Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release date: 1961
Format: Cinemascope Widescreen
From guest contributor Kurt Raymond--the focus of this article is on how this particular film has added to the greater Snow White legacy, not how or why it failed as a Three Stooges vehicle.
1961 TITLE SCREEN CAPTURE
20TH CENTURY FOX 1961 RELEASE, 14 X 36 INSERT
The story? Princess Snow White escapes from the Wicked Queen and seeks refuge with none other than the Seven Dw---er....ahhh..........the Three Stooges.
LARRY, CURLY JOE AND MOE ENCOUNTER QUEEN ON HER BROOMSTICK
The 1961 film, Snow White and the Three Stooges, has all the makings of a lavish, technicolor fairy tale musical. It features liberal doses of special effects, fire, smoke, Wicked Witches, hourglasses and fireballs. No, it's not The Wizard Of Oz, but there are many similarities, as the screenplay was written by none other than Noel Langley, who also penned the screenplay for that 'other fairy tale' featuring 'little people' in 1939. Langley was assisted by co-writer Ellwood Ullman, who himself was very familiar with the Stooges as he co-wrote many of their Columbia shorts. We will explore the comparisons of both fantasy films in more detail further down this essay. The famous trio, The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and newbie-to-the-group Joe DeRita as Curly Joe), only appear in about half the scenes of the film, and have they been toned down a notch! The film's emphasis is on the Snow White character, played by then popular Olympic skater Carol Heiss. SW3S was initially written as a straight-forward telling of the fairy tale.
CAROL HEISS AS SNOW WHITE
QUEEN LOOKS ON AS KING DIES, ANXIOUS TO TAKE OVER HIS COUNTRY
GUT ROLFE AS COUNT OGA, PATRICIA MEDINA AS WICKED QUEEN
But when the Three Stooges suddenly became popular again late in their careers, it was decided that this production would be the perfect vehicle for a brand new generation to experience their slapstick and would mark the first time they would appear in glorious color. Interestingly, in the final film cut, when the Stooges are given a chance for their branded form of comedy, it doesn't last long, and their elderly age by this time in their career slows them down to gran'pa types that don't have all that much to do, but they do their best. The Stooges are substitutes for the vacationing Seven Dwarfs, and are also responsible later in the film for violently killing the Wicked Queen (in her Witch guise), and finally uniting Snow White with her Prince Charming.
STOOGES IN FIRST OF TWO "SKATING" SCENES (LONG SHOTS WERE STUNT DOUBLES)
Hardcore 'Stooges' fans have long made their opinions known about this film (Not enough of 'the slapstick humor' and 'what made them famous', ie: the eye-gouging, pratfalls, etc). It was produced by (and shares additional co-writing credit with Langley and Ullman) future U.S. Information Agency head Charles Wick. However, to the many others fans and kids that grew up watching it every Thanksgiving on KTLA Channel 5's "Family Film Festival Night" in Los Angeles, it was a looked forward to and welcomed fairy-tale treat (until the following spring anyway when The Wizard of Oz would have it's annual CBS TV telecast). You don't have to be a Stooges fan to enjoy this film as it was clearly made with 'Oz'-loving kids in mind (in more ways than one as discussed below).
SW3S was assigned a budget of $3.5 million--an exorbitant amount for a fantasy film of that day. Walter Lang, (Academy Award nominated director for the classic musical The King And I) was chosen to direct, however this would prove to be his last film. 20th Century-Fox, (then in financial trouble), approved the huge budget after heavy studio deliberations as to who the film would cater to--skating fans, children or both. The movie was shot in 2.35 ratio widescreen and the final cut ran 107 minutes. The film contains lots of singing, lots of skating, lots of special effects, matte paintings, and sometimes additional story that should have been left on the cutting room floor. And a little Three Stooges thrown in from time to time.
As mentioned, the 'star' of the film was Heiss, but it was seasoned 1940's B-movie beauty (and longtime wife of actor Joseph Cotten) Patricia Medina as the Wicked Queen/Witch who actually stole the film away from her on-screen step-daughter. In fact, Medina had stated in recent interviews that Heiss even tried to have her fired from the production for supposed 'diva' behavior, as the two did not get along whatsoever. Though their screentime together was minimal (two scenes), it seemed as though movie and real life blurred during production. The normally blonde Heiss is very attractive as a brunette, and she's obviously an excellent skater, but for her first (and only) film, an actress she was not, which must have miffed veteran Medina during filming. On April 28, 2012, Patricia Medina Cotten passed away at age 92.
