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Moe, Larry and Curly:
Premature Anti-Fascists

The Stooges took on Hitler before
most Americans had a clue

By Richard von Busack

AS A SPECIALIST IN the study of propaganda, the University of Dayton's Don Morlan is especially fond of the film that Moe, Larry and director Jules White all considered their best, the 1940 short "You Nazty Spy." "That was a classic," says Morlan. "The comedy came out satirizing Nazis two years before Pearl Harbor, when America was still trying to stay neutral." In 1941, isolationist senators, including Montana's Burton Wheeler, were investigating suspected anti-Nazi propaganda by Hollywood. The committee had gone as far as making a list of films with an anti-Nazi bent. (These hearings are little known, because they were canceled on the morning of Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, and the findings were never reported.)

In "You Nazty Spy," Moe plays a wallpaper-hanger recruited by the leading businessmen of Moronika to be their puppet dictator. The kingpin Stooge in Hitler drag is uncannily like Adolf; the two wrathful little guys merge into one. Curly's Goering is also startlingly like the real model, and Larry, besashed and beribboned, has a diplomat's own spinelessness.

Morlan is quick to ascribethe quality of "You Nazty Spy" to Chaplin's The Great Dictator--released nine months later. Still, "You Nazty Spy" was released in January 1940, months before the German invasion of France and the anti-Nazi turn in American public opinion. White and Howard's short film missed the radar of the isolationists in the U.S. Senate but not, apparently, through any lack of attention by the U.S. public. According to Morlan, "You Nazty Spy" was a popular short for the Stooges; the film even played in some first-run theaters that usually excluded the trio.

The Three Stooges not only got there before anyone else in American comedy, they pegged their man just as well as Chaplin did, perhaps better. Moe understood Hitler's rage and seediness. "You Nazty Spy" stresses how the Führer had got his job through the support of Germany's business class. In The Great Dictator, Chaplin thought that, with sweet reason, Hitler could be convinced to do good. Moe Howard may have been a more limited man, but he was perhaps better in touch with human nature. In one scene, Moe reveals through Hitler his own un-Christian desires by having his dictator order up some lions, planning to throw his country's dissidents to them. But like Hitler and unlike Chaplin's Adnoid Hynkel, Moe's Hailstone ends up undone by farce. The last shot before the fade-out is a sharp political cartoon image: a burping lion wearing the Reichsführer's hat.

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro

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