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Friday, October 18, 2013

'The Bowery Boys' V3: A Dozen Films; A Million Laughs

The Bowery Boys: Volume Three
The 12 films in Warner Archive's 4-Disc DVD release of "The Bowery Boys Volume Three" includes some of the best of the 48 films in that series. This release comes roughly six months after the 4-Disc 12-Film DVD release of "The Bowery Boys Volume Two," which Unreal TV reviewed in April 2013.

As the cover art on the back of "Volume Three" indicates, even dim-witted Boy Horace Debussy 'Satch' Jones (played by Huntz Hall) can deduce that Volume Four will be a 4-Disc 12-film release and will likely hit store shelves and the cyber-marketplace in early 2014.

The Boys are rough and uneducated but very loyal streetwise "toughs" who start out in the '30s as the Dead End Kids before becoming The Bowery Boys in 1946. "In the Money," which was the Boys' final film, came out in 1958.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a 1999 TCM advertisement for a "Boys" film festival conveys the great spirit of these films that are tailor-made for the longer nights and cooler weather that are settling in across most of the country.
As the back cover art for the "Volume Three"  DVD set also shares, two films in this collection are noteworthy for being the last one for featured players. Bernard Gorcey, who played the owner of the soda fountain where the boys hung out, passed away soon after filming "Dig That Uranium."

This passing led to the action shifting from "Louie's Sweet Shoppe" to "Clancy's Cafe." Like Louie, Mike Clancy was a tough-talking father-figure to the Boys but was more hard-nosed than his predecessor.

Bernard's death also contributed to his son Leo Gorcey leaving the series after filming "Crashing Las Vegas."

Most folks with even limited familiarity with the Boys remember Leo as lead Boy Terence Aloysius 'Slip' Mahoney. Said Boy's nickname relates to his (sometimes continuous) malapropisms. His younger brother David, who is simply called "Chuck" in the Boys' film stays on for the demise of what Slip may have referred to as a family gorcey business.


A typical Boys film involves either a get-rich-quick scheme gone awry or an effort to get a chum out of tough spot. In either case, the project resulted in hilarity.

The 1957 film "Up in Smoke, " which is one of the few Boys films that feature Stanley Clements as Stanislaus 'Duke' Covelskie in the post-Leo period, in "Volume Three" combines the classic elements described above. Satch predictably being conned out of money that the Boys had raised for a friend with polio leads to a deal with the devil to recover the funds.

The devilish mishaps that hinder Satch's efforts to obtain the desired benefits of his bargain and the general mayhem that ensues makes for good comic entertainment.

"Jinx Money" from 1948 is a good hybrid of the purely comedic "Boys" movies and the darker ones that are more reminiscent of their "Kids" in the pool hall days. Satch finding $50,000 with a connection to local gangsters leads to a series of hi-jinks and some more serious murders. Much of the humor relates to the concealment and distribution of the windfall.

The two "Angels" titles in "Volume Three" are even closer to the "Kids" roots. "Angels' Alley" from 1948 has Slip battling his bad apple cousin who is recently released from jail and seems to be on a course that leads to another unfortunate incarceration. A parallel storyline has Slip seeking to protect younger neighborhood kids who are involved in the same car-theft ring as said cousin. The great noir dialog includes a practical joke loving gangster telling a crusading priest that he talks pretty forward for a guy who wears his collar backward.

"Angels in Disguise" is even closer to pure noir. The injuring of a cop who is a friend to the Boys leads to Slip going rogue to bust a gang of payroll thieves. The violence is ramped up pretty strong in this one.

Slip transforming the Boys and Louie into gangsters is great comedy, and seeing the small-framed, baby-faced, fair-haired Whitey (played by Billy Benedict) trying to pull off a tough guy act is adorable. Whitey also enjoys the spotlight while engaging in self-promotion later in the film.

Unintentional humor comes in the form of a nurse cheerfully aiding and abetting the injured cop smoking away like a chimney in his hospital bed. Another scene in which Slip is vigorously moving his hands around in his trouser pockets while Satch suggests that they play pocket pool is an example of Leo's well-known subversive nature. 

"Disguise" additionally includes one of the more clever plot points in the "Boys" series in the form of how someone with inside information communicates with the gang. This form of "comic relief" helps make "Disguise" one of the best in the 48-film series.

The final woid regards the Bois is that watching these no-brainers is a no-brainer when youse feels like some good classic escapist fun.

Anyone with questions regarding the "Boys," the "Kids," or even "Da Bears (of the Yogi and BooBoo) variety is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.