Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Bowery Boys, Nos. 17 - 28 (1950 - 1952)
The 1950s had arrived, and with them an entirely new playing field for cinematic franchises. Basically, there was television now, that cathode ray-tubed goddess, pilfering away the primary style of serialized storytelling that movies had practiced in the ‘40s. What we recognize as television-style franchising arose prior to mainstream TV, and what we call movie-style franchising (greater story continuity, expanding plots) had yet to truly manifest. Of course, today TV is starting to shed that former storytelling format in favor of long-form. Regardless, 1940s film franchises were simply masses of self-contained tales with the same characters.
Television’s impact was most profoundly felt at B-studios like Monogram Pictures, which were filling the niche television later filled. For specifically these reasons, new post-war Monogram producer Walter Mirisch oversaw the creation of Allied Artists, the prestige wing of Monogram’s empire, meant to put out slightly better quality film (“B-plus films”) that would be able to weather the upcoming television holocaust. While Monogram sputtered for the first few years of the ‘50s, it ultimately folded in 1953. Whatever Monogram properties remained took on the Allies Artists name. Among those was The Bowery Boys.
Even before moving under Allied’s wing, The Bowery Boys remained the inexplicable diamond in Monogram’s crown. It held its own theatrically in the world of TV, surviving in the matinees and appealing to children. (This was the foundation Allied needed to eventually finance genuinely high-class efforts like Papillon and Cabaret.)
The Bowery Boys’ habit of mimicking Abbott & Costello is something which surely kept it popular with the young ‘uns. Time and again this series essentially remade specific Abbott & Costello pictures from the previous decades (as I explore more below). Add to that the recycling and stealing of specific gags. What makes this “OK” is the audience. Children of the ‘50s would have no real love of the old Abbott & Costello pictures, which weren’t quite so juvenile anyway. Today’s consideration involves the peak of that Abbott & Costello movement, and the remainder of The Bowery Boys’ output under the official “Monogram” banner.
17. Blonde Dynamite (1950) – First, an actor change. Billy Benedict takes off for a temporary break from Leo Gorcey, leaving open the role of Butch. Bubby Gorman swept in to claim it, seeing as his original dream of playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers had fallen through on account of being a short person.
Louie goes on vacation, leaving Louie’s Sweet Shop in the shenanigan-prone control of the Bowery Boys. They decide to turn it into an escort service – did this mean the same thing in 1950 as it does today?! Then things become complicated.
There are gangsters, crooked gangsters, who wish to tunnel into the nearby bank. To stop them, the Bowery Boys choose to tunnel there first, by the same confused line of logic as in National Treasure. Somehow, the crooked gangsters act quite the fools and instead tunnel into the police station. And the Bowery Boys find uranium under the soda shop – Ooh, topical propaganda, ‘50s style!
18. Lucky Losers (1950) – Slip’s & Sach’s (Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall) boss has committed suicide. What the fucking hell?! It turns out it’s murder, having to do with a secret gambling casino crooked gangsters are running out of the dead man’s night club and – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!
19. Triple Trouble (1950) – Confusion, as is its wont, leads to Slip’s & Sach’s wrongful imprisonment. But even when the judge realizes their innocence, the boys opt to remain in prison, in a Departed-esque sting operation to discover the criminal masterminds running a string of petty burglaries from within the prison walls. And they learn the next target – Louie’s Sweet Shop!
20. Blues Busters (1951) – Implausible medical miracles grant Sach a bizarre magical power to accomplish a storyline otherwise outside of the franchise’s grasp. (See also Master Minds.) This time, the removal of Sach’s tonsils (but not sacks – ew!) grant him the ability to sing, ala Michigan J. Frog, and unlike Michigan J. Frog he’s willing to sing in front of other people. The Bowery Boys transform the Sweet Shop into The Bowery Palace, just as Moe’s Bar experiences similar regularized identity crises.
There ends up being a crook. A cabaret owner….Cabarets, escort services? What is going on here?
Considering the 100% power Leo Gorcey wielded over his franchise (given their success, justifiable), it must be his doing. Maybe the guy had just discovered the vice industry, fallen in love, and decided to insert it in his family comedies.
He surely must’ve been quite the tinpot dictator, as Blues Brothers – er, Busters – marks the departure of another cast member: Gabriel Dell. Like Ernie Morrison and Bobby Jordan and (arguably) Billy Benedict before him, Dell was just fed-up with Gorcey. Surprisingly, he evidently still liked Hall, as they immediately formed a nightclub act called “Hall & Dell.” Of course, Hall remained with the film series.
21. Bowery Battalion (1951) – Now, about those Abbott & Costello connections…Abbott & Costello put out four military pictures in their career, one for each branch: Buck Privates, In the Navy, Keep ‘Em Flying, and Buck Privates Come Home. Not about to expend precious creativity when such a notion exists, Leo Gorcey instead copied his heroes, and made four military movies himself – even in the same branch order! This is the Army entry.
