Much like the movie trailers of today, short subject films usually preceded the main attraction from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. But unlike modern movie trailers, the movie shorts were often more popular than the main features they introduced. Comedy shorts, or “two-reel” shorts as they were known, usually lasted sixteen to twenty minutes. Columbia Pictures led the industry in making some of the finest comedy shorts.
Andy Clyde (1892–1967) had one of the longest-running series at Columbia, second only to the Three Stooges. Beginning in the 1920s and lasting for the next thirty years, Clyde was a favorite of movie fans. He was known for his “old man” character, sporting a walrus mustache and bifocals. He could make audiences laugh just by raising his eyebrows. Later on in his career he starred as “California Carlson” a comedy sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy.
In this two-reel comedy, Andy invests in a local production but when the actors abscond with the money, Andy and his wife assume their roles in the production.
The legendary slapstick team of Moe Howard (1897–1975), his brother Shemp Howard (1900–1955) and Philadelphia-born Larry Fine (1902–1975) became known as the Three Stooges in 1934, when they signed on to appear in two-reel comedy shorts for Columbia Pictures. Their success allowed Columbia to supply exhibitors with these shorts only if they agreed to book some of the studio's mediocre B movies.
In Three Smart Saps, three repairmen fix a doorbell in a house full of saboteurs. The film uses stock footage from another film titled Tyree Little Sew and Sews (1939).
The Three Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia Pictures between 1934 and 1959. Despite their popularity, the comedy team never earned what they were worth. Although their shorts were extremely profitable for Columbia, executives persuaded the Three Stooges that two-reel comedy shorts were a dying art form and successfully discouraged them from negotiating a better contract.
Gem of a Jam centers on mistaken identity—three armed criminals mistake the Stooges for medical men in the offices of Drs. Harts, Burns, and Belcher.
Learn more about the comedy styling and history of The Three Stooges.