Have Rocket Will Travel (1959) – the Three Stooges, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Joe DeRita
Synopsis of Have Rocket Will Travel
The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Joe DeRita) are janitors working at a space center who accidentally blast off to Venus. They encounter a talking unicorn, a giant fire breathing tarantula, and an alien computer who has destroyed all human life on the planet and creates three robotic twins of the Stooges. When the boys return home triumphant, they are given a hero’s welcome at a society ball, which they promptly demolish.
Have Rocket, Will Travel is somewhat of a mixed bag among the Three Stooges feature films. On the one side, it includes some of the classic moments from their short films, and retains some of the “feel” of those shorter films, as well as having a sympathetic figure in a female scientist whom the boys need to help. On the negative side, it’s off to a slow start, and the pace seems slower than it should be – but when you consider that it’s their first full-length film, and that the Stooges were in their 60’s, it’s certainly understandable.
The movie begins with the Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Joe DeRita) working as janitors at a space center. They make friends with a female scientist, played by the lovely Norwegian-born Anna-Lisa, who encourages Moe to maintain his interest in science; it turns out that her father was a janitor, who scrimped and saved in order to send her to school – “You could have been my father.” This is a very sweet moment, and later on when her job is in trouble (because she has to create a more powerful rocket fuel in a short period of time) and the Three Stooges decide to help; as Curly Joe says, “We can’t let them do that somebody who could have been been our daughter!”
So, the Three Stooges proceed to try to “improve” her formula for rocket fuel, and with Larry’s inadvertently help (a funny scene – as Curly Joe and Moe are trying to find the ‘magic’ ingredient to improve the fuel (including popcorn), Larry is diligently working over a Bunsen burner – only for the audience to realize that he’s making coffee! When he mistakenly adds sugar to the rocket fuel and drinks some, thinking it’s coffee, he starts coughing fire and doing back flips. With the ‘secret ingredient’ discovered, they make a large batch of the fuel that evening, and using a fire truck start pumping it to the rocket. Unfortunately, their boss is woken by the noise and investigates, as Moe and Larry do a funny routine with trying to retrieve a dropped key from a drain, which leads to Curly Joe damaging the water pipes in the basement, and the Stooges doing their classic ‘wrapping themselves in a maze of pipes’ routine. Their boss shows up and walks into the basement, which the boys have now flooded, and they all get washed out into the street. The Three Stooges run off to the rocket, with their boss in close pursuit, and a dropped match sets fire to the hose which acts like a lit fuse and ignites the rocket, launching the boys into space.
Their trip to Venus is eventful, and funny, as they fight with zero gravity, and try to communicate with Earth – which works, until Larry accidentally swallows a vacuum tube, and the Three Stooges do their well-known ‘operation’ to retrieve it. They manage to land safely on Venus, which looks remarkably like Earth, complete with a breathable atmosphere. Of course, the giant fire-breathing tarantula that chases them isn’t so familiar, nor is the talking unicorn that they rescue.
The unicorn, who speaks in Olde English, directs them to the “highest life form” on the planet – a computer that has eradicated the humans on the planet, and decides to use the Three Stooges as templates to make robotic copies of, so it won’t be lonely. This leads to an extended chase scene in a corridor with six doors, but eventually the Three Stooges escape, and with the unicorn return to Earth, where they are celebrated as heroes.
Once there, they are feted at a high society bash, which is a funny scene. I was expecting it to end in a pie fight, but was surprised to see it turn into a slap fight. It’s a funny ending, but there’s a final scene with the Three Stooges flying through space singing the lyrics to the theme song, and with Larry and Curly Joe repaying Moe for his slapstick with a dual pie to the face.
Editorial review of Have Rocket Will Travel, courtesy of Amazon.com
Have Rocket, Will Travel is the first Three Stooges feature film after the team became television icons and Joe DeRita was called in to replace Joe Besser (who had replaced Shemp, who had replaced Curly). Aimed at a younger audience, it included a good deal of the physical violence their Snow White film tried to avoid. Curly Joe was given the old Curly shtick of being struck by a tool, exclaiming a painful “Oooo” and then giving a surprised reaction when the tool appears bent from the contact with his cement- like head. He is also prone to a weaker version of his role model’s “Woowoowoo.”
The plot revolves around the teamâs accidental launch into space and their adventures on a Venus that looks identical to Earth, including breathable air but housing a giant tarantula that breathes fire and a unicorn that speaks slightly archaic English. There is also an unconvincing robot that is lonesome enough to create three fellow robots in the form of the three Earthlings. This leads merely to a routine already familiar to viewers of old-time comedies: a chase down a corridor lined with doors through which the six are exiting and reentering in a physically impossible way.
The final sequence in which the returning “heroes” wreck a social event is overly familiar from the earlier films, especially the old ‘sofa spring stuck the rear’ routine; and indeed it all seems tacked on to stretch the film to its 76 minutes. Light-comedy veteran Jerome Cowan does his best in a role that would have been handled by Jimmy Finlayson in a Laurel & Hardy film. It is good to hear the team sing the title and closing songs, but they add little to the film.
Children will love this feature, but they must be advised that the eye-poking and hitting are all tricks not to be emulated. —Frank Behrens
Funny movie quotes from Have Rocket, Will Travel
Mr Morse (Jerome Cowan): The board doesn’t approve of this mixing of scientists with … people.
Moe (Moe Howard): Now plug it in right, ya nitwit!
Curly Joe (Joe DeRita): Yeah, ya nitwit!
Moe (Moe Howard): Hey, I do the name calling around here! [to Larry] Go ahead, ya nitwit!
Moe (Moe Howard): We gotta operate and get that tube out. Anesthetic!
Larry (Larry Fine): Nobody lays a hand on me!
Moe (Moe Howard): [after Curly Joes hands him a mallet] Anesthetic! [bonks Larry unconscious] I didn’t lay a hand on him.
Curly Joe (Joe DeRita): Moe, who’s that in the mirror?
Moe (Moe Howard): [looks in the mirror] That’s me.
Curly Joe (Joe DeRita): Oh good, I though it was me.
[upon meeting a talking unicorn]
Larry: Ain’t he quaint?
Moe: “Ain’t”? The word is “isn’t”!
Larry: Isn’t he quisn’t?
Larry (Larry Fine): [after a beautiful French girl walks away] Why didn’t I learn French instead of Latin? [spies Hispanic girl] Oh, a Latin!
Trivia for Have Rocket Will Travel starring the Three Stooges
- The only feature film with Joe DeRita that contains a Stooge eye-poke. The boys later deleted the gag from their routine, as angry mothers began to protest that children were poking their eyes out