The East Side Kids is mostly a comedy franchise, but it did not come to that state all at once. Beginning with 1940’s East Side Kids, it was merely a cheap Monogram copy of Universal’s semi-connected Little Tough Guys series – a series which traffics much more heavily in underhanded melodrama. No, comedy developed naturally, with the talented performers gravitating to that style of their own free wills.
Some later entries, notably No. 7 Spooks Run Wild, take full advantage of that, marrying the cast’s hilarity with a horror movie pastiche. Later entries (Smart Alecks, ‘Neath Brooklyn Bridge) rather fight against the humorousness, struggling to match it with the sort of weepy melodramas East Side Kids had originally intended.
Then Kid Dynamite broke the pattern by welcoming the comedy, staying completely out of its way. Kid Dynamite remains the best entry in the series, as it is a culmination of the formula leading up to it, the perfect East Side Kids film.
That would be hard to directly respond to, so instead Lucky No. 13 Clancy Street Boys does something no East Side Kids movie has done before: It embraces comedy. It doesn’t simply open comedy’s cage up, like Kid Dynamite, no, Clancy Street Boys helps comedy across the border! In doing so, the franchise happens upon a new (to them) genre to capitalize upon…
The makers of Dead End could’ve never seen this comin’! Let’s see how it plays out.
BUT FIRST, SOME HOUSEKEEPING:
There is one new “Kid:” Eddie Mills as Dave…That is all.
In other news, we learn Glimpy’s last name – it’s Freedhoff. We also learn Muggs’ first name, “Muggs” being a nickname, because “Muggs” ain’t what a loving mother calls her son. No, that’d be “Ethelbert.” His friends are right to mock him.
Like a “Simpsons” episode, the first act has only the most tenuous connection to the film that follows, but I’ll take it. Justifying the title for the third or so time in thirteen movies, Clancy Street Boys features actual “Clancy Street Boys” – a rival street gang to the East Side Kids, led by occasional “Kid” William Benedict. They are out here on the streets seeking Ethelbert – excuse me, Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey, the franchise’s non-Huntz Hall secret weapon). The East Side Kids seek Muggs too, and Muggs escapes detection by hiding behind a remarkably obese man, as you do.
At last the East Side Kids corner Muggs in their hideout, where they proceed to…paddle him repeatedly in the ass with domination gear…What is this, the snobby house from Animal House?! Actually, it’s Muggs’ birthday – or “boithday,” as it’s actually spelt on the cake, in a good gag. Counting the spanks, NASA computers reveal that Muggs is now 18-years-old, an odd thing considering Gorcey is now a solid 26. Proving this isn’t a miscalculation, the Clancy Street Boys arrive to themselves spank Muggs – with their bare hands. More innocent times, man.
It turns out the narrative reason for Mugg’s “boithday” is the arrival of a “boithday” letter from his wealthy Uncle Pete Monahan (Noah Beery, silent era mustache twirler). Ah, the “wealthy uncle” plot twist, a sure sign of a creatively spent franchise – not that I’m complaining! Anyway, Ma McGinnis (Martha Wentworth) reveals a sudden, bizarre and plot-necessary truth. Uncle Pete believes that, far from being an only child (up yours, continuity with Kid Dynamite), Muggs has six younger siblings…one of them a sister. It turns out this was a lie started by Muggs’ deceased, mustachioed father as a way to get more birthday checks sent out each year. It got out of hand, this ridiculous lie, and now 15 years later Uncle Pete is coming from Texas to see his niece and nephews. And Muggs cannot allow Pete to learn the truth, for it would bring shame to his beloved, mustachioed father – necessitating seppuku. (Actually, no seppuku.)
Pete Monogram – excuse me, Pete Monahan – is the exact same Texas businessman stereotype which persists to the modern day. You know the type, the sort who actually rides horses all the way to New York City, fires six-shooters without provocation, goes “yeehaw” whilst slapping his knees. You know, this guy.
With Pete is his daughter, Judy (Amelita Ward), embodying all the female Texas stereotypes Pete cannot handle. Typically, she’d be a part of the standard East Side Kids useless romantic subplot, except that doesn’t even appear in this one – good for them! And both of these characters are exceedingly funny on their own, without aid from the “East Side Kids” – this is a substantially amusing picture, quite frankly.
Pete meets Muggs in their apartment, curious as to where the other 6 youngsters are. On the spot, Muggs puts together the sort of fib that reality-stretching farces are built upon. He claims the others are all at work, for it’s believable Muggs has the worst work ethic even amongst his fictional siblings. For WWII reasons, they’re all riveters. Staved off for now, Pete anxiously awaits meeting these figments, and intends to “show ‘em the rip-snortingnest time they ever did see!”
