Struggling boxing manager Moe is having lunch with several associates. They are demanding their payments from him due to his unscrupulous dealings and threatenig to go to the cops to have him charged. Moe notices their shy waiter (Curly) goes insane whenever he hears the song "Pop Goes the Weasel". Moe also takes notice of a fiddler (Larry) who happens to be playing the potent tune at the restaurant. The waiter's boss confronts him for scaring his customers and Moe asks Larry to give him the Weasel tune again. He plays the potent tune and knocks the owner out cold, Seeing dollar signs in the uncontrollable waiter, Moe quickly recruits the two unsuspecting cohorts and preps them for the boxing world. Curly's boxing handle becomes "K.O. Stradivarius", and with Larry in tow—playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" at every boxing match, Curly becomes the number one contender for the heavyweight championship.
All goes well until the night of the highly anticipated World Championship match with Killer Kilduff (Al Hill). Only a few moments into the first round, Kilduff plants a left hook at Curly, sending him into the crowd, landing on Larry and crushing his violin. Frantic, Larry scurries the streets, looking for anything that is playing "Pop Goes the Weasel," while Curly is being battered by the boxer. Larry finds a radio playing the tune, takes it and heads back to the arena. Larry arrives at the arena a few minutes later with the radio. The song ends moments later just as Curly is about to knock out Kilduff. Moe sends Larry back out to find something else playing the "Pop Goes the Weasel".
Larry manages to come across a politician's campaign truck blaring the tune from its speakers and races it to the arena, crashing through a side wall. Curly is just about ready to throw in the towel until he hears "Pop Goes the Weasel". The wobbly boxer comes to his feet with renewed energy, and knocks out Kilduff in a matter of seconds, winning the fight. With the song still playing, he also knocks out Moe and Larry, and then walks toward the camera (the viewer) "woo-wooing" menacingly at iris-out.
- Moe Howard - Moe
- Larry Fine - Larry
- Curley Howard - Curley and KO Stradivarius
- Dorothy Granger - Girl
Production and significance
The script for Punch Drunks was written by the Stooges, credited as "Jerry Howard, Larry Fine and Moe Howard". According to Moe, the initial treatment of the script was originated by Moe; on its strength, the studio decided to produce the Stooges' next film sooner than scheduled.
The combination of Woman Haters and Punch Drunks impressed Columbia president, Harry Cohn, so much that he offered the Stooges a seven-year contract with yearly options. The Stooges would then release 188 more shorts after Punch Drunks, remaining with Columbia until 1957.
In 2002, Punch Drunks was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", the only Stooge film to achieve such an honor.
- This film was originally called A Symphony of Punches but was changed before its release. The title Punch Drunks comes from the expression "punch drunk", referring to any fighter who has been hit so many times he is unsteady on his feet.
- A colorized version of this film was released in 2004 as part of the DVD collection Goofs on the Loose.
- The short is notable as being one of the few in which the Stooges are not an established trio at the beginning of the film, but rather meet up through happenstance.
- Jerry Howard's natural voice was rather lower than the high-pitched voice he effected for his "Curly" character.
- This is the first film in which Curly calls himself a "victim of soi-cumstance!" (circumstance): this comment would become one of Curly's catch-phrases.
- When the Stooges are taking part in Curly's first workout as a boxer (rowing down the street), Larry is playing a tune on his violin that sounds akin to "Let's Fall in Love", a song sung 23 years later by the character Tiny (Muriel Landers) in the Stooge film Sweet and Hot.
- The "Pop Goes the Weasel" gag was later reused by the Stooges (with Joe DeRita) in their 1963 feature film The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.
- The short ends with the playing of the song "Pop Goes The Weasel", which would become the opening theme for the short Pop Goes the Easel.
- This is the first of at least four Stooge shorts (including Horses' Collars, Grips, Grunts and Groans and Tassels in the Air) in which a normally passive Curly sees, hears, or smells something that triggers a violent reaction in him.
- This was also the first of nine shorts that featured Larry Fine playing his violin.
- Over the course of their 24 years at Columbia Pictures, the Stooges would occasionally be cast as separate characters, with this being one such occurrence (the boys start out in separate roles and end up working together). While some would argue that this ruins their comic dynamic, this is a notable exception in that the dynamic is not lost by their personal separation.
- During the fight, when Larry is seen running down the street, Curly's voice can be heard in the distance saying, "Run! All the way!" This happens twice in the film.
- Larry's running down the street is sped up for comic effect, with post-production sounds of rapid footsteps added. His frantic driving of the van, with its speakers booming out "Pop Goes the Weasel" (the same recording as on the radio earlier), is also sped up.
- This film features a rare scene in which Moe smacks someone other than one of his two pals; as several people begin to rub Curly down after a rather painful round of boxing and accidentally pull Moe into it, he slaps one of them in the back of the head.
- The title music uses a unique jazzy big band 1930s melody called "I Thought I Wanted You". It was composed by Archie Gottler who directed the previous short. The first part was also used in Woman Haters; the second part was later used in Men In Black.
- Originally, the song "Stars and Stripes Forever" was going to be used, but the producer did not want to pay royalties, so the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" was selected because it was in the public domain.
- Men in the audience near the beginning of the boxing match can be seen sticking up their middle fingers.
- A snippet of Punch Drunks appears in the Eddie Murphy comedy Daddy Day Care.
- The 1989 video game The Three Stooges has a "Boxing" option which is based on this short. Larry must run to the electronics store to buy a radio then back to the ring. The player must avoid sleeping dogs and construction hazards, or Larry will be knocked over and it takes time for him to regain his balance. During this time, a split-screen shows Curly getting pummeled by Killer Killduff along with a bell signifying that a round has passed. Should six rounds elapse, the player loses the subgame. Should Larry return prior to this win, a small win screen is shown with Moe and Larry ebullient at Curly's victory. The player gets $500 for this subgame, along with a bonus of $100 multiplied by every round that Curly does not have to suffer through.