We'll begin with the 1935 short Hoi Polloi. The premise of this film was suggested by Moe's wife Helen, and is similar to the play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. The title of the play refers to a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, about a king who is disgusted by humanity and becomes a sculptor, eventually falling in love with a statue of an ideal woman he created. The woman is granted life through the magic of the gods, and the name "Pygmalion" has become synonymous with transformation in storytelling. In the Stooges short, two professors enter into a spirited debate about nature versus nurture- with one insisting that environment is the determining factor in how someone turns out, and the other arguing that it's purely hereditary. A wager is set, and upon discovering Moe, Larry, and Curly, who are working as trash collectors, the subjects for such an experiment are found- the professor must turn the three uncouth slobs into gentleman in order to win the bet. Of course, hilarity ensues- but hidden amongst the puns, slaps, and eye-gouges the ideas of personal transformation offer glimpses of accidental profundity.
Reincarnation struck me as a weird idea for old comedies to play around with. An examination of afterlife depictions in early cinema would be a fascinating rabbit hole to dive into, but that is beyond the scope of this post. In 1957's Hoofs and Goofs, our boy Joe Besser becomes very interested in the subject. He misses his sister Birdie, who had passed away, and is obsessed with the idea of discovering her in her transmigrated form.
To wrap this up and get to the final punchline, I thought it pertinent to bring out an old tweet of mine which itself is a joke that is also kind of true:
I sometimes worry that there’s confusion about me and the type of magic and Occult practices I ascribe to, so I’ll take a moment to recognize a spiritual forefather to help clear things up: The Maharaja of Canarsie. pic.twitter.com/gZFU02w7ui— AP Strange (@AProdigiosus) January 19, 2022
While Curly isn't presented as a mystic in the short Three Little Pirates (1946), but he is in disguise as a stranger from a far-off magical place- the Islands of Coney and Long. He bears rare gifts through his interpreter, the Gin of Rummy (Moe) and the two engage in a hilarious conversation of gibberish and double-talk. They are ordinary things that the governor who would be keeping them prisoner finds enthralling- he thinks a big heart-shaped lollipop is a ruby. Curly breaks his doublespeak to say "It's raspberry!" The governor is thrilled; he's had many red rubies before, but, he says "never have I been given the raspberry!" I was curious to see who would catch the reference when I presented Curly as the Raja as a "spiritual forefather", but as with most jokes there is a truth concealed there. I often come with rare gifts, which are in fact mundane things, but looked at as though through new eyes they become something marvelous and strange. Virtually everything I say is 75% joking around, 50% deadly serious, and 110% bad math. One could do worse than adopting a character who only existed as a ruse in a comedy film from 1946 as a source of spiritual and magical inspiration. When the governor in this scene dismisses our heroes, to procure some girls for him, he says "On your way, with winged feet!" Those mercurial feet, that shuffled and dragged- the feet of the Trickster.
Venturing to write this at all seems an exercise in stupidity, perhaps. I've long abandoned any pretense about being judged harshly for my silliness, and I take my silliness very seriously. I do wonder occasionally if, perhaps, this time I've gone too far. Time will tell, I suppose, and if I'm burnt at the stake for my ridiculousness I will have to accept that at the very least a hot stake is better than a cold chop. I do hope the reader has found some value in these words, and I can only recommend that you seek out some of those old movies and allow yourself to laugh fully while watching them. I will leave you with a drawing I made of Aleister Curly, who encourages you to Do as Thou woo woo woo woo woo woo!