Based on a series of books by Pulitzer Prize winner Booth Tarkington (he won two, for The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams), Penrod and Sam is a delightful series of vignettes involving the misadventures of two rambunctious boys living in
It seems that Penrod (Leon Janney) and his best friend Sam (Frank Coghlan Jr., Billy Batson in The Adventures of Captain Marvel serial) are always getting into some sort of trouble, especially Penrod. He's kept after school most days for some infraction, and even at home he gets sent to his room for fighting with his sister.
Penrod is also the leader of a local club that meets in a shack on an otherwise empty lot. Most of the neighborhood boys belong to it, with the exception of the George Bassett. George spends his time kissing up to the teacher at school and buffing his nails, and doesn't fit in with the rest of the rumble-tumble boys. After the unanimously reject his application, George complains to his mother (Zasu Pitts) who berates Penrod's parents until they force him to admit the whiney youth. It would have been better all around if George had just accepted their rejection.
This is a charming and funny film that has a lot in common with the Our Gang short. Penrod's group (including two African-American members) get in and out of trouble, put on a show, fight, laugh, and generally act like kids. The story is simple, but it's still very enjoyable.
One of the best, and most hilarious, scenes revolves around Penrod's homework. He has to write a letter to a friend for school, and though he gets the first two words down on paper, he gets distracted and plays with his dog… only to realize the next morning that he's messed up again. When he hears his sister say that she's just finished up a letter, Penrod steals it, figuring that's an easy way to get out of trouble. The only problem is that the teacher asks him to read his work to the class, and it turns out to be a love letter. He's mortified as he reads the letter, asking his ‘friend' if he really thinks he's beautiful. He's interrupted by the laughter of the class, naturally, but the teacher continually prompts him to continue.
The main complaint is that the movie does slow down a bit in the last third, with a dramatic event slowing the pace of the film and bringing the comedy to a halt, at least for a little bit. It does pick up at the very end, and concludes on a high note.
The film was directed by William Beaudine, the very prolific director who directed Mary Pickford in the silent days and made an earlier version of Penrod and Sam in 1923. He does an admirable job, especially since he was mainly working with child actors, and the film is effective. It's has a more polished look than the similar material that was being released by Roach, and that makes the movie work all the better.
The mono soundtrack is provided and it sounds fine. There's nothing really exceptionally good or bad about it.
The full frame image looks very good. These movies haven't been restored but they come from very nice prints with minimal damage. Yeah, there are occasional spots or flecks of dirt, but they're infrequent. The contrast is good and so is the level of detail.
There isn't any bonus material.
A fun and funny look at boys being boys in the early 20th Century; this film is a great find. Fans of Hal Roach's Our Gang Comedies will really enjoy this movie. It gets a strong Recommendation.