February 7th, 2008

THE EAST SIDE KIDS (1940) * ½

After the success of The Dead End Kids movies, producer Sam Katzman hired several second tier Dead End Kids to star in their own series, The East Side Kids.  This was their first film under their new moniker. 

 

Knuckles Dolan (David O’Brien from Reefer Madness) is in trouble with the law and his kid brother Danny (Harris Berger) is on the same path.  He gets a concerned police officer (Leon Ames) to help get Danny’s gang of miscreants off the streets by opening a gym for them to all hang out in.  To keep them away from a life of crime he makes the kids all Junior G-Men and they help foil a gang of no good counterfeiters.  

 

Hardcore fans of the Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys will enjoy seeing this early, obscure entry, but I was severely disappointed because the group’s big guns Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and Bobby Jordan are sorely missing.  To me, making an East Side Kids movie WITHOUT Gorcey and Hall is like making an Abbott and Costello movie WITHOUT Abbott and Costello.  As a result, there’s hardly any comedy and the “plot” is paper thin.  The ending is also needlessly depressing. 

 

The kids in this batch of East Side Kids are OK I guess, but they lack the personality and chemistry that Gorcey and Hall had.  At least Gorcey appeared in the series’ next film Boys of the City.

THAT GANG OF MINE (1940) **

 

The East Side Kids (AKA:  The Bowery Boys) return for the third film in their long running series (22 in all).  This middling entry suffers from the absence of Huntz Hall, but if you’re an indiscriminate fan of the Kids, you’ll want to check it out.  

 

This time out, Muggs (Leo Gorcey) dreams of being a big time thoroughbred jockey.  After practicing by riding on a sawhorse, Muggs convinces a down and out African American horse owner named Ben (Clarence Muse) to let him ride his prized horse, Blue Knight.  Ben likes the kids, so he trains Muggs to be a jockey.  Even after an initial poor showing, an interested backer decides to finance the horse, but he wants to fire Muggs and hire a crass jockey to ride the horse.  Muggs doesn’t like it and makes a fuss, but he eventually caves in so that Ben can make a buck on his horse. 

 

Director Joseph H. (The Big Combo) Lewis keeps things moving at a steady clip (the film runs barely an hour) and captures some pretty exciting race footage but the laughs are few and far between.  Muse gives a fairly dignified performance and even gets to belt out a Negro spiritual.  Even though the comedy is kept to a bare minimum, Gorcey hams it up appropriately, but it’s fellow East Side Kid Bobby Jordan who gets the best line of the movie:  “He doesn’t look like the FRONT end of a horse!”

BOWERY BLITZKRIEG (1941) **

Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and Bobby Jordan all return for the sixth installment in the long running East Side Kids/Bowery Boys series. 

 

In this so-so entry, Danny (Jordan) gets swayed away from the prospect of college by a couple of hoodlums, while Muggs (Gorcey) gets hauled off to reform school and gets roped into stepping into the boxing ring to defend the honor of the Bowery.  Predictably the gangsters also want Muggs to throw the big Golden Gloves boxing tournament.  When Danny gets shot by the cops, Muggs donates blood to save him which weakens him for the big fight.  Naturally Danny recovers, Muggs wins the match, and the gangsters get sent to the big house.      

 

There’s one or two bits of comic inspiration (the scene where Muggs cons a shopkeeper out of a Coke is especially memorable), but the ungainly plot suffocates a lot of the film’s momentum.  Gorcey does a fine job as usual, but the constantly mugging Hall gets most of the film’s funny lines like:  “You’ll get poison ivory!”

 

SPOOKS RUN WILD (1941) ** ½

 

The East Side Kids/Bowery Boys were always best when they had real talent to play off of.  When they worked for Warner Brothers studios, the boys starred alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and John Garfield.  When they were regulated to the poverty row Monogram studios, the biggest star they could get was Bela Lugosi.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see a Lugosi movie than anything Bogart was in. 

 

Lugosi plays Nardo, a vampire like “monster” who hangs out in a decrepit mansion in the middle of nowhere along with his midget sidekick (Angelo Rossitto).  The boys stumble upon the mansion and have to stay the night.  Muggs (Leo Gorcey), Glimpy (Huntz Hall) and Danny (Bobby Jordan) contend with giant spiders, floating skulls and suits of armor that move around all by themselves.  In the end, we learn Lugosi is really a swell guy after all and he helps the boys capture the “real” monster. 

 

Lugosi isn’t given a whole lot to do, but he’s as fun to watch as always.  He returned to the series two years later for Ghosts on the Loose.  Spooks Run Wild isn’t as fun as that flick, but to me, any movie in which Rossitto plays Lugosi’s sidekick is automatically worth checking out.  Dave O’Brien co-stars as the boys’ guardian.  He also starred with Lugosi in The Devil Bat the previous year. 

 

Scruno (“Sunshine” Sammy Morrison), the token black of the group gets the movie’s best line:  “If I’m yellow, then you’re color blind!”