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While this was the second short that The Three Stooges shot for Columbia, this one is the first where they use their own names (and, thankfully, they don't have to talk in couplets, like they did in their first, Woman Haters). Stooge Moe Howard plays a down-on-his-luck fight manager. While eating at a restaurant with some cronies, he finds himself a new fighter -- their waiter (Curly Howard). When a hungry violinist (Larry Fine) offers to play for some soup and begins a lively rendition of "Pop Goes the Weasel," Curly goes into a conniption fit that would soon become classic Stooge fare -- slapping his face, dancing around and "Woop-wooping" wildly. Before anyone can move, he's knocked out all of Moe's pals -- and the restaurant's manager. Moe grabs both Curly and Larry and the trio work their way up in the boxing world -- until one bout in which an accident breaks Larry's violin. Curly takes a brutal beating from Killer Kilduff while Larry runs all over town! looking for something -- anything -- that is playing "Pop Goes the Weasel." He finds a politician's campaign truck blaring the tune from its speakers and races it to the arena in time for Curly to win the fight. In fact, the song -- and Curly's fit -- doesn't stop until Moe and Larry also wind up in a heap in the ring. The Stooges would use this same gag -- Curly stimulated into going nuts -- in at least two other films, 1935's Horses' Collars and 1937's Grips, Grunts and Groans.
Admittedly, I'm not a huge Three Stooges fan, I've always preferred the Marx Bros. or Abbot & Costello, comedy teams who more often use comic dialogue as opposed to cheap gags using violence. But Punch Drunks is one of the Stooges best work. It has good comic timing, and while its humor is still derived from comic violence...it is a little smarter and well crafted.