The 1940 film "Gallant Sons," which Warner Archive released on DVD earlier this month, deserves the same cult status as its quasi-counterpart the '90s uber-guilty pleasure NBC Saturday morning kidcom "Saved By The Bell." "Sons" has the additional appeal of being a homoplatonic "Romeo and Juliet."
"Sons" revolved around clean-cut high school kids who covered just about every teen stereotype. They almost certainly would have formed a rock band named "By Invitation" if rock-and-roll had existed when the movie was filmed.
Group leader Byron "By" Newbold is a BMOC jock/actor/writer/honor student; his BFF/sometimes rival Johnny Davis is an all-American kid who is also a hustler-in-the-making; Kate Pendleton is an upper-middle-class all-American girl who is one of the boys, and 'Beefy' Monrose is the geeky and creepy brown-nose (a scat reference is mandatory) sycophant who follows By around more closely than a lab assistant trails a mad scientist.
A bimbo-like showgirl and a clean-cut dim-witted tough guy who is as threatening as a puppy on doggie downers fills out the group.
Thanks to the studio system, Warner got its brat pack of the era to play the roles the kids from America. Jackie Cooper, who had a handful of television series and appeared in many classic films, played By. Gene Reynolds, who also had a long acting career but held critical behind-the-scene roles with "M*A*S*H" and Lou Grant, played Johnny. Bonita Granville, who played Kate, also appeared in many films and television series and was the associate producer of the long-lasting "Lassie" television series.
Equally notably, Leo Gorcey of the Dead End Kids and the Bowery Boys played tough-guy malapropism spouting Doc Reardon.
The opening scenes of "Sons" established that Johnny had a boy-crush on the appropriately named By largely based on that stud including Johnny in his inner circle. This bromance was surviving the tension created by By's father, who was a crusading newspaper editor, striving to bring down Johnny's very charming father, who operated an illegal casino. Both the younger and older generations supported the teens' friendship despite the animosity between their parents.
A great aspect of the rabbit-and-hunter relationship between "Natural" Davis, played by Ian Hunter, and Barton Newbold, played by Minor Watson, is the enjoyment that Davis derived from playing Bugs Bunny to Newbold's Elmer Fudd. A scene in which Newbold helps lead a raid on the casino is especially awesome; Davis does just about everything but kiss Newbold on the nose and then rabbit (pun intended.)
The conflict between the elder and younger Newbolds and Davises heats up early in the film when Barton following Natural leads to discovering him over a newly deceased woman. This rapidly leads to Barton's newspaper advocating convicting Natural, who ultimately is found guilty, of the crime.
The scene below, courtesy of YouTube, depicts both the kids' aforementioned personalities and the aftermath of the conviction.
The caper aspect of "Sons" then commences with the gang first taking on the investigation of the murder in an attempt to restore By's and Johnny's bromance. Finding a suspect leads to a plan to obtain a confession from said suspect by staging a high school play that depicts the kids' theory regarding the crime.
Terrific aspects of the play include the talented actors who play the kids doing a great job being terrible actors in the school production and hecklers adding to the entertainment value of that D-level presentation. Johnny's costume alone makes sitting through this hilariously horrible stage show worthwhile.
This is another case (no pun intended) in which providing more specifics about the plot would ruin the fun of discovering the twists. Suffice it to say that the gang's investigation leads to a major discovery regarding Johnny's life and that the kids' pursuit of the bad guys is hilarious. A scene in which Johnny, ala Tom Cruise on "South Park," is hiding in a closet is decades before its time.
The final verdict regarding "Sons" is that it joins the long line of "lost classics" that Archive allows modern audiences to enjoy. The kids are more than alright and do get there on time.
Anyone with questions regarding "Sons" or "Bell" is welcome to email me. You can also track me down via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.