Tuesday, December 7, 2010

East Side Kids, No. 16 - Million Dollar Kid (1944)

The most fruitful run of East Side Kids films can be attributed to certain individuals, primarily the endlessly talented lead actors. But it is a great disfavor to neglect the input of the series’ two chief rotating directors, Wallace Fox and William Beaudine. From # 9, Let’s Get Tough!, to # 22, Come Out Fighting, the directors divided their energies as follows: Fox, Fox, Fox, Fox, Beaudine, Beaudine, Beaudine, Fox, Beaudine, Fox, Beaudine, Fox, Fox, Beaudine. Also Fox previously did # 6, Bowery Blitzkrieg, because he is was workaholic.

Of that, the third “Beaudine” is # 15, Mr. Muggs Steps Out (1943), the first of the East Side Kids films not presently in circulation (none of the public domain websites have it!). So, what can we learn of it?

Apparently, Mr. Muggs Steps Out starts with a judge ordering the titular Mr. Muggs (Leo Gorcey) to “step out,” as it were, and do something the poor roustabout never dared dream – Get a job! Muggs finds employment as a society matron’s chauffeur, making this a proto-“slobs vs. snobs” comedy. Then every one of the East Side Kids is hired for a ridiculously ostentatious soiree. I estimate a minimum four monocles dropped in the chardonnay.


That gives Fox # 16, Million Dollar Kid (not Baby, no, and this doesn’t even involve boxing), the final entry readily available. (That’s right, the final six will get passed over – I know, I’m sorry.) And in favor of the society setting of Mr. Muggs Steps Out, Million Dollar Kid rather employs…a society setting. Well, it’s like I didn’t miss anything!

With this film, keep in mind the remainder of the series boasts a reduced star roster, which is all Hitler’s damn fault (WWII drafts). The remaining important troupe members are:

Leo Gorcey (as Muggs McGinnis, dontcha recall?)
Huntz Hall (as Glimpy McClosky, and at last he has a ridiculous surname)
Billy Benedict (as Skinny)

The unimportant “East Side Kids” (for this entry, at least) are as follows:

Al Stone, David Durand, Jimmy Strand, Buddy Gorman and Bobby Stone (as Herbie, Danny, Pinkie, Stinkie and Rocky – heh heh heh)

All in all, 20 kids drifted in and out of the series’ roster, most of ‘em as useless as ______ on a _______. One must remember, though, that more than ever the only essential ones are Muggs and Glimpy.

Million Dollar Kid completes the East Side Kids’ journey from potential criminal element to law-abiding goody two shoes. This is all the more astounding in comparison to the felonious near-murders the same actors pulled at a much younger age in Dead End! For who’d a-thunk it back in 1936 that these same kids would one day be actively patrolling their neighborhood to curtail crime, stopping muggers and other would-be nogoodniks. And this isn’t an isolated incident; it goes on like this, the East Side Kids spreading cheer and lawfulness wherever they go. Did a pig just fly past my window?!...No, wait, it’s just a really big crow.

The fallout of the Kids’ Good Samaritanism is they earn the good graces of a millionaire as generic in his own way as the mobsters we’re usually inundated with. This is John H. Cortland (Herbert Heyes). He invites the East Side Kids to his mansion as a reward, though the movie takes its time getting to that point, what with distractions from butlers and cops. And despite the Kids’ newly-turned leaf, the cops still suspect them of every crime in their fair city – What is this all about?!

Anyway, they’re now at Cortland’s address, given the key to his basement Rec Room, soon to become a Wreck Room, get it?, heh heh heh – Sorry. … Okay, so there’s also Cortland’s family, rounding out the cast of this thing. Filling the slot for Vacantly Attractive Female Presence is his daughter Louise (Louise Currie). Cortland also has an East Side Kid-age son – meaning his son is pushing mid-twenties, but acts 10 years younger. This “kid” is Roy (Johnnie Duncan).

