An actor playing Adolf Hitler -now that's an interesting proposition. As anyone in Hollywood well knows, correct, precise casting can make or break a movie. So let's imagine we're doing a movie about Der Fuhrer. Who should we cast to play him?
Okay, the logical choice is painfully obvious, and actually ironic. Ironic only because the perfect actor to portray Adolf Hitler was, indeed, also the first American actor ever to play/satirize Der Fuhrer in a movie. Not to mention he was also a Jew. Hitler, okay, let's see, a loud-mouthed, quick-tempered blowhard, an overbearing bully who enjoyed punishing those who didn't follow his orders exactly. Does Moe Howard of the Three Stooges come to mind? Hmmm...
It was in January of 1940 that Moe and his two pals, those hilariously funny slapstick comics known the world over as the Three Stooges, made the very first movie satirizing Adolf Hitler and the then-growing Nazi movement in Germany and other countries. Nine months later, Charlie Chaplin came out with his more famous Hitler satire The Great Dictator. But I repeat, the Stooges were the historic first.
At the time the Stooges filmed You Nazty Spy! the United States was still very ambivalent about entering World War II. Isolationist sentiment ran rife across America and many feared making any film about Hitler and the Third Reich might stir up anti-Nazi feelings among the public. Many senators, such as Burton Wheeler and Geraldine Nye, were also severe isolationists who objected to any anti-Nazi movies on the grounds that they were propaganda designed to mobilize American fervor for war.
While the Three Stooges are often looked down upon by the "elites" and many film intellectuals, one must be fair and give them at least some credit for their courage in taking on the unpopular subject almost two full years before the U.S. entered World War II. The contemporary comparisons between certain segments of the American public and their widely diverse opinions on "offending our enemies" in 2012 are all too obvious.
You Natzy Spy!, the boys' 44th short for Columbia Pictures, was Moe's favorite Three Stooges short (pretty high praise, considering he appeared in 189 others). According to some sources, it was also Larry's favorite Stooge short.
Moronika appears on a map in the later short I'll Never Heil Again.
Moe stars as Moe Hailstone, a small-time paperhanger, along with his buddies: Curly Gallstone and Larry Pebble (while Moe was obviously Hitler, Curly was Hermann Goering and Larry was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's two chief Nazi pals). The country of Moronica needs a dictator to take over and sway the angry masses into a more cooperative state.
Moe does the greatest Hitler impression in cinematic history -yes, better and more realistic than Alec Guinness or Richard Basehart or any of the other distinguished actors to star as the Nazi leader -including Chaplin himself. Watching The Great Dictator we do see Chaplin's brilliance, but we also see Chaplin playing Hitler with a genteel, almost soft, thickly British accent.
Nobody, but nobody, in film history could blow up and get angry like Moe Howard. There is something chilling and almost eerie as Moe spouts off his gibberish speeches in perfect Hitler mode.
This classic 18-minute comedy short is probably the Stooges' greatest satirical foray. With typical Stooge humor, the short is crammed full of Jewish/Yiddish expressions (all three Stooges were devout Jews -Curly reportedly even had his own favorite velvet yarmulke he liked to wear when he went to temple). "Beblach!" is said several times (a Yiddish expression that means "beans"). "Shalom Aleichem" is used, a Yiddish expression that literally means "peace be with you" and casually means "pleased to meet you."
In one scene. Moe orders a "blintzkrieg."
"Oh, good," replied Curly, "I just love blintzes, especially with sour krieg." Blintzes with sour cream is a popular Ashkenazi Jewish dish (all the Stooges were Ashkenzai Jews).
The satire continues as Curly is ordered to shoot the film's woman spy, Mati Herring. "Let's go shoot the works," says Curly, happily. This was reputedly a sly reference to Hermann Goering's morphine addiction and his shooting himself up with a needle.
Interestingly, Larry had an accident before shooting You Nazty Spy! and can be seen clearly limping in one scene. This perfectly fits Larry's playing Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, who limped noticeably because of his club foot.
A few sly sexual references did manage to slip by the then-powerful Hayes Office and its resident censors. As Moe recommends a book burning, Curly refuses to burn his "little red book," filled with notes and comments about his various women. "Ruby Clutch has car -often runs out of gas, oh oh oh, G" (her bras size), "Tessie Oomph 2-69," "Eunice- 110 Goodnecking Place." Although very mild sexual jokes by today's "anything goes" standards, these were actually very racy by 1940's standards. Moe reads Curly's red book notes, quoting "Woo woo woo." Curly replies "Woo woo woo" very lasciviously (Curly was reputedly a womanizer in real life).
As Moe makes a speech a la Hitler, he sneaks in another Yiddish sexual semi-obscene expression in "In pupik gehabt habit," which translates to "I've had it in the belly button."
You Nazty Spy! is a richly inventive verbal satire, unusual for the slapstick kings, the Three Stooges. Moe could always talk with facile dexterity, but we see Curly being much more slyly verbose than ever before (or since) in any Stooge short. In one scene, if you watch closely after he shoots Moe, you can see Curly mouthing both Moe's and Larry's lines to himself, probably to help himself remember his own next lines. Unlike his brother Moe, Curly was a poor study and always had a hard time remembering his lines.
You Nazty Spy!, like so many Three Stooges shorts, is a brilliant, original, often hilarious comedy. Moe was to reprise his classic Hitler impersonation twice more in his Stooge career, in I'll Never Heil Again in 1941 and Back From the Front in 1943. In both shorts, Curly and Larry again take the roles of his henchmen.
At the conclusion of Back from the Front, Moe orders Herr Captain (played by actor Stanley Blystone) to "use your head and shoot out your brains!" to which Blystone replies, "But main Fuhrer, we're Nazis, we have no brains!"