Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bowery Boys, Nos. 40 - 48 (1956 - 1958)

40. Dig That Uranium (1956) – The Boys buy a uranium mine out West, in the land of western pastiches. Uranium-hunting gangsters want the Boys’ uranium mine, but the Boys protect their uranium mine and mine some uranium, only to find that their uranium mine is on an Indian reservation, making the uranium the Indians’, not the Boys’, and surely not mine.

That momentary uranium-based silliness out of the way, I promised tragedy here at the end of The Bowery Boys, and here it comes. For Dig That Uranium was the final happy effort the series produced, and even then it wasn’t all that happy. Problems once again arose over troupe leader Leo Gorcey’s megalomania – problems which had previously seen six actors abandon ship, and a seventh never even get on that ship in the first place. Because Gorcey, 40% owner in the series, was an unquenchable showoff and credit hog, stealing lines, screen time, personality, and anything else he could from his remaining costars David Gorcey and Bennie Bartlett. Only Huntz Hall was spared this wrath, because Hall’s freedom was essential for Gorcey’s success.

Well, I don’t know what caused Bennie Bartlett to stick around for as long as he did (or even return after Gil Stratton’s short “Bowery Boy” turn), but by now he’d seen the light: Leo Gorcey is an asshole. So Bartlett left after Dig That Uranium. This left Gorcey stranded on the top of his lonely crown, accompanied only by Hall (the lone costar with no cause to leave) and David (Leo’s loyal brother).

That must be a challenging position for any power-hungry movie star high on the excesses of his own success. It doesn’t take much from there to get Jenga!

Leo’s father (and costar) Bernard Gorcey died in an automobile accident on September 11 (1955).

Bernard was a regular mentor to Gorcey, as was his character Louie on screen. A replacement was needed. In film, the new character of Mrs. Kate Kelly, the Boy’s landlady, did the trick. In real life, Gorcey’s new mentor became booze. Add to that Gorcey trying to micromanage Bartlett’s replacement, Jimmy Murphy, a parking valet with no prior acting experience, and no particular talent to boot. These are not ideal conditions to make a movie under, especially not when that movie is set in Las Vegas.

41. Crashing Las Vegas (1956) – A “Sach’s new power” entry, meaning Sach develops a discreditable new power, and runs afoul of the mob. This time he electrocutes himself and can suddenly predict numbers. So it’s off to Las Vegas, in a plot one of the “Futurama” movies also used.

Angry, drunk, directionless, fatherless and friendless, Gorcey took to Las Vegas like a one-man Rat Pack. He rampaged. He appeared drunk on film, following close in the footsteps of former father figure Bela Lugosi. He destroyed all the props, presumably when Jimmy Murphy had the audacity to utter one of the script lines reserved for Jimmy Murphy. Presumably, Gorcey stole Mike Tyson’s tiger.

In this, his darkest hour, Gorcey went all Napoleon in his little fiefdom called the Bowery Boys franchise. He demanded of Allied Artists an increase on his 40% interest in the movies; he was denied. Gorcey stormed off the studio, broke a few more things, and then vomited somewhere. He retired from acting, with the exception of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with featured exactly every comedian even remotely alive at the time. Gorcey then denied The Beatles the rights to his likeness for the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and died.

Sadly for the series, this was one movie into 1956’s four-movie deal with theaters. Three more entries would have to be made, under penalty of something.

Gorcey-less (well, at least Leo Gorcey-less, for David was still about), The Bowery Boys’ sober producers sought someone to take over for Leo. Former minor “East Side Kid” Stanley Clements took over, in the new role of Stanislaus “Duke” Coveleskie. In all honesty, though, Gorcey’s real replacement was Huntz Hall’s Sach, now basically spearheading the series solo. “Huntz Hall and the Bowery Boys,” the marquees read, and that’s how it was seen.

42. Fighting Trouble (1956) – Again the Boys work for a newspaper, and again they get embroiled with gangsters. One senses the sour desperation at hand in these films’ creation, as they were just reusing old notions without creative variation now, hoping to run out the clock.

And for a single picture, someone called Danny Welton replaces Jimmy Murphy.

