Where The Catholic League Gets It Wrong About THE THREE STOOGES

Posted on 14 April 2012 by Rich Drees

I haven’t really written about the Farrelley Brothers new film The Three Stooges, in which they have Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso recreate the antics of the iconic slapstick comedy trio, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost,  I am not much of a Stooges fan. So much so in fact that I actually feel guilty that I have been able to see the two shorts that the Stooges did in 3D in that format, an experience that I am sure many of their fans have not had but would love to. I also have been fairly creeped out by the idea of new actors recreating dead actors’s screen personae and building a story around them. Sure it worked in Play It Again Sam and The Man With Bogart’s Face, but those are probably the exceptions that prove the rule.

Well, The Three Stooges opened this weekend and for the most part has gotten fairly expected, by me at any rate, poor reviews. (Currently it is sitting at a 42% over on Rotten Tomatoes.) But there was one negative critique that stood out to me as particularly wrong-headed in its analysis of the film and that was from Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

It seems that Mr. Donohue has a problem with how the film depicts the nuns in the orphanage where the Stooges grew up, specifically with how one of the nuns is played by Larry David in drag and how in one scene in which Kate Upton is shown wearing a swimsuit that has now acquired the name of “nunkini.” In a statement released right before the movie was released in theaters this weekend Donohue complained -

The Stooges are depicted seeking to raise money for their orphanage; it is run by habit-wearing, stereotypical nuns. One of the sisters is played by swimsuit model Kate Upton; she is shown wearing a “nun bikini” with a large rosary around her neck. Another nun, Sister Mary-Mengele, named after the Nazi war criminal, is played by Seinfeld creator Larry David.

In 2009, David proved what he thinks about Catholics when he was shown going to the bathroom in a Catholic home splattering urine on a picture of Jesus (it was his own show). Last night he said to Conan O’Brien that dressing as a nun in the film makes it easy to understand why nuns are “so mean.” He explains, “You know, the outfits might have something to do with that. Forget about the fact that they never have sex. If you gave me a choice of no sex or having to wear that outfit the rest of my life, I would definitely take the no sex.”

Although a born and raised Catholic myself, I have often found myself puzzled by the stances that the League has taken on various things in the past. And once again I now find myself wondering why they are reacting with what appears to be a knee-jerk and surface reaction to the material in question rather than with commentary that demonstrates that some critical thinking went into it.

(In the interest of full disclosure I should state that I have not yet seen the film. But I also think that Donohue hasn’t seen it either, so we are at least on equal footing.)

Far more egregious than showing a nun in a swimsuit, to my mind at least, is the ethnic reassignment that the Stooges get at the hands of the Farrelleys, with their Jewish heritage being whitewashed away by the writer/director brothers in their zeal to make a version of The Blues Brothers that substitutes great music with eye pokes. (J Hoberman over at The Tablet writes about the Stooges’s ethnicity and how it was actually an important component to their act.) But does Donohue have any sense of outrage over this cinematic equivalent of Mormonism’s vicarious baptism of dead Jews? No, he does not. For shame, Mr. Donohue, for shame!

And that deracination leaves a rather disturbing implication – Are the Farrelleys implying that Moe, Larry and Curly learned their behavior from the environment that they grew up in, i.e., the orphanage that they are trying to save?  Do the Stooges beat on other as their primary form of communication because that is all they have known for their whole life growing up in the Catholic-run orphanage? Where is Donohue’s outcry over the implied continuance of the stereotype that nuns are sadists who lord over their youthful charges through the tyranny of a ruler slap to the knuckles? Is his silence here just a mute endorsement of the movie’s accusations, an endorsement of child abuse? For shame, Mr. Donohue, for shame!

Thirdly, I think Donohue really misses the boat concerning Kate Upton playing a nun in the film. By focusing on and frothing at the mouth about the scene where she is wearing a sexy swimsuit – and I’ll leave those more versed in Freudian psychology than I to further expound upon that – I think that he is failing to see the much bigger picture here. The movie is actually depicting a life of religious service as something that is a viable and attractive life for a young and beautiful woman.

