Have Rocket, Will Travel: the name practically screams, 1950s discount science fiction. It's not. Well, maybe it is. It's a Three Stooges movie, part of the attempts to take a comedy team that's great at two reels and spread them out to eight or nine or so. It's got a catchy opening song, at least (``The race for space has just begun/ the race to reach the Moon and Sun/ And we've got half the battle won/ Have rocket --- ohhh --- will gravel!'') by Geogre Duning and Stanley Styne that I'll have to use for some later space-based posts. But it's also a Curly Joe picture.
It opens on some fine mid-to-late 50s rocket launches and control room stuff, and establishes that the Stooges are janitors, as they have to be. An off-course rocket, played by I believe that same off-kilter Atlas launch from The Right Stuff that tilts 90 degrees to its direction of travel (admittedly, most of them did that in this era), crashes by their shack and they go off to recover it. There's what's clearly supposed to be a big comic scene of them breaking into the rocket to free the monkey inside, but it's not really speedy or wild enough to be funny. Speed usually improves physical comedy, and at this point the Stooges were getting to where they really needed the help of editing to preserve that speed.
The Stooges figure they can maybe fix the fuel program as part of their crush on Dr Ingrid Naarveg. She's responsible for some kind of science work despite her being a female woman scientist of gender, other than shunning the unwelcome advances of this movie's Zeppo. So they whip up some super rocket fuel with ingredients like popcorn and sugar and before you can say ``Lunch, not launch'' they're ... laboriously setting up their journey to Venus. I don't want to pick too much on the movie, but, really, they didn't make 80 minutes of Stooges activity; they took maybe 40 minutes of stuff and slowed it way down. Even the scene where they get themselves accidentally launched takes about five hours and features a lot of the grinding away of a pump which sounds like a cartoon horse braying for some reason. It's remarkable the movie spends so blasted much time getting them into the rocket when it seems like anyone who'd choose to see the movie wants to see ``what happens if you put the Three Stooges in a spaceship?'' Why have them swimming around a flooded basement instead? Did they not know how movies worked back then? Why is it 38 minutes in they're finally doing a ``don't you know there's no gravity in space?'' gag?
Finally --- after only five minutes of in-flight jokes, by the way --- they land on Venus, as depicted by running the footage of an Atlas launch backwards. It's inhabited by a giant process-shot flame-breathing (I assume it's breathing, anyway, as the alternatives are not tasteful) spider and Southern California landscapes which they lampshade as saying, hey, it looks like Death Valley. After escaping the spider they run across a crying unicorn, played by a horse, stuck in the rocks. They free him, collect a wish of eternal friendship, and get pointed to the next valley over where a city of jerkfaces would capture the unicorn (last of his kind, by the way) and enslave him. (The unicorn is claimed in a musical interlude to be purple, but since it's a black and white film they can get away with that).
The higher form of life is represented by a car that seems left over from Forbidden Planet and that's voiced by an echo chamber with a sparkler for effects. The speaking voice proclaims itself to be a mass of energy that's able to not quite distract from how it's using the standard Star Trek original series bridge sounds for atmosphere. (Those sounds were part of some kind of generic soundtrack package so they turn up a lot in science fiction flavored stuff of the era.)
The speaking voice, ``the only one of my kind'', turns out to be a big cubical computer with a couple of pleated rubber tube arms, bringing up thoughts of the world's goofiest take of I Have No Mouth And I Must Stooge. The computer's nigh-omnipotent and shows off by shrinking the Stooges and putting them in a bird cage, which seems like an eccentric thing for a Venusian supercomputer to have. It's moreso when the computer --- well, the robot --- says ``the people who built that cage built many wonders: the last thing they built was me''. The robot destroyed the fools by turning them into electrical energy, and it's lonely now, and ... you know, there are many good stories this evokes, some of them written long after.
The robot has a plan: it's going to make robotic duplicates of the Stooges to be companions. Yes, The Robonic Stooges were done in two separate creative impulses. You know, this Stooges movie was a little odd when they were freeing a unicorn on Venus, but when they're been shrunk and put in a birdcage to admire their robotic duplicates smacking each other silly we're deeply into a very weird territory.
Anyway, with the unicorn's help, and by help I mean with the unicorn watching, the Stooges run back to their rocket, chased by their evil robot duplicates and the giant spider. The Stooges are hailed as the world's first space travellers, though, and given a ticker-tape parade and a curious skywritten message ``WE LCO'' (I suppose it's ``WELCOME HOME'', but why not show the whole thing? Why show five letters?). Society gathers on Long Island, in the sort of home where the Marx Brothers would start a picture, and the unicorn gives an interview or at least claims that Venus's flowers are more tasty. Ingrid rewards the Stooges with a kiss on Moe's cheek and marries the Zeppo who'd been bugging her earlier. (Larry gets a fine line here about ``Why didn't I learn French instead of Latin?'', which is put to use moping about why someone was able to break in on his flirting with a French-speaking woman, although the idea that Larry knows Latin is a decent throwaway gag.)
The society party scene goes on for just about forever, and it's another weird bit. The gags are along the line of Curly Joe's trying to eat cake, and Moe opens the door in his face. That's all right, but, really, the omnipotent robot that can do transporting and shrinking and making robot duplicates, not to mention a movie budget and schedule, suggests they should be doing more science fiction themed gags. Have a Stooge turned invisible, have one mixed up with his robot duplicate, have one turned into a giant, why are we wasting time with setting off a slap fight amongst Margaret DuMonts?
The Stooges escape the party, just in time for the Robot Stooge duplicates to beam in from Venus. The real Stooges run away, and the Robot Stooges plunge into the party where the locals scream, but, that's the end. There's no particular foiling of the robots or their scheme. It's just an end. A comic movie that's built up to a loopy excess can end on a ``hey, we're out of time, that's it'' film, and maybe they could've got away with that here, but there's been too much unwinding, too many slow patches for such an abrupt end to really fit.
It's one more odd scene in eighty minutes of odd scenes.
Trivia: The Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage was jettisoned from the Command and Service Module, after redocking, at an altitude of 61.6 nautical miles above the lunar surface. Source: Apollo By The Numbers: A Statistical Reference, Richard W Orloff. NASA SP-4029.
Currently Reading: The Secret Life Of Bletchley Park, Sinclair McKay.