CAROL HEISS (WITH GOOD REASON) TRIES TO TURN DOWN THE APPLE
MEDINA AS QUEEN/WITCH
Edson Stroll was one of those handsome, run of the mill 'leading man' types, and he was perfect for the role of Prince Charming in those familiar tights. (A virtual unknown he was except for a brief turn on the TV series McHales's Navy and another Three Stooges film the following year, The Three Stooges In Orbit.) Stroll was also called upon, Errol Flynn style, to have a swashbuckling sword fight with Count Oga on the castle wall for the only true action sequence in the film. Stroll was also dubbed for his musical numbers by Bill Lee. Mr. Stroll recently passed away July 18, 2011.
HEISS AND STOLL AS SNOW WHITE AND PRINCE CHARMING. SEEN HERE WITH QUINTO THE PUPPET (IN HUMAN FORM) DURING SNOW'S SKATING DREAM SEQUENCE.
British actor Guy Rolfe was the evil Count Oga (looking like a medieval Captain Hook), aide to the Wicked Queen in all manners of 'Heir Assassination' and Witchcraft. His role as her 'assistant' who had signed a "Wizard's Oath" to champion the Queen's cause of keeping her on the throne is not needed. Though Oga's character adds nothing other than to lessen the evil of the Queen, he does add to the 'swashbuckling' castle siege later in the film as the aformentioned sword-wielding foil to the Prince. It is also he who is responsible for transforming the Queen into the Witch and providing her with the means necessary (broomstick, red fire for disguises, etc.) to destroy Snow White. In addition, early in the film there are brief allusions that Oga and the Queen know each other...better. His death via a cauldron of boiling oil is felt by some parents today as too violent for a kids film of this sort (as if there aren't worse things on the news!). Rolfe passed away October 19, 2003.
GUY ROLFE AS COUNT OGA SWASHBUCKLING WITH EDSON STROLL AS THE PRINCE
The supporting cast also included Blossom Rock (Grandmama in the 1960's TV show Addam's Family) in a brief appearance as the Prince's childhood nurse.
Jason Wingreen (Harry in Archie Bunker's Place and the original voice of Boba Fett in 1980's Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back) played a palace guard helping to search the country for Snow White.
Voice actor extroardinaire Mel Blanc (of Bugs Bunny fame) was the voice of Quinto the Jester, the Prince's puppet alter-ego.
QUINTO AND PRINCE SCREEN CAPTURE
None of the supporting actors (Medina, Stroll, or the Stooges) did their own skating. Professionals were brought in for the numerous skating sequences.
COMPARISONS WITH 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ:
The film stays close to the overall framework of the 'Snow White' story, but with many additions thrown into the mix. The similarities with The Wizard of Oz are easy to see and hard to miss, both visually and in the script. Noel Langley saw an opportunity and decided to put several set descriptions and scenes initially cut from his original "Oz" screenplay right back into this film.
The Owls staring down at Snow White during her forest escape are VERY reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz Haunted Forest Owls as shown below:
HAUNTED FOREST OWLS SNOW WHITE/OZ
The Queen transforms into a Witch that more than resembles Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West from Oz--right down to the caped and bodiced medieval witch dress and silk sash in the back of her hat. The character also rides a similar (and red-smoke-spewing) broomstick. And owns a large hourglass (with red sand) that, in one particular scene, symbolizes Snow White's impending doom (not unlike Dorothy's in Oz).
DETAIL OF POSTER ART: WICKED WITCH ON BROOM
The Queen also dies violently (for a children's film) in an idea discarded from the original Oz screenplay, where the Wicked Witch of the West falls to her death via her broomstick.
FIERY DEATH: FLYING WITCH PROP IN ACTION
Stroll's 'Prince Charming' character and the Stooges are oddly introduced into the story. Through a twist of fate, the Prince (not knowing he is the rightful heir to the kingdom) has been raised by the Stooges since he was very young, and the surrogate fathers have a traveling medicine show (like Professor Marvel in Wizard of Oz) with which they support themselves. They happen to come across the Prince at age seven where they rescue him from an assassination attempt (ordered by the Queen herself) to keep him from taking over both her country and his when he comes of age. A fall later in the film brings back his memory, and he realizes he is the rightful heir to both thrones.
When Snow White makes her run from the Queen into the Dark Forest, she comes across the Dwarfs' cottage, now occupied temporarily by the Stooges. The cottage itself more than resembles Disney's version, and Snow's costume is also reminiscent of Disney's heroine, as are the evil trees grasping at her.
