Enjoy the Shemp for what he's worth
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two wildly different films are featured in this week's DVD column.
The Three Stooges Collection Vol. 6, 1949 to 1951
Let us now sing a song of Shemp -- Shemp Howard that is - and the center of attention in this new volume of Sony Home Video's on-going collection of the Three Stooges.
When I attended UMass back in the 1970s, Three Stooges film nights were highly popular and many were presented on campus with a sign outside the door of the hall assuring "No Shemp." Curly Howard was the preferred third stooge, but frankly this collection shows that Shemp -- who took over for Curly in 1946 - was pretty damn funny.
Shemp had been part of the act before his younger brother Curly joined it and struck out on a solo career in 1932. He was a successful and busy comic character actor in a long list of films and came back to the act only when Curly had suffered a stroke.
While Curly was frequently an almost surreal comic creation, Shemp's humor was more grounded in a sort of reality - if you can call the world of the Three Stooges "real."
Shemp's character struck a balance from the odd non sequitur humor of Curly and that of an actual human being.
This collection has some nicely polished short subject gems. The Columbia short subjects had the advantage of using the studio's standing sets from its feature films, which gave them a more expensive look than other shorts.
If you're an ardent Curly fan, I probably can't convince you this collection of 24 short is worth the money, but I know I would never hang a "No Shemp" sign at my door.
This film came and went in theaters rather quickly and that is a shame, as director Edward Zwick's latest historic drama is a very moving film about a relatively unknown chapter of World War II.
In 1942, the Bielski brothers were forced to escape into the forest by the effort of the Nazis to hunt down and kill all the Jews they could in Poland and nearby Belarus. Eventually, as other people joined them, they formed both a resistance group that would engage the Nazi troops as well as a community that grew to 1,200 by the end of the war.
Tuvia and Zus Bielski, who settled in the United States after the war, didn't seek publicity for their actions, but historians of the resistance movement in Europe know their story.
Under Zwick's hand, this is not merely a war movie, but a film that examines how people behave under the duress of a situation such as war. The Bielskis were not saints, nor soldiers, but people who reacted in the best possible way to the horrible events they endured.
Zwick, who also directed "Glory" - another movie that shows a little known side of a well-documented war - is very capable to staging the battle scenes, but even more so in addressing the relationships between the brothers and their growing community.
Daniel Craig gets top billing as Tuvia Bielski while Liev Schreiber portrays Zus Bielski. Although Craig has had a long list of credits to his name before he donned the mantle of James Bond - a potentially restrictive career move - he shows here once again that he is a solid actor who is more than an action movie star. Schreiber confirms he is one of the most intense actors working on the scene today.
The extras include the obligatory "making of" featurette as well as a fascinating look at the Bielski brothers from the perspective of their children and grandchildren.
This film is well worth seeking out.