The year 1949 was getting underway, and two weeks after making VAGABOND LOAFERS (1949)
with the Three Stooges, Emil was back at the studio working yet again with the famous comedy trio. As the forty-sixth acting job of his film career, PUNCHY COWPUNCHERS was also Emil's tenth role with the Stooges and his thirty-eighth appearance in a Columbia Pictures short comedy.
PUNCHY COWPUNCHERS was created by writer/director Ed Bernds in the style of a Hollywood epic Western, complete with multiple story lines, a large cast and thematic music, and it is considered by many as one of Bernds' best films. Produced by Hugh McCollum, it features several of the Stooges' most popular supporting actors. Joining Emil in the cast are Christine McIntyre, Kenneth MacDonald, Dick Wessel, Vernon Dent, Jacques O'Mahoney, Heinie Conklin, Stanley Price, George Chesebro Bob Cason and Ted Mapes.
Jacques O'Mahoney later changed his name and achieved renown as stunt man Jock Mahoney, performing stunt-double work for the likes of Errol Flynn, John Wayne, and Gregory Peck. As an actor, Mahoney also appeared in dozens of films, several TV series, and even made two features starring as "Tarzan, the Ape Man" in the 1960s.
As a handsome but clumsy would-be hero in PUNCHY COWPUNCHERS, O'Mahoney performs numerous wonderfully funny stunts including some hilarious back flips and forward flips. When he twirls his revolvers for a few moments in another scene, he demonstrates some legitimate pistol-handling technique as well.
PUNCHY COWPUNCHERS is a Civil War-era Western that has the Stooges playing U. S. Cavalry soldiers sent to clean up the crime in a small town plagued by a gang known as the "Killer Dillons," a take-off of KILLER DILL (1947), a film starring Stuart Erwin released a few years earlier.
Outnumbered by outlaws, the Stooges send "the Arizona Kid" (played by O'Mahoney) to retrieve the Cavalry, but the thugs take control. With the assistance of Christine McIntyre, who plays "Nell," a dance hall girl who almost single-handedly takes out the Dillon Gang with a sneaky right-hand punch, the Stooges succeed against the odds and do indeed capture the bad guys. And all ends well.
Following on the heels of his two-day job in VAGABOND LOAFERS (1949)
, in which Emil had the fairly large role of "Mr. Norfleet," this film's role as "Captain Daly" must have seemed small. Nevertheless, in only three scenes and less than forty-five seconds of screen time, Emil gives an excellent if brief performance in which he demonstrates both his ability to act as well as to perform stunts.
Emil appears fairly early in the film when, as a Civil War-era Army Captain, he walks in on several soldiers (the Stooges) fumbling around in a barn as they tangle with their sergeant, played by Dick Wessel. When Shemp and Moe see Emil as Captain Daly come into the barn, they salute him briskly, and he asks, "What are you men doing in here?"
In a wonderful bit of double-talk, Shemp replies, "Nothing, Captain, just inspecting the canafran for flaws in the atnurussic."
As Captain Daly, Emil responds,"Oh yes, of course..." After a moment, during which the Stooges duck out the door, Emil stops in doubt and looks back as he attempts to repeat Shemp's unintelligible phrases. After a long pause, he mutters, "Oh, oh, yes," to himself, as if he understands, and goes on his way.
Unfortunately for him, Captain Daly's way is straight into a case of mistaken identity that has Dick Wessel, as Sergeant Mullins, smack Emil in the back with a large club. This in turn thrusts Emil face first onto the floor and into a pile of hay. He immediately jumps back up to his feet and clamps his Captain's hat on, but it's filled with hay. Large straws stick out from his hat in all directions, and Captain Daly is furious.
"Mullins! What's the meaning of this?" he screams.
Wessel responds by stammering, "Well, sir, ..." but Emil cuts him off.
"Never mind!" he shouts. "The Colonel wants to see you at once! I'll attend to you later -- Private Mullins!"
Emil stalks off as Sergeant Mullins, realizing he's just been demoted, looks down sorrowfully at the big sergeant's stripes on his shoulder and scowls at the thought of losing them. Emil's brief role is over.
Writer and director Ed Bernds always tried to get his actors involved in developing and expanding their characters beyond what was written, and as usual Emil did his best to comply. In comparison to the script, for example, Emil's long double-take in response to Shemp's gibberish, his full-bodied leap into the pile of hay, and then the straw-filled hat clamped onto his head with hay sticking out: none of these small bits of action were written down. As the screenwriter, Ed Bernds wrote his scripts knowing that he would be filling in the action later when he directed the film. Emil loved working with Bernds and enjoyed the opportunity to expand his roles by contributing expressions and gestures to his character's actions and ad-libbing before the camera.
There are some wonderful performances by several other supporting actors as well that make this movie truly entertaining. The usually under-rated Dick Wessel as "Sergeant Mullins," beautiful Christine McIntyre as "Nell," and the talented stuntman Jacques O'Mahoney as "the Arizona Kid" all deserve special mention for their contributions. Each has individual moments when their talent alone carries the action, and the film benefits immensely.
Many years later, when Emil was in his seventies, he began making notes while reviewing the Stooge shorts, and here's what he jotted down while watching PUNCHY COWPUNCHERS: