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Friday, July 31, 2009

Have Rocket, Will Travel

The next offering of this Digression Week, is not serious. The Three Stooges act, at 30 years old, was a comedy franchise that had almost run its course, as Laurel & Hardy, and Abbott & Costello had earlier. They were revived by Columbia releasing many of their previous short films to television. This brought the Stooges to a new young audience. Have Rocket, Will Travel (HRWT) was the Stooges first full-length film. They appeared in many films, but in HRWT, they were the stars. HRWT is light farcical sci-fi, and almost a lesser remake of Abbott & Costello's trip to "Mars" ('53). Nevertheless, it has some points of interest.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The boys are maintenance men at a rocket lab. Rocket #4 fails shortly after launch and lands not far away. The project director is upset at the failures. He tells Ingrid, the pretty rocket scientist, that the next launch must succeed or funding is cut off. The boys decide to help pretty Ingrid by concocting a super rocket fuel out of just about everything in the lab. They pump the potent brew into the rocket. The director, hearing all the late night commotion, comes to fire them all. The boys hide in the rocket. The director inadvertently ignites the engines. The boys are in space. After some weightless gags, the rocket lands (autopilot) on Venus, which looks much like California. There, they encounter a giant fire-breathing tarantula and a talking unicorn. The unicorn leads them to "the higher form," which turns out to be a robot which took control of Venus long ago and converted all the illogical Venusians to "energy". Since then, however, it had become lonely, so uses the boys as models to create three companion robots. Silliness ensues with two sets of Stooges. The boys escape and get back to their ship. The giant tarantula flames at them, igniting the engines, handily enough. The boys return to a hero's welcome. A ball thrown in their honor goes predictably awry. The three RobotStooges beam in and the three real ones exit the melee. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
One need not be a Stooges fan to find some bits to like in HRWT. As a spoof on 50s sci-fi, it is fun to identify which sci-fi classics are being spoofed.

Cold War Angle
As a comedy farce, there is little attempt to make socio-political commentary.

Prop Watch -- The venerable old space suits from Destination Moon get yet another mission. For being ten years old, by this point, the old suits are still a sci-fi staple. Note the logo on the helmets. It is the double-lightning bolt logo used by Merex, the diabolical Martian from Zombies of the Stratosphere ('52).

The Other Curly -- Stooge fans already know, but the third stooge in HRWT is "Curly-Joe" played by Joe DeRita. Shemp Howard, Moe's brother, started in the act along with friend Larry Fine. When Shemp left the act in 1932, the youngest Howard brother "Curly" became the new 3rd Stooge. With his signature "n'yuk n'yuk, n'yuk" and "woo woo woo", he was an immediate hit. He remained the star until declining health and finally a stroke in 1946 took Curly out of the act. Brother Shemp rejoined the act until he died of a heart attack in 1955. The search for the new 3rd Stooge settled on Joe DeRita, who was a facsimile of Curly Howard. He stayed with the act throughout the 60s and early 70s. HRWT was Curly-Joe's film debut as the 3rd Stooge.

Ominous Undertones -- Amid the usual stooge set pieces and traditional gags, was a small note of more serious sci-fi. The robot master on Venus was created by the Venusians as their last and greatest wonder. "They let ME, a machine, become the master of their world. Fools deserve to be destroyed, so I destroyed them all and turned them into electrical energy." It makes for a sort of Colossus/Forbin and Krell hybrid. Just a hint of technophobia amid the gags.

Bottom line? Sci-fi comedy is not for everyone. Stooge comedy is not for everyone. As such, stooge sci-fi comedy probably appeals to a pretty small subset. HRWT does show how much sci-fi had become established as a genre.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Howdy Sci Fi / Stooge Fans,

I have not seen this movie in decades.

What's not to like.

The equation:

The Three Stooges + a rocket + an all powerful machine + giant tarantula + dupe stupes (I mean Stooges) = Greatness

What a hoot!

Get your beanie (you know, the one with the propeller) on and have a good chuckle,