…The Bowery Boys join the Army. That is enough to fill out most of a movie on its own, meaning I don’t have to parse out any bizarre plot summaries. And to create a climax, it turns out suddenly that Louie invented a Hydrogen Ray during WWI, why not, and spies want it. They stop the spies.
22. Ghost Chasers (1951) – Ghost entry. But with a twist! Ghost Chasers boasts something most ghost comedies refuse to possess – actual ghosts! While at first it seems the medium the Bowery Boys are pointlessly investigating is a fraud, another “Scooby Doo” scam, a proper ghost soon shows its spectral self. It’s all the same basic nonsense, though – Gotta stop the con artist. Only this time there’s a deceased spirit helping ya out with it!
23. Let’s Go Navy! (1951) – With ghosts in place to disguise the obvious Abbott & Costello pattern, it’s time for the Navy entry. Basically, the Bowery Boys join the Navy with the intent to nab two small-time crooks who are not in the Navy. Makes perfect sense. The whole naval thing passes by on its own, and it’s only post-discharge that the Bowery Boys find their crooks. Making the whole thing rather pointless – which may have been the joke.
24. Crazy Over Horses (1951) – Bennie Bartlett returns as Butch, booting Buddy boastfully back to out of The Bowery Boys. Bartlett shall remain from now on, having attained some sort of Stockholm Syndrome in regards to Gorcey’s ultra-villainy.
Meanwhile, for nothing can Bowery can remain in stasis, Billy Benedict turns Benedict Arnold, as now he opts to abandons Gorcey’s slowly sinking slapstick ship. The cited reason: “constant arguments and disagreements.” Man, this sure sounds like a shitty place to work! Benedict’s replacement, but not until the next film, is Gil Stratton, a subservient and unimportant sod perfect for Gorcey’s own particular brand of bossing-around.
Even then, Stratton was unhappy with this demeaning job, and left after two movies. In the meantime, he’d happily let Gorcey steal his scripted dialogue.
The movie is about the Bowery Boys battling gangsters over a horse, basically remaking East Side Kids films like, oh, That Gang of Mine and Mr. Muggs Rides Again.
25. Hold That Line (1952) – Academics invite the Bowery Boys to college, to prove that education is achievable by anyone if simply given the chance. They are proven false, as the Bowery Boys all turn out to be morons. But Sach has a solution. Guess what it is!
He invents a “vitamin” (that is, “marijuana”) to make himself invincible. Um, you know, some of the logical leaps these films make, they are quite stymieing.
The Bowery Boys become football players, and make it to the championship game with Sach’s invincibility vitamins, because surely there’s no other application for such an invention. Of course, when gangsters learn of an invincible football team that is not the ’85 Bears, their immediate instinct is to bet against this team. And kidnap Sach, to make this a good bet.
Of course Sach escape, but hasn’t any more vitamins for the final play. Instead the Boys win the game using good, old-fashioned cheating, just like the Raiders. Victorious, guess what Sach then does!
He learns how to fly.
I…um…who…what…huh? When did these movies leave Planet Earth, and become a Jerry Lewis movie? Was Leo Gorcey on the “wowie sauce” during the scripting process?
26. Here Come the Marines (1952) – Marines entry.
27. Feudin’ Fools (1952) – The Air Force entry will have to wait until next time – because it’s the Air Force, and who cares? Instead, Gorcey takes a break to rip off a different Abbott & Costello movie, Comin’ Round the Mountain. That movie badmouths the hillbillies, and so does Gorcey’s.
The Boys go to a farm, feud with their rival inbred neighbors. Then bank robbers come along, as generic criminals are liable to appear in any story at a moment’s notice, and all feudin’ ceases.
By Feudin’ Fools, Gorcey didn’t even try replacing his latest deserter. Seeing as there was really no reason for a full 5 “Bowery Boys,” instead he simply cemented the cast at four. The series would remain at four from now on. Those currently in place (Leo and David Gorcey, Hall, Bartlett) thus began the most consistent period of Bowery Boys production, with a full thirteen entries to come without a single switch up. That, plus the recent transfer from Monogram to Allied Artists (though it’s really the same company), makes this as good a point as any to pause…
After one more entry!
28. No Holds Barred (1952) – Sach develops Homer Simpson Syndrome, meaning he is impervious enough to become a professional fighter. A wrestler, specifically. Then the weird happens – it’s one of those entries. Sach’s “power” keeps on switching body parts for each wrestling match, from head to finger, elbow, toes. (Thankfully it avoids his schvanshtucker altogether.) But it does end up in his ass for the climactic match. Oh, but then it occupies Sach’s penis anyway, and I can’t believe the shit I am typing, but at least the movie explains this in a subtle way, and can you imagine having the power to kill a person with your dick?!
Okay, sorry, I’m quitting right now.
• Nos. 1 - 3 (1946)
• Nos. 4 - 16 (1946 - 1949)
• Nos. 29 - 39 (1953 - 1955)
• Nos. 40 - 48 (1956 - 1958)