If there is any particular thread to Million Dollar Kid, beyond an undercooked clash of the classes, it’s the East Side Kids’ relationship with Roy. It’s pretty under-baked itself, however. But here’s the thing: Roy, as a bored and wealthy well-to-do, battles his ennui the only way he knows how – by dressing up as a demonic clown and doing battle with the Batman!...No, wait, I’m imagining things. Rather, Roy embroils himself with the local mugger contingent, which is naturally led by Gabriel Dell’s latest crook character – Lefty. Basically, Roy’s selling out his father for fun and profit…well, not profit, only fun. And what fun!

Beyond the serial muggings his father continues to endure, and the East Side Kids continue to battle, Roy is also somehow responsible for the presence of Louise’s suitor, a disgustingly frog-like French stereotype called Andre (Stanley Brown). Actually, that disgusting cultural shorthand is simply an act, for Andre is really an actor with the local Goon Interpretive Theatre Troupe. So it’s all a put upon, something the East Side Kids discover during some sort of soiree or other. So that puts a stop to Andre, and be thankful I spared you a more in-depth exploration of this stupid, stupid plot thread.

The East Side Kids eventually trace the source of all this low-level villainy to Roy. Determined Mr. Cortland shall not learn of his son’s rapscallionnousness (or whatever), the East Side Kids set up a training regiment to turn Roy back to the ways of truth, goodness, honor, decency, docility, agreeability, spinelessness, all those traits the East Side Kids have come to represent for the past 50 minutes.

Really, this turning back of Roy ought to be the central focus of Million Dollar Kid. I think of one the Little Tough Guys movies did this before – but I’m not about to plumb my archives and determine which one. Just read them all yourselves! But as it is, the East Side Kids only have a portion of the final act to correct Roy, meaning the solution will have to be quick and effortless.

But these are all guys! Recall back to Kid Dynamite, the never-fail guy-solution. Why, simply punch a person, and all emotional and mental problems just fly away! So one Muggs-fist to Roy-face later, and Roy’s father’s perfect little Nancy Boy once again.

All that’s left to do is to punch the various crooks, goons, mooks and henchmen, ceremonially signaling the film’s climax. This occurs; the East Side Kids win, as always. Surprisingly, unlike Roy, punching such card-carrying villains never rights their attitudes. Because remember, in a movie, a mook is never human.

My chief complaint with Million Dollar Kid, which I realize I’ve given a rather short shrift to, is that is does not know how to properly proportion the Kids’ antics with dramatics and plot nonsense. The perfect formula involves a maximum of shenanigans, with the barest possible plot possible. But Cortland’s familial home situation is overly dominant, especially the Roy situation (and Louise’s stupid romance with a faux-Frog ain’t too great either).

But there are still moments of great comedy, diamonds in the rough that make all these East Side Kids films worth sifting through! Of greatest note is a scene where Gorcey performs with his very own father, Bernard, who had a habit of fulfilling various East Side Kids cameos. Here he plays a telegraph man, and the two get to run through a swift but effective routine first perfected by Abbott & Costello, for they seem to be Leo Gorcey’s true cinematic heroes and inspirations. Hence the slide into comedy to begin with.

With potentially-unlimited blog space remaining, let us consider in brief the final six East Side Kids films, and what they could offer…

Follow the Leader (1944) – With a title like that, it’s practically a corporate motto for Monogram! They’re such wonderful plagiarists!

Muggs and Glimpy have been released from the Army, Muggs considered 4-F on account of his poor eyesight, and Glimpy because he’s simply gone AWOL. This pointless yet patriotic opener complete, they return to their beloved filthy slum to find Danny (David Durand) has been arrested for stealing medicinal…alcohol. But they believe their pal to be innocent, because an East Side Kid would never harm a fly! (Punching goons’ faces off, though, is OK.)

But a new member of the gang, Spider O’Brien (Billy Benedict, for some reason, and not Gabriel Dell) is suspicious of alcohol-related robbery. Indeed, Spider is the thief-like bandit, along with his new pals, the stereotypical gangsters. They kill him. Then Muggs and Glimpy (and all the rest) go to battle against said gangsters. Faces are punched, and the East Side Kids win.

