Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bowery Boys, Nos. 4 - 16 (1946 - 1949)

With little in the way of preamble (see yesterday), let us simply dive in with the continued exploits of The Bowery Boys

4. Spook Busters (1946) – Holy schnikeys, this movie’s working title was Ghost Busters!

Four films in, it’s the “haunted house” entry – I gotta start taking note of the standard plot types. The boys have just learned extermination…ghost extermination! Without further justification, because to hell with that, they go to a haunted house. From there on out, we can guess the drill – spinning bookcases, trick paintings, disappearing organs (like me in cold water). No points for guessing this apparent “haunting” is really a “Scooby Doo” cover-up by a gang of, yes, “nefarious gangsters.”

But there’s more! Sach becomes the favored object of what must surely be the worst mad scientist of the 1940s – and that’s saying something! For what does this ducky doc demand? To switch Sach’s brain with a gorilla’s, for no discernable reason, and extra credit goes to randomly working a gorilla into this mess, because nothing says “the 1940s” quite like an unusual America-wide fixation with that particular jungle beast.

With Ghost – excuse me, Spook Busters, a new regular joins the series. Gabriel Dell, the pariah of East Side Kids, becomes the pariah of The Bowery Boys – That is, he takes on a new role in each entry, but is never allowed association with the titular troupe itself. I sure as hell don’t know what everyone had against him. Maybe it was his new enslaved French war bride, of all things, Dell’s big souvenir upon return from WWII. (This detail enters into his Spook Busters role too.)

5. Mr. Hex (1946) – Again the Boys are raising money, but now for a singer instead of Louie, for the “variation.” It’s the scheme Slip slates which takes the cake…

Using a hypnotist, Slip (Leo Gorcey) shall trick Sach (Huntz Hall) to believe he is a champion boxer. Then they’ll win the big boxing match, simple as that! Complications arise when gangsters (yes, nefarious) hire their own hypnotist, to trick Sach back into believing that Sach is Sach. Or something.

Okay, so this is the boxing entry. That’s two standards so far: ghosts, boxing. More importantly, this is The Bowery Boys’ first foray into the realm of true unbelievability, treating hypnosis as an all-powerful magic plot coupon to justify whatever strangeness Gorcey and Hall wish for. This’ll become a regular series element, not hypnosis but simply embracing strangeness, which is precisely the way these movies will evolve (or devolve) into greater comedy. Hell, if the Great Gazo shows up at some point, I won’t be too surprised!

Notably as well, Mr. Hex shifts the focus more than ever solely onto Slip & Sach, leaving the other three “Boys” in the background with nothing to do. This would continue for the next 43 movies, but not without repercussions.

6. Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947) – Complications ensue, Slip is mistaken for a dick – a private eye, that is. They investigate a suspect (a spiritualist, fulfilling the new need for “strange”), but this person is dead. It’s a noir murder mystery pastiche (add that to the story list), with two women pretending to be each other’s sister even though neither is, for reasons that sound needlessly convoluted probably because that’s a good way to mock the plots of real mysteries.

7. News Hounds (1947) – Slip is a copyboy. Sach is a photographer. They’re both…News Hounds! Trailing a big case, the duo uncovers an illegal sports book ring headed by the most nefarious gangsters possible. Using the power of “printed media,” a major 20th Century form of communication, the pair defeats these gangsters.

It’s not even clear where the forgotten three fit into this scenario. Clearly it was in Gorcey’s interest to self-promote, his teaming with Hall the best thing he had going. This benefits none of the costars, though (except for brother David Gorcey, content with being his bigger brother’s slave). Bobby Jordan particularly started to lament (Leo) Gorcey’s newfound News Hound omnipotence, and sought to leave. That means Bowery Buckaroos would be his last film with the franchise – and they knew it.

8. Bowery Buckaroos (1947) – For the production of Bowery Buckaroos saw Gorcey running rampage, with nary a person to stop the great star/executive producer. He even started stealing funny lines scripted for others, which would become a regular issue.

As for the film, it’s a western. Because all of a sudden, for this entry’s sake, Louie is a former gunslinger, wanted for murder, with a map leading to buried treasure tattooed on his back. Ah, retcons. Naturally the Boys, meaning basically Slip & Sach and three obedient hangers-on, find the treasure and clear Louie’s name. They bring justice to Hangman’s Hollow, defeat the villainous Blackjack McCoy and Injun Joe (Joe being villainous due to his race alone), and –

It turns out it was all just a dream. Boy, I sure hope that doesn’t become a regular element used to excuse continuity violation.

9. Angels’ Alley (1948) – Bobby Jordan’s replacement, and new Bowery Boys regular, is Bennie Bartlett. He was a piano prodigy as a young age, meaning of course this later career subjugation (as one of Gorcey’s on-screen yes-Boys) was naturally the only option later available. He plays Butch Williams…well, usually. For this one entry, Bartlett essays Jordan’s Whitey, for what difference it makes, because “search & replace” script technology didn’t exist then.

And the plot? A friend of Slip’s is released from prison, only to become embroiled with…nefarious gangsters. He starts stealing cars, only Slip doesn’t want him stealing cars, so Slip starts stealing cars, intending that by stealing cars Slip shall lead the police to the car-stealing masterminds who are now resolutely not stealing cars.

