil to Fiske’s drill sergeant. And, with perhaps the only exception being Emil Sitka’s performance in Brideless Grooms, a supporting player completely steals a Stooge film, and earns it.
In Boobs in Arms, we love what the Stooges are doing, but we relate to the sergeant, don’t we? I mean, look at him and weep — even as the sergeant blusters and (don’t forget) repeatedly attempts to MURDER the stooges with the bayonet, he somehow earns our sympathy as we watch him outwitted and defeated, repeatedly ending up sprawled on the ground in tears of impotent range.
Talk about relating to a fictional characters — how many of us rant and rave and throw our full bodies into our efforts, only to find our selves in the dirt, thwarted by the stooges of the world?
“Everything happens to me.“ Yep, as an adult, now, and even as a kid, then — that’s me all over. Maybe it’s you, too.
But, it all comes down to Richard Fiske. Poor, great, Richard Fiske, actor. He gives a clinic for comic character actors in this film. It’s a big performance, unabashed in all the right ways. It’s a star turn from an actor who ought to have been a star, but who never got the chance.
Richard Fiske’s big, bold performance in this silly film with a silly title is a thing of excellence. Simply recalling the drill sergeant scene in this film — and how could we ever forget? — is enough to make me feel a little lighter, and thankful for silly movies and good actors that have helped to make life a little more bearable in these times. Especially the funny ones. And Richard Fisk was funny. His performance in Boobs in Arms stands as evidence of the man’s versatility and humor and chops — all wrapped up in a neat little gift that we can enjoy and marvel at. And remember.
The choice is: Sgt. Dare, Boobs in Arms
Portrayed by Richard Fiske