Here's the philosophical questions that Punch Drunks raises. When is it exactly, in the course of film production, when you know you've stumbled upon an iconic clip of sound that you'll use forever and ever, amen? There's the Wilhelm Scream, of course. And some lucky devil beat me to it, but they found the sound effect that the Coens seem to use in all their films... they didn't find it in The Ladykillers yet!! Actually, in Ladykillers AND No Country have the same car alarm horn sounds, but that's neither here nor there. Same trigger, too! But here, in merely the second Three Stooges outing, at about 3:08 or so into the affair, the "Woo Woo Woo" that Curly first emits when his superpower is "discovered" by Larry... well, needles to say, if you're at all versed in all things Stooge like I am, and on a similar cinematic venture, you're going to be hearing a lot from this clip of Curly in the future. Look, you can't expect me to point out all these things to you all the time! I am but one man!
Oh, right, the plot. Well, the Stooges, having just embarked on only their second short, find themselves struggling to get by by themselves. Moe is a boxing manager on the brink of an insurrection by his stable of boxers. Curly is a waiter who happens by fate to, fortunately or un-, depending on your perspective, end up serving this coven of misdirected testosterone. Lawrence wanders into the restaurant with his fiddle in order to make some money as a lone musician, entertaining the patrons of the restaurant. Not to spoil it, but Moe and his goons end up killing the messenger, so to speak, when Curly informs them that "the hamburger's too fresh"!!! I'm pretty sure the Humane Association wasn't on the set when they tied a bird's feet to Larry's bow. It angrily tries to fly away; that's why they had to cut away and couldn't show the bird flying off. Anyway, as though we've missed the first part of the movie, Larry sees Curly getting beat up and starts playing "Pop Goes The Weasel." No wonder there's so much anti-Semitism in the world! Seriously, though, it's a plot device. It's probably the only time the Stooges have had to advance the plot ahead with a leap of faith like that. Don't worry; they'll spend the rest of the film dragging things out as long as they can. And even though Moe gets decked in the jaw by Curly, he has the brilliant idea of forming the Stooges "corporation". He doesn't usually refer to their trio as a corporation; the only one I know off the top is Boobs in Arms... trust me, just follow that link. Don't try finding it yourself on IMDb.
And so, that's the establishing vignette. We then go through an hilarious training session, in which Curly lifts a car out of the mud. He ends up doing it twice, once to drop the tire on Moe's foot, and a second time to get it out of the mud for good; also, to pad out the film to 16 minutes... oh, right! Almost forgot. Good joke in this part, worthy of the Marx brothers: the woman of the stuck car says "Oh, I'm in an awful dilemma." To which Moe replies, "Yeah, I don't care much for these foreign cars either."
More padding ensues during the big final fight. You'll just have to accept that boxing was a little more lenient back in the day with regards to musical accompaniment during the fight. All the headlines leading up to that saying "Stradivarius Wins Regional Fight" made me think of this one Warner Brothers cartoon about a boxing match, where the winner of the big final fight is... the device that helps the puny hero win the fight against the big bad fighter! Jerry Beck probably remembers which one it is.
And so we get to the big final fight when... yup, you probably could've guessed it. Larry was just unprepared, having only ONE violin. In a comedic mishap, Curly ends up crushing his violin, so Larry quickly fake fast runs out of the ring (2:43 in Pt. 2) and out into the street, into the dark of 'fake night' to find a new source of Pop Goes The Weasel! Apparently, whistling it won't do... at least, not for a big finale, anyway. Okay, I won't spoil it any more than I already have, except to say that Larry's other solution... not a problem with the audience or the officials! I would further like to point out that P.D. may have the best ending of any Stooge film: Curly advances toward the camera, shaking his fists, going "Woo Woo Woo!" Does it get any better than that? I think not.
Wikipedia says the following about Punch Drunks: 'In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."' Personally, if I had to pick one, I'd probably begrudgingly go with Micro-Phonies. Ain't that always the way? Stooge fans forced to pick one Stooge film. Always happens.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan
Punch Drunks on Wikipedia
Punch Drunks on YouTube