Warner Archives has been doing an outstanding job of making
lower profile films from Hollywood's
golden age available to fans. One
franchise that has been woefully neglected until recently is The Bowery
series of films that lasted, in one form or another, for over 20 years. The first of four collections, The
Bowery Boys Volume One, collects an
even dozen of the movies including some of the best installments that
made. These sets aren't chronological
(though this one does present the first three films) rather they're
the movies that are ready to go first, giving them time to spruce up
others. It's a nice plan, putting
quality installments into the hands of fans quickly.
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
Humphrey Bogart along with a group of kids that starred in the Broadway
production, most notably (for the purposed of this review) Leo Gorcey,
Hall, Bobby Jordan, and Gabriel Dell.
The kids were popular and they received a spin-off series of
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,
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
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
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
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 kidsâ€¦ Gorcey was 28 when the Bowery Boys started) who
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
investigating something and getting into a lot of trouble.
Slip is a braggart, tough, and considers
himself an intellectual who tries to constantly prove how smart he is
big wordâ€¦ incorrectly. Some of the best
lines in the films are Slip's 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.
His ignorance is often over the top, but he
actually gets most of the laughs in the series and does a great job
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
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
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
didn't make my son laugh, I had a good time with them.
The films in this collection are:
(1946): This first film in the new
series has a good mixture of drama and comedy.
Slip is a hard working guy, but he keeps loosing his jobs
constantly gets into fights. His sister
finds him employment with the construction company where she works as a
secretary for the boss, but he even messes that up when he takes a
swing at the
foreman. Eventually he takes a job
his buddy Sach, serving warrants for the DA's office.
He's exceedingly good at it, and eventually
is given the task of tracking down a big-time criminalâ€¦ little does he
that one crook will lead to another, and he'll eventually learn that
is in danger.
A great way to start off the series, this film was serious
enough to be engaging but they added enough jokes to make it funny. The scene where Slip starts a riot in a fancy
night club is hilarious (he narrates the whole thing on live radio
under a table) but the overall tone of the movie isn't silly like the
In Fast Company
(1946): The garage manager of the Red Circle
company has decided that he's going to rule the streets of New York.
He starts buying out all of his competitors, and those that
he puts in the hospital. When one small
time independent driver is laid up after a beating, a local priest
Slip to drive the man's cab for a few days so that he'll be able to
family. When the Red Circle thugs try to scare
Slip out of
the business though, they take on a bit more than he can chew. All of the Bowery Boys chip in to make sure
that Red Circle
doesn't get the better of one of their own.
This is another very good installment of the series.
The setup is fairly realistic but there are
plenty of laughs to be had. The scenes
where the Boys are giving it to the Red Circle drivers are
particularly amusing. Though the end is
pretty much pulled out of
no where and has some holes, it's still a fun flick.
(1946): In this outing, Sach accidently
gets his picture taken while handing a bag of stolen money to a bank
robber. Thinking that he's the crook,
all the police in the city are looking for the dim-witted Bowery Boy
up to Slip and the gang to not only clear his name but find out who the
They started going for more humor in this movie, and it
generally works very well. It's a
funnier film than the two previous ones, but it's just a tad sillier
too. The scene where Slip pretends to be a
gangster from another city is great, but the scene where they convince
after drinking a scientist's potion, that he'll explode if he moves too
was a bit too wacky. Still it's a solid
entry into the series. While watching,
be sure to keep an eye out for Ace Deuce.
He's played by Sheldon Leonard who is most recognizable as Nick
barkeeper in It's a Wonderful Life, but
he also produced some of the best TV in the sixties including I Spy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Andy
(1947): This time around Slip and Sach
have found employment as a copy boy and photographer (respectively) at
newspaper. When Slip stumbles onto a
crooked crime ring that's fixing sporting events, he's sure that the
get him a job as a full fledged reporter.
Unfortunately, all that his story earns the paper is a fat libel
which will ruin them unless Slip and Sach can find the proof that they
prove that the story is on the level.
With a lot of subplots and not enough story to make the
movie flow well, this is a bit of a mixed bag.
Some of it is great, like when Slip dresses up as a gangster
fools some crooks, but there are too many plot hole (even for a Bowery
film to make it one of the better installments.
(1949): This is one of the darker Bowery
Boys movies, but one of the better ones too.
When a friend of Slip's dies in a boxing match, the boys search
fighter's older brother, Johnny Higgins (Frankie Darro).
Johnny used to be a top boxer too, but he
refused to take a dive so a group of crooks drummed him out of the ring. Now, with his brother dead, Johnny has to
support his mother and kid brother and the only way he knows how is to
into the ring. With Slip and his manager
he's willing to give it a try, but the goons who arranged for his
death have set their sites on the up and coming boxer too.
This was a more serious story for the Bowery Boysâ€¦ there is
murder, a child is kidnapped and threatened with death, and the
more nefarious than previous foils. It
still has comedy, it's a Bowery Boys movie after all, but the stakes
higher and this time. It worked well and made for a
very enjoyable picture.
Hold That Baby!
