Although it is generally assumed that it was Charlie Chaplin who first lampooned der Führer in his (still astonishing) 1940 comedy The Great Dictator, it was not Chaplin, but Moe Howard of The Three Stooges who initially parodied Adolf Hitler onscreen in an unflattering way. In fact, Howard was the first Hollywood actor, comedian or otherwise, to play Hitler, predating Chaplin’s film by about nine months.
In “You Natzy Spy,” the 44th of the 190 Three Stooges’ shorts, Moe played “Hailstone,” an idiot wallpaper hanger who is picked by three nefarious arms dealers (with Pig-Latin surnames) to run the country of Moronica as a fascist dictatorship. Curly played “Field Marshal Gallstone” (the Hermann Göring character) and Larry Fine, already limping from an on-set accident, played “Minister of Propaganda Pebble,” a character based on the Third Reich’s club-footed public relations guru Joseph Goebbels.
In retrospect, it seems odd that there weren’t more anti-Nazi films being produced in Hollywood at that time, but the reason for this is simple, if a bit shameful: No Hollywood studio wanted to lose the German box office. There were films that addressed what was happening in Hitler’s Germany throughout the 1930s, but not many. Not many at all. However, the shorts that preceded feature films were paid less attention by the studio bosses and so this one slipped by. By 1939, I think it’s safe to assume that a Hitler spoof was on the way and it was The Three Stooges who got there first.
Many, including Moe and Larry themselves, consider “You Natzy Spy” to be the finest short that The Three Stooges made working for Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. It was followed by a sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again” in 1941. The parody of the Nazi clobber seen in the film reads “Moronika for Morons” which is an obvious play on “Deutschland den Deutschen” (“Germany for the Germans”). If you listen carefully, especially in Moe’s speech, you’ll hear a lot of Yiddish dog whistles meant for Jewish audiences—all three Stooges were Ashkenazi Jews—and even a punning reference to Göring’s morphine habit!
The Three Stooges were much hipper than they ever get credit for…