#270) Punch Drunks (1934)

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#270) Punch Drunks (1934)

OR “Million Dollar Curly”

Directed by Lou Breslow

Written by Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Jerry Howard and Jack Cluett

Class of 2002

A quick preview

The Plot: Boxing manager Moe (Moe Howard) is in need of a new fighter. While having lunch with his associates, he witnesses his waiter Curly (Curly Howard) go into a violent trance when violinist Larry (Larry Fine) plays “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Under the name “K.O. Stradivarius”, Curly goes undefeated leading up to the Championship match with Killer Kilduff (Al Hill). But on the day of the big match, Curly accidentally breaks Larry’s violin. What hilarious, violent hijinks will the Stooges get into now? Oh, and there’s a woman (Dorothy Granger), because there’s always a woman.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives some historical background, incorrectly states that this short is “scripted solely by the trio”, and praises the short’s boxing backdrop as perfect for “the Stooges’ trademark super violent, cartoonlike slapstick.”

But Does It Really?: Well it took long enough to get the Stooges on the Registry. Like the “Popeye” short on this list, “Punch Drunks” checks all the boxes you want from a Stooges short: eye-pokes, Curly noises; the only thing missing is a wrench to the nose. The slapstick is a bit excessive, but “Punch Drunks” is still fun and never takes itself seriously, which is the primary reason for the Stooges’ longevity. A Three Stooges short isn’t the first film that springs to mind for preservation, but no film history would be complete without one, and “Punch Drunks” is the perfect representation of Larry, Moe, & Curly.

Everybody Gets One: From 1922 to 1933, Moses Horwitz (Moe Howard) and his brother Samuel (Shemp) were the comic foils in the vaudeville act “Ted Healy and His Stooges”. Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine) joined the group in 1928, and the trio perfected their comedy routines on the stage. When the Stooges signed with MGM in 1933, Shemp left the group and was replaced by his brother Jerry (Curly). When their yearlong contract expired, the Stooges parted ways with the consistently difficult Ted Healy and were almost immediately snatched up by Columbia. “Punch Drunks” was the Three Stooges’ second short with the studio.

Wow, That’s Dated: This thing is very Movie ‘30s; people talking fast and calling each other “mugs”. Speaking of, who knew “toots” was gender neutral?

Seriously, Oscars?: Only one Three Stooges short was ever nominated for an Academy Award: 1934’s “Men in Black” (No, not that one, but there’s an idea!) After that, Columbia head Harry Cohn downplayed the Stooges’ popularity so that he wouldn’t have to renegotiate their contracts, and I suspect the Stooges never re-entered the Oscar race for that reason. The Comedy Short winner of 1934 was “La Cucaracha”, which probably won because it was in color and more expensive than the average two-reeler.

Other notes

  • Despite the opening credits, the screenplay was entirely by contract writer Jack Cluett. Moe submitted the initial story, and credited the other two Stooges in the interest of fairness. What a guy.
  • Look out; the Columbia lady has a sparkler!
  • Ah yes, back in the days when you could slap your employee. This union just ain’t cutting it.
  • We have an eye poke! Followed immediately by some Curly noises! It’s an embarrassment of riches!
  • This is the first of the Stooge shorts where Curly claims to be “a victim of soycumstances!”
  • I know I’ve seen the Three Stooges before, but man are these things violent. No wonder parents were up in arms.
  • Speaking of, shoutout to whoever did the Foley on these shorts. How much meat was slapped to get those punching noises?
  • The women in these shorts are always some pleasant young blondes that didn’t do anything before or after their work with the Stooges. Just once I want to see Katharine Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich get mixed up with these guys.
  • This short repeats the age-old adage, “_________ and women don’t mix.”
  • When you rear project your background extras, it just looks like they’re trapped in an alternate dimension.
  • One of the extras flips off the camera. He was the “Guy who exposes himself in ‘Teen Wolf’” of his day.
  • A radio station is playing “Pop Goes the Weasel”? Man, it was a lot easier to entertain back in the ‘30s. I guess that was the first pop station. Thank you!
  • Have you ever actually thought about the lyrics to “Pop Goes the Weasel”? Why is that monkey chasing a weasel around a cobbler’s bench? And why did the weasel go pop? Did it internally combust? Whatever the reason, I blame “America Sings”.
  • You know, before “Raging Bull” came along, “Punch Drunks” was the definitive boxing movie.

Legacy

  • In total the Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia from 1933 to 1957. After Curly left the group in 1946 following a stroke, Shemp returned and stayed until his death in 1955. The series ended with Joe Besser as the third Stooge, but by then the group found a second life in TV reruns. They’ve never been off the air since.
  • Curly’s “woop-woop-woop-woop” heard in this film was reused in several subsequent Stooges shorts.
  • “Punch Drunks” was remade in 1945 as “A Hit with a Miss”, with Shemp taking over Curly’s role.
  • After the deaths of Moe and Larry (both in 1975), the Stooges lived on in new incarnations. Follow-ups have included several animated series (including one where the Stooges are robots?), a video game, a TV movie documenting their behind-the-scenes struggles, and a full-length movie that just…why?
  • Did you know there’s a Three Stooges museum? Founded by Larry Fine’s grandnephew-in-law, the Stoogeum (yep) is in Spring House, Pennsylvania. Road trip, anyone?
  • And now, for your viewing pleasure, The Curly Shuffle.

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