‘Punch Drunks’ (1934) was the second short film made by The Three Stooges for Columbia Pictures. It was photographed from Wednesday, May 2nd through Saturday, May 5th, 1934 and released on Friday, July 13th of that year. If the film isn’t exactly funny, it most certainly is fascinating for a variety of reasons. Let’s begin with the opening credits, which feature a very nice graphic of Curly. We hear a theme song that sounds oddly like some of the music from their first short, ‘Woman Haters’. That’s because it is. Columbia Pictures was a notoriously tight-fisted organization and anything it owned–like sixteen bars of music–was bound to be re-used in some fashion. This brings us to why Larry plays ‘Lets Fall In Love’ by Harold Arlen on his violin twice. The song was written for a Columbia 1933 Ann Southern pre-code comedy called ‘Lets Fall In Love’, which means it was thusly owned by Columbia Pictures who probably found a way to charge the reuse of it to the budget of ‘Punch Drunks’. Which brings us to who wrote ‘Punch Drunks’. The story is credited to Jerry Howard, Moe Howard and Larry Fine. As far as I know this is the only time they received a writing credit–and one might assume it has to do with the fact that there only previous short, ‘Woman Haters’, was actually part of a different shorts ‘novelty’ series and simply featured the Stooges as one of that series participants. Thus the Stooges pushing a story treatment featuring the trio as a solo act onto Columbia can be read as an act of admirable self-promotion. If ‘Punch Drunks’ hadn’t turned out to be so funny (at least as it was adjudged at the time) it’s possible the entire Stooge oeuvre at Columbia wouldn’t exist. (Which would be fine with some people–I do get quite a bit of pushback from readers of this blog who don’t seem to grasp what it is that drives me to force a Stooge comedy on my audience every weekend). Let’s see, what else? Ah, yes. When Larry is running down the street at 11:01 crank up the sound. You’ll hear somebody–sounds like Moe perhaps?–yelling out directions: “Run all the way! Then come back!” Is it possible they hadn’t filled Larry in on what his action was before rolling camera? Perhaps that’s how things rolled on early Stooge shoots. Of a much more provocative nature is a shot of the boxing audience where a guy in the crowd gives the camera the finger. It happens exactly at 8:53. Finally, in an act of utter absurdity, in 2002 ‘Punch Drunks’ became the first and only Stooge film to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. I can think of at least a dozen–more really–of other Stooge shorts that are worthier of that honor than ‘Punch Drunks’. Perhaps the significant moment that marked it for inclusion was that gesture at 8:53?


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