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The Bootleg Files: Sing a Song of Six Pants

BOOTLEG FILES 726: “Sing a Song of Six Pants” (1947 Three Stooges short).

LAST SEEN:
On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO
: On too many public domain labels.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS:
A lapsed copyright.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is doomed to public domain hell forever.

Every Three Stooges fan knows that four shorts starring the slapstick icons are in the public domain because Columbia Pictures failed to renew their copyrights. Three of those films are among the trio’s best: “Disorder in the Court” (arguably the greatest courtroom comedy ever), “Brideless Groom” (my pick for the finest Stooges short) and “Malice in the Palace” (a masterwork of surreal mayhem).

Then, there is the fourth film of the set: “Sing a Song of Six Pants.” For many years, I never liked the film and would always cringe whenever it turned up in television rotation. But a long, long time passed since I last watched it, and I thought I would give this little film another chance to tickle my funny bone.

Alas, “Sing a Song of Six Pants” is still a big disappointment to me. In many ways, the film offers most of the vices of the Stooges’ films featuring Shemp with few of the virtues in this stretch of the team’s output.

The title “Sing a Song of Six Pants” is a riff on the old nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Six Pence” and highlights the short’s setting in a tailor shop. The film’s working title was “Where the Vest Begins,” itself a riff on the old manifest destiny proclamation “Where the West Begins” and a reference to a tailor shop setting. Obviously, the film was getting off on the wrong foot with titles that are nowhere near as cute as the creative talent might assume.

The premise of the film is too simple: Moe, Larry and Shemp run Pip Boys Tailor Shop – another riff on the popular Pep Boys automotive service chain. As tailors, the trio are a disaster: Larry stupidly mistakes a circular sunbeam shining on pants for a stain and rubs it vigorously with stain remover until he creates a hole in the garment, while Shemp’s sewing effort finds him sticking needles in his colleagues and Moe’s careless dropping of a razor blade into a whisk brush results in a brushed-off customer’s jacket getting shredded. The only vaguely safe thing that occurs is when Moe makes a lunch of pancakes by slopping the batter on the pants press and steaming the mixture into flapjacks. (If one listens very carefully in that scene, it is possible to hear director Jules White yelling “Cut!” right before a shot ends.)

Not only are the threesome horrible tailors, but they are putrid businessmen. Indeed, they receive a letter warning them their tailoring equipment which will be repossessed if an outstanding bill is not paid. At the same time, a radio news flash issues a warning that the notorious bank robber Terry Hargen is on the loose, and police are offering a hefty reward for his capture. Of course, who should turn up in the tailor shop but Terry Hargen, who quickly disguises himself among the mannequins when a police detective (Stooges’ perennial foil Vernon Dent) comes in. The Stooges try to sell the cop a suit – in fact, the suit that Hargen is wearing. (Larry is a bit confused that what he thinks is a mannequin is helping him with the garments.)

Hargen evades capture, but returns to his hideout without his suit. His moll goes to the tailor shop to retrieve the garments, but it is missing a piece of paper in the pants pocket that included a combination to a safe. Hargen and two henchmen come to the tailor shop and a brawl ensues, with the Stooges violently subduing the miscreants. The police detective happily announces he will be pocketing the reward, but the Stooges pilfer a bankroll from Hargen’s pocket and find themselves with the cash to pay their bills.

My problems with “Sing a Song of Six Pants” is that the premise is weak and the execution is sloppy. The slapstick elements are mostly stale, particularly a dull extended sequence involving Shemp, some pants that have been hopelessly curled and a balky iron board that ends with a very obvious stunt double taking the brunt of Shemp’s woes. Much of the comic dialogue is poorly written – for example, when Moe discover the initials “TH” monogrammed in the gangster’s jacket and wonders what it stands for, Shemp unhelpfully volunteers “Teddy Hoosevelt” and Larry chimes in with “Thomas Hedison.”

Also, the sloppiness of the filmmaking is hard to ignore. The website ThreeStooges.net details multiple goofs in the film, ranging from the director’s voice being heard in the shot to a large volume of mismatched continuity shots and sound effects that are not in sync with the action. The film also betrays a problem with many of the Jules White-directed films in the Shemp series: gratuitous and sadistic violence that is mistaken for comedy. This especially obvious in the climax when one of the henchmen find himself tortured by the Stooges with his head jammed in the pants press while a hot iron is repeatedly shoved into his backside. Really, it is more painful than amusing.

Segments from “Sing a Song of Six Pants” would later be recycled into the 1953 short “Rip, Sew and Stitch.” This was typical for too many of the later Shemp shorts, with older footage haphazardly inserted into new (and decidedly less funny) flicks. Actually, the only genuinely funny thing related to this mess is the production still that illustrates this article – that scene was created for the Columbia Pictures publicity department and is absent from the finished film.

As a public domain film, “Sing a Song of Six Pants” has been available for too long on a surplus number of bargain basement labels. It is also widely shared in duped copies on the Internet. But only the most sympathetic Stooges fan should seek out this mediocrity – and, even then, the discovery is strictly a case of proceeding with the utmost caution.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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