43. Hot Shots (1956) – But now they’re working for a television station, which is new. What isn’t new is the plot that follows, with them using their newfound position to uncover and defeat a gangster conspiracy. Oh those omnipresent gangster conspiracies!

44. Hold That Hypnotist (1957) – As what might’ve been the team’s final effort ever, they go out on what at least sounds like a relative high note, with a more fantastical story than normal. Sach is hypnotized, and discovers that one of his former lives was an English tax collector in South Carolina who had possession of a map to Captain Blackbeard’s buried pirate treasure. So there’s at least piracy and some spiritualist hoo-hah going on.

Even in this mangled new form, The Bowery Boys somehow proved popular enough for producers to order the final cycle of four films, to fill out the rest of 1957 and part of ’58. Credit must go to the professionalism of Huntz Hall, who did what he could to form a new comedy duo style with Clements.

45. Spook Chasers (1957) – The same ghost comedy as always, the only difference being it is now 10 years out of fashion. Simply refer to Spooks Run Wild, Ghosts on the Loose, Spook Busters, Ghost Chasers, etc., etc., etc.

For no reason, a fifth member is added to the “Bowery Boys,” after I swore to you it would only be four members from now on. Eddie LeRoy, your useless bespectacled character Blinky has made me a liar!

46. Looking for Danger (1957) – Told in flashback, Clements character recounts the good old days when the Bowery Boys fought in World War II, thirteen years ago when they were all the same ages they are now. (Odd that WWII is now an appropriate period setting, considering the actors’ own former East Side Kids films were often WWII propaganda.) The Boys are given a suicide mission, to deliver a message past ze Germans to – a sultan?!

47. Up in Smoke (1957) – In Cheech and Chong’s first feature-length film, the loveable potheads go on the hunt for weed as –

Say what?! You mean this isn’t the 1978 cult comedy Up In Smoke, starring Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin? It’s a forgotten and desultorily tossed-off contract-necessitated effort from the last dying vestiges of The Bowery Boys? Okay then…

Sach sells his soul to the devil to win a horse race. That’s all the info they give, and I don’t even want to try deciphering the implications of that.

48. In the Money (1958) – Sach escorts a poodle to London, and unbeknownst to him the poodle is smuggling diamonds! Then…gangsters.

With the series complete, let us add up the specific “story types” found within:
Boxing - 2
Ghosts - 3
Mad scientists – 3
Newsboys – 4
Murder mystery – 4
Armed forces – 4
Sach’s strange powers – 9
Abbott & Costello plagiarism – 48 (at least)


One could cite the actors’ increasing inability to play adolescents as one reason for the die-off of The Bowery Boys, and with it all the franchises Dead End spawned. If that is the case, just why was 1958 the year that did it, when these guys ceased to be teenagers just one year after their first film, way back in 1937? I mean, Huntz Hall was practically 40 at the end!

Rather, another argument cites television, which had already killed off every other franchise from the ‘40s long ago. This is a reasonable suggestion, as the 1950s were just about the worst decade for film franchises – The reworking of distribution systems, the death of serializing, the need for new, post-TV narrative forms, all this contributed. Really, The Bowery Boys’ doom was sealed the instant Leo Gorcey left. It’s amazing they held off for another two years, especially considering conditions were against the series from the start.

The Bowery Boys resembled television for much of its existence, including one-year “cycles” being ordered much like a season of TV. By TV it lived, by TV it died, by TV was it resurrected. Monogram’s two “troubled ‘youth’” franchises, East Side Kids and The Bowery Boys, found new life on 1970s TV syndication, aimed at children as before. And how ‘bout that legacy? Forty-eight movies is unfathomably massive, totally beyond modern notions (where 8 Harry Potter movies is a lot). Add to that the total 92 movies birthed by a single Broadway play (“Dead End”) back in 1935. And I’ve only seen 23% of those (damn this lack of availability)! Even at that it’s been a slog, for all of us I’m sure. Oh well…it’s done.

Related posts:
Nos. 1 - 3 (1946)
Nos. 4 - 16 (1946 - 1949)
Nos. 17 - 28 (1950 - 1952)
Nos. 29 - 39 (1953 - 1955)

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