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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Bowery Boys: Volume Two
The Bowery Boys: Volume Two
Warner Archives // Unrated // April 9, 2013
List Price: $47.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 3, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies:

Fans of the Bowery Boys have been waiting for years to have these fun films on DVD, and now they have a reason to rejoice: Warner Archives is releasing the series with very nice looking prints.The digital transfers in these 12-movie collections are clean and clear, something that is pretty much unheard up until now.The Bowery Boys Volume Two presents another helping of these Poverty Row comedies that are sure to tickle the funny bones of fans who grew up watching these on UHF TV stations.



This incredibly long running series can actually trace its roots back to Broadway.In 1935 the play Dead End was a hit and Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights.He turned it into a movie that was released in 1937 and featured Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, and Humphrey Bogart along with a group of kids that starred in the Broadway production, most notably (for the purposed of this review) Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, and Gabriel Dell. The kids were popular and they received a spin-off series of films under the banner The Dead End Kids. (These were released by Warner who bought the actors contracts. Goldwyn reportedly didn't want to use them anymore because they were so wild on the set and caused a lot of destruction.)Not wanting to be out done, Universal started a series of street-smart kid films, The Little Tough Guys, in 1938 and recruited some of the original Dead End actors.

In 1939 Warners had tired of the series and released the actors from their contracts.Several of them were snatched up by Monogram, a low budget studio that made B-pictures, along with a couple of the actors who appeared in the Universal series.With this line-up they started releasing East Side Kids films.They'd ultimately release 21 (or 22 depending on how you count them) movies in this series lasting until 1945.

In 1945 Leo Gorcey wanted his salary doubled, and when he couldn't get it, he quit.With his costar and original Dead End Broadway actor Huntz Hall along with agent Jan Grippo he started a new production company (Jan Grippo Productions).They brought on Bobby Jordan, Leo's brother Chuck, and Little Tough Guys actor Billy Benedict as the core of The Bowery Boys.(There would be several other actors who joined and left the line-up over the years.) There were an impressive 48 Bowery Boys movies made over a 13 year period, making it the longest running feature film franchise in movie history.

The films pretty much follow a standard formula.Slip (Leo Gorcey) is the boss of a group of guys (no longer kids... Gorcey was 28 when the Bowery Boys started) who wait around Louie's Sweet Shop for something to happen, which it always does soon after the movie begins. It may be a mystery, or helping out an old pal, and it was often the result of a misunderstanding, but the guys end up investigating something and getting into a lot of trouble.



Slip is a braggart, tough, and considers himself an intellectual and tries to constantly prove how smart he is by using big word... incorrectly.Some of the best lines in the films are Slip malapropisms. Such as when he informs Sach that he can't be seeing a ghost in Ghost Chasers:"You can't talk to someone who's dead unless they've already been reincarcerated."

Sach, the other leading character, has one outstanding characteristic and that's all he needs: he's incredibly stupid.He's so dense that in one movie the entire gang is hypnotized with the exception of Sach because, as the magician announces, he can hypnotize any intelligent creature. He ignorance is often over the top, but he actually gets most of the laughs in the series and does a great job playing the dim boob.

The rest of the cast is pretty much regulated to being very minor characters.The other "boys" don't get much screen time, often leaving on some off-screen mission while Slip and Sach play the main roles.

The humor is mainly verbal though there is some slapstick thrown in for good measure (though the slapstick does increase as the series progresses).The guys do manage some pretty funny banter, even if it's a little dated today.Lines like "You may not be an idiot, but you'll do until a real one comes along" and "I don't wanna get pharmaceutical, but you're bleedin!" are par for the course and while they didn't make my son laugh, I had a good time with them.

The films in this collection are:

Spook Busters (1946):After Slip graduates from exterminating school he sets up a pest control business... in a corner of Louie's Sweet Shop.Business isn't exactly booming until he gets a call from a realtor who hires Mahoney and the gang to make sure the abandoned residence of an old magician is free of bugs. The only problem is that it isn't empty, a mad scientist is using it to carry out his experiments and the latest one involves transplanting Sach's brain into the skull of an ape.



This is a film that could have inspired Scooby-Doo.The scientist and his henchmen use the magician's tricks to make the house seem haunted in order to scare away anyone who might interfere, and some of the gags are pretty amusing (if predictable, especially if you grew up watching Scooby).Of course there are some antics with the ape, though less than I was expecting, but the fight scene in slow-motion (after a can of ether has been spilled) is enjoyable. It's a decent installment of the series and features the introduction of Gabe Moreno (played by Gabriel Dell, one of the original Dead End Kids) who goes on to appear in 16 of the Bowery Boys films.The interesting thing is that though he has the same (or very similar) name in the various movies, he plays different characters. In this one he's the straight man who just returned from the war with a French bride.In the next film in this collection he plays a nerd with glasses (who is constantly loosing them) and in the film after that he's a card sharp.

Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947):Slip and Sach are mistaken for private eyes by a lady searching for her missing sister. While the boys try to set her straight, they agree to look into the case when she hand them a $50 retainer.Slip and the rest of the boys start investigating and the few clues they have point to a fortune-teller, Dr. Carter.Before they can question the seer however he's killed and Slip is framed for the murder.Evading the police he and his pals have to find out what happed to the missing lady, who killed Carter, and just what part Armand, the head of the local spiritualist racket, has to do with everything.



The film features one of the better gags to be found in this collection.While trying to escape from a group of thugs, Slip, Sach, and the guys duck into the dressing room of a radio station (I know it doesn't make sense... just go with it) and put on some graduation gowns and caps.This causes them to be mistaken for the guests on a quiz show that's airing live.Their antics on the show, and the poor host's reactions are hilarious.

Bowery Buckaroos (1947):The Bowery Boys head out west!When Louie (played by Bernard Gorcey, Leo's real-life father) is almost arrested by a law man for the west, he's forced to reveal his past.It turns out that he was once a prospector known as Louie the Lout, and is wanted for murdering his partner.He's innocent, of course, but his biggest regret is that his partner's orphaned daughter will never get her share of the gold mine they discovered. He has the only man tattooed on his back.After copying the man onto Sach's back, the group head out west where they're attacked by Indians, deal with some tough cowboys, and come close to getting hanged.



This was the last Bowery Boys film with original Dead End actor Bobby Jordan.

Smuggler's Cove (1948):The gang gets back to New York where Slip and Sach take jobs as janitors in a high rise, though not for long. When Slip mistakenly gets a letter telling him that he's inherited a mansion on Long Island, he quits and takes all of his pals to see his new place.The estate in nice, but it's also being used as a base by a group of smugglers.When the real owner and his lovely daughter, Teresa, show up the gang have two other necks to save from the ruthless criminals.

This was a pretty good flick.There were some good laughs, criminals were menacing, and the plot wasn't quite as silly as some of them.One interesting side note is that Amelita Ward, who plays Teresa, ended up marring Leo Gorcey.)

Ghost Chasers (1951):This film revisits the 'fake medium' plot of Spook Busters but adds a fun twist:a real ghost. When a friend starts spending all of her money on sessions with a medium in order to contact her dead son (it's implied that he died in the war), the street-wise Slip smells a con and investigates. He and his buddies discover a ring of spiritualists who are conning money out of hard-working folks.They plan on exposing them but get in a little too deep. Luckily the spirits themselves don't like fakers and send a junior ghost, Edgar Alden Franklin Smith (Lloyd Corrigan) who is dressed as a pilgrim and takes a shine to Sach because of his "nose like Cyrano."Edgar, who can only be seen and heard by Sach, helps them out greatly, warning them of danger and even creating temporary doors to appear in solid walls to aid in their escape.This was a funny film and my favorite one in this collection.



Let's Go Navy! (1951):Probably taking a cue from Abbott & Costello who made a few movies around the various branches of the military, the Bowery Boys did the same over the next couple of years. This is the second one (preceded by 1951's Bowery Battalion), where the boys enlist in the Navy.A pair of crooks who are dressed in sailor's uniforms steel a large sum of money (that belonged to a charity of course) for the Bowery Boys and they hatch a plan to nab the thieves:they'll enlist, where they'll surely come in contact with the pair they're looking for.



This was actually much better than I was expecting. The jokes worked for the most part and having the guys cause havoc on a Navy ship was pretty entertaining.They're looking for a man with a certain tattoo and watching them run around pulling up sailor's shirts to find the incriminating mark gave the film some good laughs.

Hold That Line (1952):This time the boys head to college!A pair of wealthy society type bet that their old alma mater can make distinguished gentlemen out of anyone, no matter how rough they start out.To settle their wager, they enroll the Bowery Boys. While at the university, dim-witted Sach concocts a serum that makes him super-strong... and the star of the football team.When some local gamblers see him in action they decide to kidnap him so that Ivy will loose the big game.While it's not as good as the previous entry in the series, this was fun too, and the football game at the conclusion has a good number of laughs.



Loose in London (1953):You can almost hear the writers sitting around a table brainstorming ideas for the next Bowery Boys movie...Let's see, we've had them battle haunted houses, mad scientists, and gangster, smugglers, and crooks of every type, joined the service and been private eyes. We've sent them to college and the old west. What else can we do?I know, lets send them to London!

That's what happens in this installment.When Sach is informed that he's the long-lost heir of a dying Earl, he trades in his 1st class ticket for four couch fares so his buddies can go along with him.Once across the pond he puts the Earl on the path to recovery by making him laugh and take life a bit easier.While that's all good, he discovers that the Earl's relatives can't wait for him to die. Since it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon, they decide to take matters into their own hands.It's up to the boys to show the stuffy English rich types a thing or two and save the Earl's life.

