While these films aren't exactly for a new or casual fan, they are very worth the while for more seasoned fans. Finally these long-overlooked films are being released on DVD instead of languishing away on out of print videos or not even available on that format to begin with (I don't believe 'Gold Raiders' was ever issued on VHS). Yes, the bonus features are very minimal (just trailers for 'Meet the Baron,' 'A&C in Hollywood,' 'Air Raid Wardens,' and 'Nothing But Trouble'), and the print used for 'Lost in a Harem' does seem a bit worn at times, but those complaints should be minor when considering how great it is that these lesser features of these great comedy teams finally got a proper DVD release. Who even thinks to complain about something like a dearth of bonus features or less than perfect prints when talking about the long-awaited release of rarities? (And since they are such rarities and non-essential features except for seasoned fans, it makes sense that there really isn't much in the way of bonus materials.)
A lot of people tend to dismiss L&H's post-1940 features as though they're completely unfunny, awful, and not worth one's time, but I rather like the two they did for MGM, as well as their Fox features. It's like one of those things that's been said long enough, by so many people, that even people who have never gotten to see these features to judge for themselves start to parrot this rhetoric, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by the time they finally see said features. But if one takes them on their own merits instead of unfairly judging them by the golden standard of their Hal Roach years, one might actually come to see that they're not half-bad and indeed have many funny moments. They're different from the films at Hal Roach, with a lot of that heart and soul being gone (such as in how they're now aware of their stupidity and don't want to try to change their low station in life, like when Ollie actually says, "I guess we're not smart like other people," and one of the jokes in 'Air Raid Wardens' is supposed to be the sight of Stan struggling to write his own name, as though he's borderline retarded and not just a childlike man in his own special magical world), but the two main ingredients are still there, even if in a different format. My favorite of the two is 'Air Raid Wardens' (1943), featuring the boys as hopeful air raid wardens trying to do their best for the homefront effort, only to be dismissed from their jobs with disgrace after screwing up one too many times. When they learn of a group of Nazi spies in their town planning to take over and blow up a magnesium plant, it's up to them to save the day and convince the locals that they're not so stupid and incompetent after all. 'Nothing But Trouble' (1944) features them as a cook (Ollie) and a butler (Stan) working for a high-society matron, but are also dismissed from those positions after ruining a dinner party and being accused of kidnapping a boy king in exile. They also have to try to save the day in this picture when King Christopher's evil uncle Prince Saul tries to have his nephew poisoned and to take power for himself. Though I quite enjoyed this film the first time I saw it, it didn't wear as well the second time around. While I still liked it (particularly the scene near the end when they're holding onto the side of the building and Stan, hanging onto Ollie for dear life, manages to pull his friend's pants down), it just didn't seem as inspired as it had before.
'A&C in Hollywood' (1945) features the duo as barbers and shoeshine boys who decide to start working as agents in order to get their buddy Jeff, a promising singer, into an upcoming movie. His rival Gregory has other ideas, however, and tries to sabotage their efforts even after Jeff's contract has already been written up. However, this film seems to be more a series of gags and funny scenes without a solid unifying story holding them all together. Some of these jokes, such as the insomnia scene, just go on too long and don't add anything to the story. Probably the funniest scene is the one near the end when Gregory is chasing Lou on the runaway roller coaster. 'Lost in a Harem' (1944) features the boys as Peter Johnson and Harvey Garvey, who are magicians performing in North Africa, along with their friend Hazel Moon, who is a singer. After Harvey screws up their act, all three of them are thrown into jail. A man who turns out to be an exiled prince, who has a thing for Hazel, gets them out of prison, and takes them to his kingdom to try to win the throne back from his evil uncle Nimativ. Things get complicated when the evil king sees Hazel and falls in love with this beautiful blonde, holding her hostage in his harem and ordering their marriage for the next day at sundown. He also becomes wise to the schemes of his nephew and two friends, who find themselves in and out of trouble on their way to trying to save the day. While this is an enjoyable film, there are a bunch of rather boring song and dance numbers. Why did MGM think so many comedies they produced needed these superfluous musical scenes? It's also not consistently energetic or funny, though that perhaps can be attributed to how Lou had had rheumatic fever the previous year and was also dealing with the tragic loss of his one year old son to a drowning accident.
'Gold Raiders' (1951) is notable for being the only full-length feature the Stooges made with Shemp (apart of course from 'Soup to Nuts' in 1930), although unlike a lot of the features they guest-starred in in the Thirties and Forties, here they actually are front and center for most of the action and play major roles instead of serving as periodic comic relief or just appearing for one brief scene. I thought this film wasn't too shabby, though while it is better than its reputation, it's not exactly solid gold either. It's quite obvious that this was a low-budget picture and shot in a very short timespan, not even of the same calibre as a B-Western. While normally I find Westerns boring at best and offensive at worst, I thought this one was pretty good, even in the few scenes without the Stooges. George O'Brien (who uses his real name in the film) is a sheriff turned insurance salesman who is inadvertently saved by the Stooges, who have a travelling general store. Once in town, he proceeds to get permission to insure and guard shipments of gold, since the existing sheriff is kind of a buffoon. Problems arise when O'Brien's secretary Laura's drunken grandfather accidentally gives the bad guys information about the gold shipment. Although it's only a bit under an hour long and not really memorable, and quite obviously not a big-budget picture, it is a fun way to pass the time. One wishes they had been allowed to make starring features while they were still in their creative and physical prime instead of having to wait until 1959, since this film shows a lot of promise for what could have been. 'Meet the Baron' (1933) was made while they were still working with their original leader Ted Healy (an incredibly funny and talented performer, with a lot of screen presence and personality, in spite of the vicious decades-old rumors about how he was some untalented mean moneygrubbing abusive jerk). It's actually a starring vehicle for Jack Pearl and Jimmy Durante, who are mistaken for Baron Munchausen and his sidekick Joe McGoo, respectively. They are taken back to the United States, where they wind up appearing at Cuddle College. "Munchausen" falls in love with one of the maids (ZaSu Pitts), but this budding love affair is threatened when he and McGoo face exposure as frauds when the real Baron Munchausen shows up, irate at having his identity stolen. Healy and His Stooges are the funniest people in this film, and steal the show. They play janitors who work at the college, and in one very risqué scene are called in to fix the plumbing after the water goes out during a musical number the women performed while in the showers, covered up only by the water. It's also kind of charming to see how young and fresh-faced they look in this film.
While these films aren't the greatest representatives of what these three great comedy teams were capable of, they're still far from completely devoid of interest and entertainment. Kudos for finally putting these rarities on DVD.