(1949): The follow up to Fighting
Fools saw the Boys go back to
their tried and true formula. Slip
decides that he doesn't want to be a delivery man for a dry cleaning
(especially since he was fired from the job) so he opens up a laundry
in the back of Louie's Sweet Shop. When a distraught heiress abandons her infant
son in the place, the boys find themselves baby sitting and dodging
who have a plan to get a large reward for the baby.
Add to that a couple of scheming aunts and a
visit to a mental hospital and you've got a funny, if standard film.
(1949): While this film is reminiscent of other Bowery Boys films (such
as Spook Busters) and doubtlessly
influenced by Abbott & Costello Meet
Frankenstein which was released the previous year, this movie is a
goofy fun. When Sach gets a toothache
and every time he eats a piece of sugary candy he goes into a trance
able to predict the future. Slip sees a
fortune in his friend's ability and tries to cash in but a mad
Napier) decides that Sach's brain is just what he needs for his
(played by Glenn Strange).
I had a lot of fun watching this film. Yes,
it doesn't make sense and there are some
plot holes, but it is sheer goofy enjoyment for old time monster movie
fans. The highlight of the picture is
Strange (who played the monster in Abbott
& Costello Meet Frankenstein).
He did a great job and the funniest bits are when he's imitating
Hall. Pure B-movie gold.
(1950): It's back to gangsters this
time. When Slip convinces Louie to take
a vacation, he and the boys turn the Sweet Shop into a male escort
the boys acting as cultured and intelligent escorts.
Meanwhile one of their pals who works at a
bank, Gabriel, has been swindled out of $5000 of the bank's money by
girl. She and her real lover threaten to
inform the police that Gabe is the thief if he doesn't get them the
to the bank's vault. They then invade
the Sweet Shop/ escort service as start tunneling their way to the
convince Sach to do the digging too.
This is a decent entry in the series. Seeing
the boys act as escorts was hilarious,
and the rest of the story was good too.
(1950): Slip and Sach try their hands at
being messenger boys for a Wall Street firm in this film.
When their employer is found dead, it's ruled
a suicide but Slip isn't sure. Nosing
around he finds some dice and a card for the High Hat Club. He decides that the club, and the illegal
gambling den in the back, has something to do with the man's death and
This is another average installment. It's
not bad by any means and has some good
moments, but nothing that makes it stand out above the other entries. The scene where the boys are learning how to
gamble was entertaining, but overall just an okay film.
(1950): As happened in Master
Mind the year before, Sach gains
new (short lived) abilities in this film.
After having his tonsils removed Sach discovers that he has a
voice. Slip and the rest of the guys
turn Louie's Sweet Shop into a night club and soon he's talk of the
town. When a rival night club owner tricks
into signing an exclusive contract though, he can no longer appear at
This is Gabriel Dell's last appearance in a Bowery Boys
film. He had a rather odd role in the
series: he usually played someone named
Gabriel but it was a different character in every film.
In one he's a gangster, in the next a card
sharp, and later he'd be a good buddy to the Boys.
It was a bit unusual, seeing all of the other
Bowery Boys playing the same role film after film with the single
Dell. In any case his parts were getting
smaller so he decided to bow out.
Crazy Over Horses
(1951): When Louie is owned some money,
he sends Slip and Sach to collect. Big
mistake. Instead of returning with cash,
they arrive with a horse, My Gal. Some
gangsters want the horse though, so they switch it with another nag,
Tarzana. Slip notices the swap and
changes the horses back, but then the mobsters perform another switch
This isn't one of the beset installments in the series.
It's sort of sad because there's a lot of
potential with the â€˜switching look-a-like horses' gag, but it felt like
actors were just going through the motions for this one.
Whitey, one of the regular Bowery Boys, makes his last
appearance in this film. He said that
there was a lot of in fighting and arguing going on, and that it just
worth the headache any longer.
No Holds Barred
(1952): Another "Sach gains powers"
story, this one is pretty good, especially when compared to the
film. After getting hit on the head with
the butt of a gun and suffering no ill effects, Sach discovers that his
super strong and Slip starts managing his wrestling career. He does well with his invulnerable noggin
untilâ€¦ the strength of his head shifts to another part of his body. With the power unexpectedly shifting (to his
finger, his elbow etc.) it's hard for Sach to know how to fight. Of course there's a gangster looking to cash
in and buy Sach's contract from Slip, but we know that'll never pan
This was so bizarrely absurd that it was pretty funny.
Just the idea of someone having an
invulnerable head is odd, but the fact that the power travels to
parts of his body makes it hard not to laugh.
It's quite a different type of movie than Live Wires
that started off the collection, but very entertaining
never the less.
These 12 films come on four pressed (for the initial release
at least) DVDs. These are housed in a
single-width quad case.
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.
Ahh, this is what I've been waiting for. I
enjoy these movies and have wanted to get
solid commercial releases of them for a while.
At last we get nice looking prints with great contrast and a
of detail. These aren't dull, scratched
and hard to watch version, but on par with other Warner Archive
means they're very good looking. What's
more (and this is really exciting) the final two movies in this
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!
None, but that's fine.
There are 12 movies here and that's plenty.
These movies weren't high art or gripping drama, but they
are a great way to be entertained for an hour.
If you enjoy light dramas from the 40's and 50's, these should
up your alley. This collection features
some of the better Bowery Boys films too, so it's a great place to
you're not already familiar with the franchise.