Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Niagara Falls… Slowly I Blogged….

Niagara Falls… Slowly I turned… Step by step… Inch by inch…
If you’re of a certain age, or of a certain pop culture persuasion, you surely recognize this old-time vaudeville style bit. A stranger relates a long, sad tale of woe, punctuated with violence and pummeling against the poor innocent who merely stopped to listen.

Everyone knows it’s from the classic Three Stooges short “Gents Without Cents” (1944), and is part of an act “The Stoogey Ones” performed, giving poor Culry the worst of it every time. Right? …And so that is what I believed, for many, many years.

I continued to believe that when I became reacquainted with “Niagara Falls”, while viewing “Gents Without Cents” once again as part of the DVD set THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION Volume Four 1943-1945, released in 2008.

Then, to my surprise, the “Niagara Falls” bit turned up courtesy of another great comedy act, as part of the recent DVD release THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW The Complete Series.

In the third episode of the series, simply titled “Jail”, poor Lou goes to “guess where” when Bud and a shifty lawyer talk him out of paying 79 cents for a damaged water bucket and into fighting the charges instead.

Naturally, Costello spends Act Two in jail, and his disheveled cellmate does an even longer and more elaborate version of the “Niagara Falls” bit on him with the expected results. At the end even Costello gets into the act by doing his own version – naming various cities in New Jersey beginning with his birthplace Paterson, before ending up at the dreaded “Niagara Falls”.

Take your pick as to whether The Three Stooges or Abbott and Costello did it better. I love ‘em both.

And, according to THIS PIECE, it even turned up on I LOVE LUCY.

Check it out, and learn all about this classic bit… before someone tries it out on you!


Chuck Munson said...

Thank you, Joe. I knew this bit had been done by both the Stooges and A and C, but I didn't know in which films they occured and now knowing that Costello did it using the names of New Jersey cities, I must see that version!

Joe Torcivia said...


For the record, Costello mentions Paterson, Passaic, Nutley, and Belleville, NJ. And then moves on to Detroit and Ohio (Cleveland, Steubenville). This was so rapid fire, I wonder if it wasn’t ad-libbed!


Anonymous said...

Abbott and Costello did a variation of the Niagara Falls routine in "Lost in a Harem" (1945). In that one, the guy goes berserk at the mention of "Pocomoco." Martin Short and John Candy dusted it off and performed it as a skit on SCTV in the early 1980's.

Joe Torcivia said...

As I’ve since gone through more of the Abbott and Costello Shows on DVD, I notice that many (most?) of the shows will recreate or revive routines from the earlier films – putting them in new contexts. Indeed, a large amount of “Buck Privates” is recreated / repurposed for the TV episode “The Army Story”, in which the boys join the reserves. Other routines turn up in various shows.

Considering that much of this material likely originated on stage, was ported over to radio, film, and finally television, you’ve got to admire that!