Directed by Edward Bernds
Produced by Jack Schwarz
Associate Producer: Bernard Glasser
Story and screenplay by William Lively and Elwood Ullman
CAST: George O’Brien (Himself), Moe Howard, Shemp Howard and Larry Fine (The Three Stooges), Clem Bevans (Doc Mason), Sheila Ryan (Laura Mason), Lyle Talbot (Taggart), Monte Blue (John Sawyer), Fuzzy Knight (Sheriff).
By the beginning of the 50s, Columbia was giving some serious thought to shutting down their short subject division. That would’ve left The Three Stooges with nothing to do, so they must’ve seen a feature for United Artists as a pretty good opportunity. The Hollywood trades reported that Gold Raiders (1951) was to be the first of three Stooge pictures for UA. All three would co-star George O’Brien, and the titles for the other two were announced as Tuscon Joe and Gasoline Alley.
Only Gold Raiders was made. It was shot between Christmas and New Year’s in 1950, making extensive use of all the familiar sights at The Iverson Ranch. George O’Brien, whose career goes back to John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924), would’ve certainly known his way around the place — as would the supporting cast of B-movie regulars. Edward Bernds, who’d worked with the Stooges on their Columbia shorts, was hired to direct.
Bernds: “It was an ultra-quickie shot in five days at the unbelievable cost of $50,000, which even then was ridiculously low. I’m afraid the picture shows it!”
It plays as a pretty typical series Western — an insurance agent (O’Brien) is trying to find out who’s robbing all the gold shipments — with Moe, Larry and Shemp worked into the plot as traveling salesmen. While they do figure into the story, unlike some of their other features where they seem to exist outside the plot, they don’t have a lot of screen time. Actually, nobody does — it only runs 56 minutes.
Bernds: “When the shooting schedule was cut down from a respectable 12 days to 10, eight and finally five days, I should have walked out on the project. I didn’t because the producer, Bernard Glasser, pleaded that he would lose everything he owned if I didn’t do the picture.”
Watching Gold Raiders, you’d swear it was older than it is. It has the look and feel of a 30s or 40s low-budget cowboy picture. The Western aspects aren’t anything you haven’t seen before (or better) and the Stooge sequences aren’t as funny as similar gags in their two-reelers. A lot of the scant running time is dedicated to horseback chase scenes, with some of the shots repeated. What do you expect? They only had five days. And as Bernds said above, the lack of time and money is quite obvious.
It’s easy to write off Gold Raiders as a cheap little curio. But there’s more to it than that. For years, the picture was available only through bootleg tapes, so it’s a real rarity and something devotees of The Three Stooges will want to see (it’s hard to pass up anything they appear in). For Western fans, it offers up a great way to study The Iverson Ranch, from Mushroom Rock to the Western street. It’s got that great cast: Lyle Talbot, Clem Bevans, Fuzzy Knight. And on DVD, the transfer is stunning (and packaged with an earlier Stooges feature, 1933’s Meet The Baron).
SOURCES: The Three Stooges Scrapbook, Lost In The Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood.