In late 2012, the folks at the Warner Archive brought forth into reality what had previously only been an everlasting fantasy on many a classic comedy connoisseur’s list: they released a four-disc set highlighting twelve of the 48 motion pictures from the iconic Bowery Boys series. Earlier the following year, the Warner Archive unveiled The Bowery Boys, Volume Two before commencing the final quarter of the year with Volume Three. For those of you doing the math there, that means 2013 brought us an entire one-half of the whole Bowery Boys franchise. Now, for those of you who are like me, this means some of the best news ever: not only are we a single set away from completing the entire filmography of this particular legacy in cinematic comedy, but we have been given 24 more classic comedies to enjoy – practically all of which have never been seen on home video ever.
Each set begins with several early installments of the franchise, wherein the series was still taking cue from the East Side Kids films that had preceded them. Hence, these entries tend to focus more on dramatic elements such as poor orphaned kids in dire need of some sort of life-saving aid, etc. While somewhat inferior to the high-gear low-budgeted comedic affairs that the series would later be best remembered for, many of the early titles housed on Volume Two represent three of the final four Bobby Jordan vehicles, before the longtime performer – who had been a part of the legacy since the Dead End Kid stage days – bowed out, citing his top-billed co-stars, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, were receiving more screen time and laughs. Which was something that happened more than once: series regulars Billy Benedict and Gabriel Dell also parted ways eventually due to similar reasons.
But even the lack of Mr. Jordan’s handsome face becomes rather moot once we get into more memorable Bowery Boys movies, wherein many a tale nods towards the timeless comedies of Abbott and Costello (see: Let’s Go Navy!) as well as the works of The Three Stooges. Speaking of the latter, a half-dozen titles between the two volumes were penned and directed by Three Stooges alumni Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman. This mini-lineup includes one of the all-time favorite Bowery Boys films ever, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters – which features the gang (which by then consisted of Leo Gorcey as Slip, Huntz Hall as Sach, David Condon/Gorcey as Chuck, and Bennie Bartlett as Butch) being trapped in a spooky house out in the country, where a pair of mad scientist brothers want Sach’s brain for their own respective creations (a gorilla, a robot). The horror/comedy also features a creepy butler, a vampire, and a kooky old lady (Ellen Corby) who wants to feed everyone to her man-eating tree.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. In 1956, after filming Dig That Uranium – the fortieth film in the series – Bernard Gorcey, who had adeptly portrayed tortured sweet shop owner Louie Dumbrowksi since the second film in the series in 1947 – was killed in an automobile accident. Devastated by the loss of his father, star Leo Gorcey began to drink heavily, resulting in the series star only making one more movie (Crashing Las Vegas, where Sach develops super powers that enable him to pick winning numbers) before being fired. And how do you continue a legacy like The Bowery Boys without the always-appreciated malapropisms and abuse of one Terence Aloysius “Slip” Mahoney? Well, you don’t, really. Nevertheless, producer Jan Grippo and Allied Artists Pictures did their best to keep the boat afloat for a while – to wit Huntz Hall was promoted to star, and former East Side Kid Stanley Clements was brought in for the final seven features (four of which are featured on Volume Three) as his main pal, Stanislaus “Duke” Covelske.
Despite always having heard and read that the Hall/Clements entries were pretty weak entries overall, I must say that my experiences with these latter-day titles were actually quite favorable. Clements was no Leo Gorcey by any means, but he wisely does not attempt to be such. In fact, even with the bad rap these final movies have picked up over the years, nobody can deny the utterly brilliant supporting role from character actor Byron Foulger as Mr. Bubb (aka The Devil) in 1957’s Up in Smoke, the next-to-last film in the series altogether. Though he had popped up in many a feature over the years (whether it be with the Bowery Boys or even a Frank Capra film), Foulger had always been cast as a fussy neurotic fellow. Here, however, he plays quite the opposite: a cold, calculative embodiment of loveable evil whom you cannot help but adore – which in-turn allowed Foulger to give the best performance of his career.
Other highlights in these two four-disc sets include Loose in London (1953), wherein everyone travels across the Pond to meet Sach’s long-lost – rich – relative, who just happens to be up to his neck in scheming vultures; Paris Playboys (1954), which finds Sach being asked to impersonate the famous professor whom he eerily resembles; Hold That Line (1952), where the boys are enlisted into a local university as part of a bet between several academics, which gives Sach the ability to use his (ahem) “genius” to create a concoction that makes him super powerful. 1951’s Clipped Wings was the first widescreen film for the series, and it – as well as subsequent titles – are presented in their original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratios here, with the earlier contributions being shown in 1.33:1. Each title has been remastered from the best-surviving 35mm elements, and are infinitely better than those old fuzzy TV and 16mm prints many of us grew up with.
For the record, Volume Two includes Spook Busters (1946), Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947), Bowery Buckaroos (1947), Smuggler’s Cove (1948), Ghost Chasers (1951), Let’s Go Navy! (1951), Hold That Line (1952), Loose in London (1953), Clipped Wings (1953), Private Eyes (1953), The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954), and High Society (1955). Volume Three consists of Paris Playboys (1954), Feudin’ Fools (1952), Angels’ Alley (1948), Jinx Money (1948), Angels in Disguise (1949), Jalopy (1953), Dig that Uranium (1956), Crashing Las Vegas (1956), Hot Shots (1956), Spook Chasers (1957), Looking for Danger (1957), and Up in Smoke (1957).
Special features-wise, neither set will thrill anyone, but considering each set has approximately thirteen hours of classic comedy for all to enjoy, there’s simply no refusing these gems from the Warner Archive.