Even the available joke descriptions betray Gorcey’s ever-expanding egomania, for he gets an underhanded gag in as Jordan’s abandonment. Sach, mocking Jordan in the whiniest possible tone of voice (I assume), declares to Slip: “This is the last time I make a movie with you.” All this in regards to Slip taking credit for something Sach did. Man, Gorcey is laughing at his own villainy! He’s not self-conscious, he’s flaunting his power! He forgets there wouldn’t even be a Bowery Boys without Jordan’s initial proposition!

10. Jinx Money (1948) – Another formula element positively identified: The Boys come into possession of a (nefarious) gangster item, and are thus wanted by both cops and crooks. Here, that item is $50,000, and soon everyone connected to the Bowery Boys starts dying horribly. This is still a 1940s family comedy, right?

This whole murderous giallo thing dies an early death, like many a fictional character, as the rest of Jinx Money concerns a more realistic problem people with money face: the IRS! [Da dum dum!] Enough of gangsters, at last a real antagonist! One only hopes some IRS agents get punched in their faces.

11. Smugglers’ Cove (1948) - ________ leads to Slip _______, and the Boys to go a _______ overrun with nefarious _______. They save the day.

A) “A case of mistaken identity”
B) “earning a huge inheritance”
C) “mansion on Long Island”
D) “diamond smugglers”

12. Trouble Makers (1948) – It’s “murder mystery” again. This one follows the Rear Window format, 8 years early, which somehow just makes the Hitchcock movie look that much cleverer. So while playing with a telescope, the Bowery Boys see a murder. Because, unlike Jimmy Stewart, they have the ability of locomotion, the Boys become bellhops at the hotel where the murder happened. Nefarious gangsters are involved.

If it’s not evident, the series has clearly found its momentum now. No new formula elements or story structures are emerging, and the subservient supporting cast is momentarily consistent. Hence the only commentary paragraphs are those like this one pointing out the current lack of commentary paragraphs.

13. Fighting Fools (1949) – Boxing entry. Nefarious gangsters are replaced at this stage with crooked gangsters, crooked gangsters who rig a boxing match, resulting in a boxer’s death. The Bowery Boys seek the boxer’s brother, a former boxer, and convince him to box again, “one final score.” Then the former-boxer-turned-boxer’s brother is kidnapped, not his boxer brother, but a third brother, a non-boxer brother. No matter whatever that last sentence means, the good guys win.

14. Hold That Baby! (1949) – Now Louie’s Sweet Shop is house to the Boys’ latest one-off venture, a Laundromat (that bold new technology of the 1940s). One day they find hidden in a laundry basket something I assume all Laundromats are just crawling with – a baby. A baby that is due to inherit a huge sum of moolah, they somehow learn, if only it can crawl its pre-linguistic way over to the reading of the will. Of course, crooked gangsters show up.

This sounds like the basis for screenwriter John Hughes’ worst effort, Baby’s Day Out, which is reason enough to detest Hold That Baby!

15. Angels in Disguise (1949) – Gabriel Dell has been shot dead!...Well, actually, it’s just his character, “Gabe,” the same name he always employs in every entry, so…Huh, I guess they don’t care about continuity after all.

Anyway, the Duo (Slip & Sach) are copyboys again, so “newspaper” is a story type apparently. To investigate Dell’s murder (meaning this also counts as “murder mystery”), they go undercover in the mob. So…it’s just News Hounds repeated, essentially, with different sketches and also, as it turns out, an increased attention given to nurses. Which alone makes this the better entry.

16. Master Minds (1949) – It’s a return to absolute strangeness! Okay, how does this work? Sach gets a toothache from eating too much candy, which gives him the power to – predict the future! Say WHA’?!

A mad scientist (story type!) learns of Sach’s newfound career as a freak show at the carnival (Slip is as loving a benefactor on film as Leo Gorcey is in real life). Presented with Sach, this scientist can only think of one thing to do: Transfer Sach’s brain with that of a humanoid creature called Atlas! At least it’s not a gorilla this time. And this time the brain transfer actually happens, with presumably zero medical complication. This is some Abbott & Costello shit here, like a cut-rate Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

This is not a comparison I simply throw out there. It’s true that ever since East Side Kids, Leo Gorcey has held Abbott & Costello in the highest of regards, building his own career on a combination of ripping them off and lording it over his “friends.” Of course Gorcey and Hall were a naturally talented comedy duo, and it’s simply a fact of the ‘40s that pretty much the only accepted form of comedy was ripping off Abbott & Costello. That’s the problem with devotion to formula over genuine comedy, which is why the era’s funniest comedies are the Ealing stuff out of England, where slapstick and farce weren’t so regimented. (Regimented farce?!)

The general tenor of The Bowery Boys REALLY starts to ape Abbott & Costello from here on out. This increased the series’ popularity, making it arguably the most successful thing Monogram has ever done. (Which beggars the question why none of this is now available.) Things become ever more removed from reality, and the dictates of a “comedy duo” mean the Forgotten Three recede further into the background.

But until next time…

Related posts:
Nos. 1 - 3 (1946)
Nos. 17 - 28 (1950 - 1952)
Nos. 29 - 39 (1953 - 1955)
Nos. 40 - 48 (1956 - 1958)

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