One of the most delightfully peculiar memories from my education was a lunchtime film program that took place when I was in seventh grade. Our school auditorium accommodated the young brown-bagging lunch crowd with an offering of cinematic diversions. One afternoon, for reasons that I still cannot understand, the school unreeled THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT not exactly educational viewing, to put it mildly. But to this day, my memories still resonate with the sounds of the tween students shrieking with laughter with every smack of Stooges-induced mayhem I’ve never heard a movie audience respond so happily.
And, indeed, there is much to be happy about. The Stooges are would-be who are evicted for violating their boarding house rules by cooking in their shabby room. They secure a temporary residence with a goofy scientist who has created a flying submarine that is coveted by aliens that look like Karloff’s Frankenstein monster (albeit with Dracula capes and odd pajama-style uniforms). The U.S. military somehow gets into the act and a nuclear weapon gets loaded on the flying submarine which takes off in flight with the Stooges and aliens on board. Oh, yes, several pies also get thrown along the way.
Most die-hard Stooges fans are indifferent or aghast to the trio’s late-career feature films, which is where this 1962 offering fits in. Admittedly, the films’ violence quotients were watered down to appeal to the kiddie audiences of the time Columbia Pictures released THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT on a double-bill with MOTHRA (and that must have been a blast to see in a theater). Plus, the presence of Joe DeRita as the third stooge brings little pleasure to Curly and Shemp addicts.
While DeRita (or, as he was billed, Curly-Joe) lacked the surreal exuberance of Curly and the slacker insouciance of Shemp, he nonetheless provided his own brand of subversive inanity. Plus, his wobbly belly gave him the physical cred to fit in with Moe and Larry as visual misfits. (The scene where a miniature proto-type of the flying submarine invades Curly-Joe’s shower is too funny for words.)
As for the kiddie film problem, THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT is surprisingly mature in its sly satire of Kennedy-era pop culture â€“ especially when the Stooges express outrage that hostile alien invaders decide to destroy Disneyland with a nuclear bomb. “Now they’ve gone too far!” exclaims Moe, who saves Uncle Walt’s theme park (and, by extension, the world) from extra-terrestrial destruction. By the end of the movie, the Stooges and the aliens are happily dancing the twist, thus assuring all interested parties that the dumbing of America has reached the far corners of the galaxy.