It’s not like Upton is the first good looking actress to play a nun. The stunning Ingrid Bergman was one in 1945′s The Bells Of St. Mary’s. Former Playboy Playmate Stella Stevens played a nun in 1968′s Where Angels Go Trouble Follows. Is Donohue stating that only ugly women should consider a life as a nun? In a time when the Church is facing declining numbers of incoming priests and nuns, I don’t think he should be quite so limiting as to whom they would accept. Even worse, is Donohue suggesting that the less attractive should only consider a life as a nun? For shame, Mr. Donohue, for shame!

Now granted, both of my arguments have an element of facetiousness to them and they would not be able to really co-exist side-by-side. The movie can’t be simultaneously anti-nun and pro-religious life. It would be a rather scatter-shot interpretation of the film based solely on its marketing materials. But then so is Donohue’s complaint. He is mad that the movie shows that nuns are amazingly ugly (David in a dress) and breathtakingly beautiful (Upton in a swimsuit). Is he upset that there is no middle ground? Should only the most aggressively plain commit themselves to a life in the clergy?

I think by embracing both  extremes, the Farrelleys and The Three Stooges, intentionally or not, actually says something positive about the religious life. It shows that it can be made up of all sorts of people, representing a wide variety of the demographic of the Church. I would venture to state that is something that Donohue and his organization, which it should be pointed out has no official ties with the actual Roman Catholic Church, may not be able to seriously claim.

3 Comments For This Post

  1. av Says:

    i find it outrageously anti-semitic because the Stooges were quintessential Jews not Catholics. who wrote the screenplay Mel Gibson?

  2. mpejko Says:

    It is not Donohue’s job to point out any hidden anti-Semitic agenda in The Three Stooges. (Which by the way has not been spoken about by the Anti-Defamation League or any Jewish press as yet).

    He represents the Catholic League. The Three Stooges movie features one nun named after a Nazi played by a well known anti-Catholic in Larry David, and another who appears in a barely-there swimsuit. (By the way, the comparison to Ingrid Bergman is ridiculous. Beautiful and sexual are two different things.)It’s Donahue’s job to highlight this type of nonsense.

    Perhaps instead of pointing your caffeteria-Catholic finger to the Catholic League, it should point elsewhere. First start with the filmmakers, then the ADL.

  3. William Gatevackes Says:

    You’re missing the point, mpejko. The point is that Donohue represents the Catholic League and Catholic League exclusively. Any slight, perceived or real, against the Catholic Church of its institutions is a million times worse then any slight against any organization, and shows a premeditated desire to degrade the Catholic Church. Typically, a call for a boycott comes next. That hasn’t happened yet.

    Rich’s point is that the film has no agenda against the Catholic Church in particular as it has offended more than one religion (I haven’t seen the film, but I imagine many other institutions as well). And if it did, there is a deeper condemnation that Donohue could have arrived at if he just examined the film a little closer (I believe that was what Rich was trying to say in the 5th to last paragraph).

    But Donohue doesn’t think any harder than he needs too. He doesn’t have to. He simply points out that there was a nun wearing a swimsuit and an anti-Catholic playing a nun and that’s enough to get his target audience up in arms. That’s how he earns his paycheck.

    You are right. It’s not Donahue’s job to point out any slights against any other religion. His job is to point out slights against the Catholic religion, no matter how small or how far he has to reach for them. He doesn’t really care if other groups are offended or, for that matter, some other people might not see what he’s pointing out as being offensive. His job is to cause a stink, rattle some sabers and get his and his organizations name in the papers. That’s all. But he doesn’t speak for ALL Catholics or ALL moral people. That’s a fact.

    Personally, I find Larry David’s character’s name not just offensive but repulsive. The “nunkini” doesn’t offend me other than the overall tackiness of the gag. But instead of giving out the name and e-mail of a Fox official, I just won’t see the movie. I find that better than making it so nobody, even those that want to, can see it.

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