The Three Stooges first comedy short for Columbia pictures was Woman Haters. Woman Haters was released on May 5, 1934 and was a smash hit at the box office. The boys' follow-up effort was originally called A Symphony of Punches. The title was later changed to Punch Drunks.
Punch Drunks was filmed from May 2 to May 5, 1934. Directed by Lew Breslow, Punch Drunks would prove to be one of the most popular-ever Three Stooges films.
Out of the boys' 190 shorts made for Columbia over a period of 24 years (1934-1957), this was to be the only Stooge short where the Stooges received screenwriter's credit. The official credit listed on the film is "story by Jerry Howard (Curly), Larry Fine, and Moe Howard.” In truth, Moe wrote the original treatment for Punch Drunks; he added Curly and Larry's names as "writers" even though they had nothing to do with it. The actual screenplay was written by Jack Cluett.
A rarity for the Stooges, in Punch Drunks, Moe, Larry and Curly do not start in the film as a team, but as three separate entities. In the story, Moe is a down and out boxing manager, Curly a suppressed waiter in a cheap diner, and Larry an out-of-work violin player. Although not a team yet, right off the bat Moe immediately establishes himself as the team's bossy leader.
Also, in this early short, Curly uses his real-life voice, not the higher-pitched "Curly" voice we would all later come to know so well.
As Curly is being worked over and berated by his boss, Larry randomly plays the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" on his violin. This stirs an animalistic strength in Curly and he knocks out the boss, as well as Moe's three clients.
As Moe realizes he had the new champ on his hands and (along with Larry), the three go off to make Curly the boxing champion of the world. (In the original screenplay, John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" was the tune used to drive Curly wild, but the producers didn't want to pay out residual fees, so "Pop Goes the Weasel" was chosen instead.)
During Curly's training, the boys encounter a pretty girl (played by Dorothy Granger) who goes along for the ride, flirting with each of the Stooges along the way.
With the help of Larry, his violin, and "Pop Goes the Weasel," Curly wins several preliminary fights in a row and it is finally championship night. All is going well, until Curly is knocked out of the ring and breaks Larry's much-needed violin. Larry is forced to run all over town, trying to find some substitute version of "Pop Goes the Weasel."
As Larry is running up the street, you can hear Curly's voice in the background saying “Run all the way" very faintly- this may have been a glitch in the final editing.
The shots of Larry running up the street, trying to find the music to save his pal, were actually filmed speeded-up and have an eerie film noir-ish look to them. They are actually some of the most fascinating and aesthetic shots ever filmed -at least in a Three Stooges short.
The boxer Curly has to fight (Killer Kilduff) was played by a real-life boxer named Al Hill. Hill gave poor Curly quite a working over in the ring. In real life, Curly ended up with both a bloody nose and a cut lip.
In looking for the song, Larry encounters a man standing on a truck with "Pop Goes the Weasel" blaring out of two huge stereo speakers. Larry hijacks the truck to drive to the ring. In real life, the man standing on the truck fell off in a nasty spill as Larry drove off, breaking his arm.
Larry drives the truck through the wall of the boxing venue just in time for Curly to hear "Pop Goes the Weasel," go bananas, and win the fight.
The short ends with the tune "Pop Goes the Weasel" playing. As any casual Three Stooges fan knows, the song was later used as the opening song in scores of later Stooges shorts and would be recognized as the boys' "theme song" everywhere.
Punch Drunks is notable for a few other sidebars:
This was the first short where Curly uses his later trademark phrase "I’m a victim of soicumstance."
Also Curly's first "Woo-woo-woo" (another Curly trademark) was recorded and later used as a stock sound used in many Stooge shorts when a "Woo-woo-woo" by Curly needed to be dubbed in.
In the boxing ring, Moe slaps one his assistants, a rare instance of him slapping someone else besides his two pals.
Watch very closely in Punch Drunks, as Curly is being introduced to the crowd in the boxing ring, one of the extras in the scene makes a quick obscene gesture to the camera, which somehow got by the 1934 film censors.
Punch Drunks was released on July 13, 1934. It proved to be another very popular short for Moe, Larry, and Curly. It continues to be beloved by Stooge fans all over the world and can easily be viewed on TV or video, YouTube or many of the various websites on the internet
In 2002, Punch Drunks was honored by the United States Library of Congress. It was chosen to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." It remains the only Three Stooges short to be so honored.
Pretty impressive, huh?
N’yuk n’yuk n'yuk.