Thursday, April 25, 2013
'The Bowery Boys' V2: A New York State of Mock
Warner Archive's recent four-disc DVD release of "The Bowery Boys" V2 evoked "unreal" memories of watching these 70 minute films from the '40s and '50s on then independent WSBK Channel 38 in Boston on Sunday mornings in the '70s. This collection includes 12 films that satirizing popular movie genres of that era.
The '70s was a Renaissance period for television not only regarding the great shows, many of which Archive makes available, from those years but also because it was a simpler time. Televisions actually had dials, major markets offered between five and seven channels (and we liked it), and people did not obsess over crystal-clear pictures or evading commercials.
Stations such as Channel 38 used economical older film series such as "The Bowery Boys," "Blondie," "Francis the Talking Mule," and "Ma and Pa Kettle" as filler on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings when viewing audiences were relatively small.
"The Bowery Boys" film series was an offshoot of the earlier "Dead End Kids" films. Both series featured a group of lower-class New York toughs who regularly became tangled in wacky situations in which they had to fight and run their way out.
Slip Mahoney, played by Leo Gorcey, and his sidekick Sach, played by Huntz Hall, led the motley crew. In many respects, this group of misfits were the live-action counterpart of '60s prime-time animated character Top Cat and his pride of alley cats.
It is additionally highly probable that "Laverne and Shirley" creator Garry Marshall based that '70s sitcom's characters Andrew "Squiggy" Squigmond and Lenny on Terrance "Slip" Mahoney and Sach. Characteristics that Slip and Squiggy shared included below-average height, being heavy-set, favoring the wet look regarding their dark hair, and having bravado that exceeded their mental capabilities and personalities.
Slip was also like Squiggy in that both were prone to malapropisms, but only Slip approached lesser-known '50s TV queen Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg of "The Goldbergs" in the quantity and quality of his humorous misstatements. An example was Slip saying "oblivious" when he meant "obvious."
Sach and Lenny were both tall lanky fair-haired second bananas whose intense loyalties to their BFFS included accepting moderate mental and physical abuse.
To a lesser extent, the characteristics described above applied as well to the more classic comedy duo of Laurel and Hardy.
Volume 2 of "Boys" starts with 1946's "Spook Busters." This one opens with Slip et al apparently graduating from a four-year institution of higher learning but merely finishing their studies at an extermination school. Their first client hires them to bust ghosts in an abandoned haunted mansion.
Needless to say, the Boys' investigation leads to hilarious hijinks. The best verbal humor includes remarks that a small rodent is using "mouse code" to communicate and a statement that the mansion is in a state of disrepair prompting a response that it is in the State of New York.
The second offering, "Hard Boiled Mahoney," has the Boys stumbling into a detective assignment to find a missing woman. This one is great parody of classic film noir flicks such as "The Maltese Falcon." Plot elements include Slip being framed for murder, and it has enough twists and double-crosses to challenge even Sam Spade.
The third film, which is 1947's "Bowery Buckaroos," is a significant departure in many ways from the first two offerings. The action in this ones brings the New Yorkers out to New Mexico for the purposes of clearing their friend who owns the candy shop where they hang out of a old murder charge, find their friend's gold mine, and locate a girl to whom the friend is a second father.
Of course, this one parodies "oater" style Westerns. The similarity to primetime classic and "2.0" soap "Dallas" extends beyond the cowboy element and the nefarious dealings to the nature of the surprise ending.
"Buckaroo" relies more heavily on sight gags then verbal cleverness.Transforming the Boys' jalopy into a motorized covered wagon is hilarious, and another great sequence involves an interrogation method that has merit for trying at Gitmo.
The 1954 film "The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters" parodies the traditional "night in a haunted house" genre. This one throws just about every element of that type of film at the Boys, who predictably prevail.
1955's "High Society" parodies melodramas of the era. This one has the Boys helping a rightful heir defeat those who would cheat him out of his rightful property.
The remaining films in Volume 2 similarly play off elements of other films of the era. They, like the ones described above, are simply funny presentations that provide Gen Xers a good chance to remember watching them on Sunday mornings.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Boys" is welcome to email me.