Muggs asks his fellow East Side Kids how one “licks a delicate situation.” Glimpy (Huntz Hall, the franchise’s non-Leo Gorcey secret weapon) says “I never did one of them before.” Believe it or not, this is how one makes risqué jokes under the Hays dictatorship. Then it hits Muggs:
The East Side Kids can play as his family! Why, there are 6 of them, it’s perfect! Never mind Scruno (Ernie Morrison) is black, they can pretend he’s adopted. (It doesn’t kill the joke anyway.) But what of the girl? Well, eenie meenie miney moe determines, by rule of funny, that lucky drag queen shall be…
Oh no, Glimpy protests, not a chance. I recognize the setup for a “Gilligan” cut when I see it.
A man dressing up as a woman is never not funny, for as overused as this gag is. For one thing, it shocks dowagers, especially when Scruno is tasked with fixing Glimpy’s pants legs poking out from his dress. And East Side Kids remains self-conscious and meta in an era when that didn’t really happen. Muggs references the recent Benny Hill film Charley’s Aunt (sort of a Big Momma's House of the '40s), which is an acceptable way of copping to the fact that Clancy Street Boys is a rip-off of it.
The great deception established, the East Side Kids head right on over to Pete’s hotel room, as Glimpy is advised to “keep your skirt down and your voice up.” It’s no Some Like It Hot, but for Monogram this is miraculously witty stuff!
Case in point, Pete’s assessment of sweet “Annabelle:” “Say, you’re a big gal, ain’t ya!” Or Judy’s pretty-similar response: “You sure are husky for a city gal, ain’t ya!”
Oh, and Glimpy starts to fall for Judy, now that’s she’s dragged him (as they say) on a series of girls-only adventures rife with as much horny-making as the 1940s will allow. The only bating going on is censor bating, with a few more loaded lines: “Careful you don’t hogtie yourself.” Hi-yo! Yeah, it’s “Twelfth Night,” for that’s something no cross-dressing comedy can avoid.
Several laffs later, let’s see how this zany scenario can play out in Ma’s presence (and keep in mind she knows nothing of Muggs’ sibling subterfuge). Rather the Kids will have to clue her in, even while “Uncle” Pete is right there in ear shot. Scruno earns the best moment, simply by shouting as loudly as possible “Thanks, Uncle Pete.” A true testament to Ernie Morison’s comic skills, he somehow makes that line the funniest in the film.
Okay, Clancy Street Boys isn’t the greatest farce of all time, coasting rather on its own idea. But it still works, for the “East Side Kids” can make anything amusing. And Pete is funny too. As a running gag, when the farcical familial foolishness fails to find funniness, instead Pete mistakes Muggs’ ignorant utterances for witty and learned quips – it’s Being There, 36 years early.
There’s one more setting to test out the premise in: the fine dining restaurant. Cue more shocked monocle-droppings and dowager gasps. There’s not much more to explore here, so instead let’s just get Glimpy dancing with Pete, because…well, look at the image. Do I have to explain the joke?!
But all farces must seemingly come to a premature end, as Act V foregoes all comedy in favor of plot explanations. See essentially every Shakespeare comedy ever. The truth of Muggs’ lie comes out, never mind how, and he is forced to apologize to all – Pete, Ma, every adult in the neighborhood for some reason. At least Pete overhears Muggs’ reasoning, to perverse – no, preserve his mustachioed father’s honor. So he’s okay with the 15 years of graft, and we have a happy ending!
Except there’s a good (well…not good) 10 minutes left. Even more importantly, the traditional farce ending is not the traditional East Side Kids ending, the traditional East Side Kids ending involving the boys easily outwitting an equally-large posse of adult gangsters. This’ll be hard to pull off, considering there’s been basically no mob involvement so far. But there has been a non-“Lucy Show” Mr. Mooney (Rick Vallin), a little weasel defined by his obsession with Pete the Texan. This Mooney has big plans for Pete, and those plans involve…kidnapping by gangsters!
Things are set now for that required East Side Kids ending – let massively chaotic fist fight craziness commence! But this thing is called Clancy Street Boys, and the titular “Boys” only appeared in the first 8 minutes, so to make up for that they’re invited to the climax to partake in the ceremonial face-punching.
For the final gag, Pete takes the East Side Kids all the way to Texas, all that effort for a joke about Muggs falling off a mule. Hope it was worth it?
Well, that was very amusing – the funniest movie this franchise has pulled out. It’s a slight bit more scattershot than Kid Dynamite, and less character-based, which puts Clancy Street Boys only slightly behind that high water mark. But Kid Dynamite would be a lot harder to sequelize. Clancy Street Boys provide the precise comedic template further sequels should build upon.
• No. 1 East Side Kids (1940)
• No. 2 Boys of the City (1940)
• No. 3 That Gang of Mine (1940)
• No. 4 Pride of the Bowery (1940)
• No. 5 Flying Wild (1941)
• No. 6 Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941)
• No. 7 Spooks Run Wild (1941)
• No. 8 Mr. Wise Guy (1942)
• No. 9 Let's Get Tough! (1942)
• No. 10 Smart Alecks (1942)
• No. 11 'Neath Brooklyn Bridge (1942)
• No. 12 Kid Dynamite (1942)
• No. 14 Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
• No. 16 Million Dollar Kid (1944)