“An Ache in Every Stake”
Directed by Del Lord. Starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Bess Flowers. Released August 22, 1941
The Three Stooges had, for years, been summarily dismissed as inferior despite their continued popularity over several generations. Some once stated that the trio’s longevity alone is enough to earn respect. “An Ache Every Stake” is just one solid example of the Stooges at their very best, offering proof that they are more than merely a succession of blatant slapstick gags.
Based on the same premise as Laurel and Hardy’s long lost silent “Hats Off” (1927) and their Oscar winning “The Music Box” (1932), “An Ache in Every Stake” features the Stooges as ice men who must deliver blocks of ice to a home that rests atop a long flight of stairs. By the time they reach the top of the stairs, the ice has melted in the hot sun. After this premise, the Stooges somehow stumble into preparing dinner as servants to a wealthy couple (during the wartime help shortage, such things were not so far-fetched).
The film is filled with creative ideas. But first it is interesting to see how the Stooges respond to a structure with which we are already familiar with from Laurel and Hardy. Each of these comedy teams approached their work much differently. In the case of the Stooges, we do not follow them up the steps as they slowly struggle with an object as large as a piano. We see, through an edit, Curly run up the steps and arrive with an ice cube that has melted to pocket size. His mounting frustration and attempts to somehow restructure his method of delivering the ice are inventive and funny. His solution is two bring up two blocks of ice, figuring he will end up with one that is usable. Of course the actual result is Curly holding two pocket sized ice cubes upon reaching his destination.
The ice delivery sequences are not the entire body of the film. Once the Stooges are recruited to serve a birthday dinner, the film switches gears to another setting. This domestic setting gives Curly a chance to do his very funny ice-shaving bit. Told by Larry to “shave some ice,” Curly puts a large frozen block in a chair, smears shaving cream across its lower portion, and begins scraping it with a straight-razor while bantering in small talk like a barber. It’s a delightful tour-de-force scene and one of the comedian’s truly classic moments. Another hilarious bit, reportedly a favorite of Moe’s, is where a cake they baked completely deflates once it is stuck with a fork, so Larry and Curly pump it with gas and spread it with frosting. Naturally, it explodes as the candles are blown out.
Within its two reels, “An Ache in Every Stake” offers some of the Stooges’ top gags, along with typically energetic performances. And, fortunately, they appear to have finally come into their own as to being generally respected as important contributors to screen comedy’s history. The days where The Three Stooges were dismissed as boorish, childish exaggerations to the fine art of slapstick are gone. Film criticism has finally evolved to The Three Stooges being acknowledged for their innate sense of comic timing, their creating characters that have had a continued impact on pop culture, and their being celebrated over time and generations.