Clipped Wings (1953):It's time for an Air Force picture.When the Bowery Boys hear that a friend, Dave, has been accused of treason, they head down to the base to help him out and mistakenly enlist!To make matters worse, Dave isn't really a spy. He's just posing as one to ferret out the real enemy agents.The Boys don't realize that however and proceed to make a mess of things.

This military farce would have certainly played well in 1953 with the memories of WWII still fresh in the minds of many Americans.It's a bit dated today, but still has a good amount of laughs.The ending, involving Slip and Sach up in the air in a plane that's being used for target practice had me laughing as much as when I first saw it decades ago.



Private Eyes (1953):This time around they're detectives (again).After Sach gets punched in the nose he discovers that he has the ability to read minds!That's a neat talent but how can they cash in?Slip decides that they should start a detective agency.Their first client is a beautiful blond who is trying to escape from the mob. She leaves an envelope of incriminating evidence with the boys and it doesn't take long before the gangsters are after them.
This one didn't do much for me.The jokes in this movie seem a bit thin, especially the mind reading gag which was never as funny as it should have been.Dressing Sach up in drag had me rolling my eyes too.I smiled a couple of times, but this film is lacking the one funny scene that makes the other films.

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954):After the last film, I was afraid the series was in a steep decline and that the rest would be hard to watch.I was wrong.This later effort is pretty funny and one of my favorites in this collection.

When a group of boys playing baseball in the street breaks the window in front of Louie's Sweet Shop, Slip and Sach decide that the nearby empty lot would be a better place for the kids to play.Wanting to do everything on the up and up, the pair go to ask the owners of the lot if the local kids can play in their undeveloped space. When they arrive they discover a crazy family: Derek wants a brain to put in the robot he's building, and Anton wants to put a human brain in his gorilla.Amelia wants to feed someone to her plant, her Agopanthus Carnivorous, and Francine is a sexy vampire.The family decides that Slip and Sach will meet all of their needs, so they invite them to spend the night, which the boys do.



There were some pretty funny bits in this one.Yes, they were taking a page (again) from Abbot & Costello, and this isn't as good as that duo's first monster film, but then again the Bowery Boys weren't working for Universal and didn't have access to their monsters.All in all, one of the better entries to the series.

High Society (1955):This film has actually earned a (small) place in the Hollywood history books:it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story.No foolin', it really was.There was a mistake when the preliminary ballots were being made, and this film was included instead of the Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra/Grace Kelly movie High Society (which wouldn't be eligible until the following year).So a Bowery Boys film was nominated, which was a bit embarrassing, to say the least. The writers, being stand-up guys, officially asked to have their nomination withdrawn and their wish was granted.I'm a bit surprised that producer didn't pay them to keep it on and re-release the film, touting the fact that it was up for an Oscar.



The sad thing is that this Academy nominated movie is one of their lesser offerings.For the third time in this collection of 12 films, one of the Bowery Boys has received the news that he has come into a sizable inheritance.Sach is supposedly heir to the Terwilliger Debussy Jones fortune, but when he and Slip arrive at the estate (the other Bowery Boys are missing from this film save for the very beginning and very end) they discover that some crooked relatives and a shyster lawyer are trying to cheat the rightful heir out of his fortune.The two boys stay on to turn the tables on the crooks.

Maybe it's because I've screened a dozen Bowery Boy movies in half as many days, but this one is pretty weak. Most of the gags are familiar, recycled from earlier pictures, and the two stars themselves seem tired and listless.The worst thing is that I didn't laugh at this film.I smiled a few times, but there weren't any good guffaws... and that's the kiss of death for a comedy.

The DVD:


These 12 films come on four pressed (for the initial release at least) DVDs.These are housed in a single-width quad case.

Audio:

The mono audio track is very good.The dialog is clean and clear and the background noise is minimal at worst. Fans will be pleased.

Video:

Ahh, this is what I've been waiting for. I enjoy these movies and have purchased several different cheap collections that have been put out my budget publishers over the years and I've always been disappointed.Until now. At last we get nice looking prints with great contrast and a good amount of detail.These aren't dull, scratched and hard to watch version, but on par with other Warner Archive releases, which means they're very good looking.What's more (and this is really exciting) the final two movies in this collection are presented with their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1! I never thought I'd see that happen.Bravo Warner, you've done a great job!

Extras:

None, but that's fine. There are 12 movies here and that's plenty.

Final Thoughts:

This is a very fun and enjoyable collection.No one will ever accuse these films of being great art or even great comedy, but if you enjoy movies from the 40's and 50's as I do, you'll be very happy.The prints make these films look better than I've ever seen them, and they're still a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. A very strong recommendation.
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