DWARFS' COTTAGE SIMILAR TO DISNEY'S VERSION
There were some interesting issues while filming the Witch's scenes. According to documents housed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it shows that Walter Lang, after a week of seeing daily rushes of Patricia Medina in a ridiculous "Dunce Cap Princess' Witch's hat, realized that the makeup department had not properly aged her hands (at all), and angrily ordered all of her completed Witch scenes to be re-shot (much to Medina's chagrin). Several days later, with new costume/makeup tests and with a new Witch hat, new wig, and skintight aged gloves for her hands, production was on the move again. Proof of this is shown here below with two unpublished stills of Medina in the 'dunce cap' followed by her revised 'Margaret Hamilton-esque' appearance in the film.
UNPUBLISHED STILL OF MEDINA IN "PRINCESS HAT" AND ALTERNATE WIG/MAKEUP
ANOTHER SHOT OF PATRICIA MEDINA IN HER "PRINCESS HAT" AND SHORTER HAIR...NOTE HANDS ARE NOT AGED
MEDINA AS BOTH "WICKED QUEEN" + FINAL VERSION OF "WICKED WITCH" COSTUME/MAKEUP.
CLOSE-UP OF WITCH MAKEUP AND COSTUME
When SW3S was released June 21, 1961, Fox also unleashed a fair amount of publicity and promotion for a 'Kid's Fairy Tale' movie. TV ads (in black and white) were rampant the first week as well as several different magazine ads printed in various foreign languages. Also released was a comic book story supplement in various nationwide Sunday newspapers, and a soundtrack LP with songs from the film. However, an 8MM movie package featuring selected scene excerpts was released a few years later by the Americom Corp. A 'teaser trailer' was assembled with 'alternate scenes' from the film, with an 'on-set' appearance by the Stooges promoting their roles in it.
ORIGINAL SUNDAY NEWSPAPER COMIC SUPPLEMENT
ORIGINAL SW3S LP SOUNDTRACK
There was a fairly elaborate pressbook, a large selection of one, two and three sheet posters, and 2 different sets of color lobby cards (one for the US and a completely different set for the UK where it was re-named Snow White and the Three Clowns).
FROM US LOBBY CARD SET "THE WICKED WITCH TAKES FLIGHT"
"CLOWNS" UK HERALD
20TH CENTURY FOX SW3S 1961 PRESSBOOK CAMPAIGN MANUAL
PRESSBOOK POSTER PROMOTIONS
22 x 28 COLOR-TINTED POSTER
13 x 27 ITALIAN POSTER + AUSSIE DAYBILL
For a vehicle emphasizing the Stooges, it's interesting to note, that Snow White, the Prince and the Queen's (In her 'Witch' costume) likenesses outweigh the Stooges in pressbook ads, but as mentioned above, the TV commercials stressed the boys' appearance. Though the film was a financial failure, it was quickly put on local television stations all over the US for the holidays as an answer to CBS's "Oz" telecasts, which is where it has earned a small reputation as a 'fairy tale cult film', as can be attested by the many reviews of fans who have either seen it on TV or purchased the DVD on Amazon or any other film retailer.
ORIGINAL FLYING WITCH PROP:
This miniature prop from the film is a model of the witch character attired in black garb and sitting on a small broom. Made of composite, cloth and other materials, it measures 8" x 12". It's seen in the sequence when the Witch falls out of the sky to her death. A small device that created the smoke effect in this scene is still evident in the broom which is made of metal so it wouldn't catch fire.
FLYING WITCH PROP
The model was sold at Christie's Auction House at Rockefeller Center on December 20, 2002 for $1,793.00. Other props from the film have come up at auction recently as well and the original posters and production stills.
HOME VIDEO RELEASE:
SW3S was released on VHS videocasette in 1985, and sales were fairly brisk for the baby boomers that saw it on TV in the 60's and early 70's. In 2005, the film was finally released (with a spectacular color print) on DVD and included a choice of either widescreen or pan-and-scan features. Extras included the film's original color theatrical trailer and an insert w/stills and scene selections.
2005 DVD SLIP COVER
Judging purely on the title, it is not as bad a film as someone who has never seen it would think. It is, in fact a very lavish and satisfying adaptation of the "Snow White" story. A wonderful kid's movie with great performances by Medina, the Stooges, Stroll and the supporting cast, and Heiss is beautiful enough to warrant the title 'Fairest Of Them All', even if she is not a professional actress. The Cinemascope production is shot beautifully with sets/special effects that convey the perfect fairy tale mood as well as showing money well spent. The music score was written by Lyn Murray, and although the songs were forgettable, SW3S is still best appreciated by fans of children's fairy tale films rather than of the "Stooges Three' (as they are called in the film).
Written by guest contributor Kurt Raymond. All image scans provided by The Raymond Collection unless otherwise noted. [Article updated in July 2012.]
Video posted on Internet Archive.