Thursday, February 7, 2008

Slowly I Turned

“Step by Step, Inch by Inch”

This is a bit of a strange obsession for me and one of those things I break out with in casual conversation way too often (and 9 times out of 10 to confused looks) but it just has a feel of old school shadow and fog, like of Victorian black and white, silent film scene of tension, of obsession and vengeance but used for and in such comedic settings and, I don’t know I think it’s brilliant

Here it is acted out by the incomparable Three Stooges (from Gents without Cents, according to Wikipedia)

here it is on I Love Lucy (which had to have been the place I originally heard of it) in a 1952 episode “The Ballet”

and here’s some information about it courtesy of the Wikipedia god

"Slowly I Turned" is the most common name associated with a popular vaudeville sketch that has also been performed in cinema and on television. Comedians Harry Steppe, Joey Faye and Samuel Goldman each laid claim to this timeless classic of show business, also commonly referred to as, variously "The Stranger with a Kind Face" (by clowns and clowning aficionados), "Niagara Falls" (by fans of The Three Stooges) or even "Pokomoko" (by Abbott and Costello lovers).

The routine has two performers pretending to meet for the first time, with one of them becoming highly agitated over the utterance of particular words. Names and cities (such as Niagara Falls) have been used as the trigger, which then send the unbalanced person into a state of mania; the implication is that the words have an unpleasant association in the character's past. While the other performer merely acts bewildered, the crazed actor relives the incident, uttering the words, "Slowly I turned...step by step...inch by inch...," as he approaches the stunned onlooker. Reacting as if this stranger is the object of his rage, the angry actor begins hitting or strangling him, until the screams of the victim shake him out of his delusion. The actor then apologizes, admitting his irrational reaction to the mention of those certain words. This follows with the victim innocently repeating the words, sparking the insane reaction all over again. This pattern is repeated in various forms, sometimes with the entrance of a third actor, uninformed as to the situation. This third person predictably ends up mentioning the words and setting off the manic performer, but with the twist that the second actor, not this new third person, is still the recipient of the violence. (However in the Three Stooges episode Gents Without Cents, the newcomer may be the attacked party.)

Abbott and Costello did a version for their television show which ended with Costello’s troublesome lawyer entering the scene. Costello asks for the lawyer to take the case of the storytelling stranger, and the lawyer says, "Help him out? I don’t know anything about him! What’s his name? Where is he from?" Costello whispers in the lawyer’s ear, to which the lawyer says aloud, "Niagara Falls?" Then he, of course, is immediately attacked.

Myself? I’ve never been to Niagara Falls…

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