A couple more losses to the wartime draft: Bye bye Bobby Stone and David Durand, no great loss since I placed them in the “unimportant” bracket lo so many paragraphs above. But wait, there’s more! Huntz Hall was also selected for the draft, which would absolutely kill this franchise dead! He got out of it, though, claiming poor eyesight, having probably stolen the idea from his just-completed film. Add to that Gorcey’s draft-avoidance-by-way-of-near-fatal-motorcycle-crash, and the East Side Kids are a go for five more entries, Hitler or no.

Block Busters (1944) – It sound like a fix for the rich kid-related problems in Million Dollar Kid. That is, Block Busters makes the reformation of a snooty and wayward wealthanista the central notion from the get go, no convoluted plot to get there. So legitimately French lad Jean (Fred Pressel) has just moved to the slum, per his mother’s desire that this will somehow make him “normal.” The East Side Kids resolve to normalize the rascal, or at least make him like them – not quite sure what would count as “normal” amongst the 1940s twenty-somethings-acting-like-teenagers set.

Bowery Champs (1944) – Let me guess, boxing, right?

No, dang it, it’s just a murder mystery pastiche. So Muggs and Glimpy investigate…wait for it…a murder, and become convinced the woman accused of the killing is innocent. No other details emerge (except the boys are copy boys), meaning this is precisely like every other formulaic murder mystery of the 1940s.

Docks of New York (1945) – There is a dead body, with a necklace beside it as necklaces are apparently wont to do. Glimpy is on the case, sworn to prove the innocence of a duo of foreigners accused of the crime. So…just when did the East Side Kids start trafficking in murder mysteries?! Hell, not a single person died in the 15 entries I saw, and suddenly it seems the corpses are just popping up left and right like in a New Orleans cemetery.

Some new “East Side Kids,” not that it matters: Mende Koenig and Leo Borden (as Sam and Pete, which sounds like a Nickelodeon show).

Mr. Muggs Rides Again (1945) – By the titles, this seems to be a sub-sequel to Mr. Muggs Steps Out, despite the multi-sequel gap. (Now sub-sequels, that’s a notion I’ll have to address one of these days.) Of course, that would simply mean Mr. Muggs Rides Again has a strong focus on Muggs, and what East Side Kids movie hasn’t had that?! (…Well, sure, East Side Kids.)

No corpses this time! Rather, gamblers frame Muggs in some way, shape and form, meaning he cannot ride a horse in the big race. Hmm, this sound more like a variation on That Gang of Mine. Sans race winnings, the East Side Kids take up a collection in lieu of work so they can continue to afford this horse they now apparently own. Then Muggs gets wise to the gamblers’ wickedness, and faces surely get punched shortly thereafter.

Come Out Fighting (1945) – The final entry, # 22. It’s another variation on the “toughen up my sissy son” plotline, the sissy this time belonging to the police commissioner. About the movie, I know nothing more.


[Oh god! Now when I do an image search for “East Side Kids,” it’s all stuff from THIS BLOG!]

The East Side Kids franchise then came to an end for a couple of reasons. Producer Sam Katzman had grown tired of what the series, and thusly left for Columbia (the studio, not the country). He wasn’t gone from Monogram for long, though, and later that same year (1945) he was back with an idea for a brand new “group of so-called teenagers” series, something to be the polar opposite of the East Side Kids, rather focusing on a bunch of squeaky-clean kiddies. Which leads me to wonder how much cleaner things could get, considering the toothlessness of Million Dollar Kid. The result was a franchise called The Teen-Agers, hyphen and all. Sometime in the distant future I shall see these pics, and bask in the wholesomeness.

More importantly to the East Side Kids’ demise was a move on Leo Gorcey’s part. As the unquestioned star of the series, he was in a position to request a double weekly salary. Look to Billy Halop’s similar predicament with the “Dead End Kids.” As in Halop’s case, Gorcey was denied his request, and rather the East Side Kids came to an end – Not a premature end, I’d say, for the natural lifecycle of a 1940s franchise is to perpetuate until production shenanigans scuttle it.

That’s not the end of the story, though it is a natural stopping point. The troupe would resurrect in 1946, Gorcey and all, with yet another franchise, The Bowery Boys – the most prolific of all these kids’ franchises!

Related posts:
• 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. 13 Clancy Street Boys (1943)
• No. 14 Ghosts on the Loose (1943)

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