Cuckoo on a Choo Choo (1952)

One of the most polarizing films ever made was the 1952 Three Stooges short “Cuckoo on a Choo Choo.” You cannot be indifferent to this work – either you love it as an avant-garde excursion into daffiness or you loathe it as a misguided work of cinematic excrement.

It is easy to understand why this offbeat film was made. By 1952, the Three Stooges franchise was starting to grow a little stale and producer/director Jules White was eager try something a little different to spice up the formula. Weirdly, it was decided to create a double parody of two films with nothing in common – “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Harvey” – and mix in the anvil-level slapstick one associated with Three Stooges mayhem.

“Cuckoo on a Choo Choo” takes doesn’t take place on a streetcar named Desire, but on a stolen train car named Shmow. The train car is occupied by Larry Fine, who wears a white t-shirt and tries to channel Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski – don’t ask why. Larry wants to marry his girlfriend Lenore (Patricia Wright), but because of a family tradition she will not agree to wed until her older sister Roberta (Victoria Horne) marries the wealthy Shemp Howard. Alas, Shemp is a hopeless drunk who is in love with a giant canary named Carrie that appears when he is in an advanced state of inebriation. (The unbilled Reggie Dvorak plays Carrie in a bird costume that has to be seen to be believed.) The third member of the Three Stooges, Moe Howard, is a railroad investigator who locates the stolen train car and is reunited with his one-time love Roberta – but she loves Shemp and is offended by Moe’s romantic efforts.

Yes, this is an intriguingly bizarre concept for any film – especially for an early 1950s Three Stooges short – but screenwriter Felix Adler falls back on too-easy gags involving limburger cheese, a skunk who wanders into the train car and the tumult created with an electric razor falling down the back of Shemp’s shirt. Instead of being a forerunner of Felliniesque surrealism, “Cuckoo on a Choo Choo” devolves into second-rate Three Stooges rough slapstick.

With better talent behind the camera, “Cuckoo on a Choo Choo” could have rewritten the rules of avant-garde cinema. Unfortunately, it is simply a WTF anomaly in the Shemp-era Stooges flicks.