America's Funnymen: 25 Hours [4 Discs] [DVD]
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The first of the "splinter" groups to emerge from the Dead End Kids was the Little Tough Guys, consisting of veteran Dead-Enders Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsly and David Gorcey (Hally Chester and Billy Benedict would also appear in this new grouping from time to time). Though most of the "Little Tough Guy" vehicles were played for laugh, the initial entry was not. When labor activist Jim Boylan (Edward Pawley) is executed for a murder he didn't commit, his son Johnny (Billy Halop) decides to become a crook. He and his pals Pig (Huntz Hall), String (Gabe Dell), Sniper (David Gorcey) and Dopey (Hally Chester), embark upon a crime spree, aided and abetted by thrill-seeking rich kid Cyril (Jackie Searl), who happens to be the son of the district attorney. While committing a robbery orchestrated by Cyril, Johnny and Pig are trapped by the police. Pig makes a break for it, only to be killed in a hail of bullets. This startling turn of events convinces Johnny to mend his ways, but not before an obligatory stretch in reform school with his fellow Little Tough Guys-including Cyril! Beyond the spectacle of Huntz Hall dying in agony, Little Tough Guy offers very little that is new and innovational: still, the film made money, prompting a whole series of "Little Tough Guy" quickies from the Universal assembly line. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Amateur fighter and all-around bully Muggs McGinniss (Leo Gorcey) tries to cheat in a pool game with hustler Harry Wycoff (Gabriel Dell). He is thwarted by his own friend Danny Lyons (Bobby Jordan), who has some strong ideas about right and wrong and wants to keep his friend honest. Muggs has to knock Wycoff down with his fists to avoid paying off, and promises to get even with Danny and criticizing him as a coward, without the "killer instinct" it takes to win, in boxing or anything else, as far as Muggs is concerned. In revenge for his pummeling, Wycoff, who works for a local bookmaker, arranges to have Muggs kidnapped ahead of the amateur boxing match in which he's supposed to fight. Danny goes into the ring in his place and wins, but Muggs is convinced that Danny arranged the kidnapping. They clash over and over throughout the movie, in an amateur dance contest and as rivals for a job at a local garage, and over Danny's wish to marry Muggs' sister, and then Muggs finds out that he was all wrong -- that Danny had nothing to do with thekidnapping. But by then he's jealous of Danny, and continues riding him mercilessly, and Danny can't fight back because he's promised his mother never to fight in the street like a common hooligan. Muggs gets even more fierce in his resentment when Danny joins the army showing himself to be more of a man than Muggs and becoming a hero to the neighborhood in the bargain. Finally, Danny realizes that if Muggs is ever to grow up, someone is going to have to stand up to him. The two agree to settle their differences with their fists. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
Clancy Street Boys
Even non-fans of the East Side Kids will get a goodly share of laughs out of the 1943 series entry Clancy Street Boys. The story commences when Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey) learns that his wealthy Uncle Pete (Noah Beery Sr.) is coming to town for a visit. The problem: Muggs' mom (Martha Wentworth) has claimed that she has seven children so that big-hearted Pete will continue sending much-needed money to her fatherless family. To avoid disillusioning Pete, Muggs' pals are enlisted to pose as his siblings, with Glimpy (Huntz Hall) posing as sister Annabelle (it is explained that Scruno, the black member of Muggs' gang, was "adopted"). Uncle Pete and his pretty daughter Judy (Amelita Ward) are taken in by the ruse until local crook George Mooney (Rick Vallin) spills the beans. But all is forgiven when Muggs, Glimpy and company rescue Pete from kidnappers. Best bit: About to go into a huddle, the East Side Kids turn "en masse" towards the camera, politely tip their hats and say "Excuse us!" ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello temporarily leave their usual Universal stamping grounds to star in the Huntington Hartford production Africa Screams. Costello plays the colorfully inept Stanley Livingstone, a meek book salesman who poses as a big-game hunter at the behest of his shifty pal Buzz Johnson (Abbott). It's all part of a scheme to extract some money from adventuress Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke), who intends to search for a lost diamond mine in the heart of Africa. It seems that Stanley has committed to memory a long out-of-print book which contained a map to the mine. Despite his mortal fear of wild animals, Stanley accompanies Buzz, Diana, and Diana's henchmen on the African expedition. The subsequent comic complications involve a legendary giant gorilla, a cannibal tribe, and a friendly orangutan who falls in love with Stanley. Animal trainer Clyde Beatty and big-game tracker Frank Buck make cameo appearances while character comics Shemp Howard and Joe Besser provide laughs as, respectively, a nearsighted gunman and a sissified flunky. Also on hand are boxer brothers Max Baer and Buddy Baer, who engage in an amusingly unconvincing display of fisticuffs. But the film belongs to Abbott & Costello, who are in fine form. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Jack and the Beanstalk
In 1952, the comedy team of Abbott and Costello entered into a joint agreement with producer Alex Gottlieb and Warner Brothers, whereby two color musical comedies would be produced: Bud Abbott would serve as producer--owner of one of the films, while Lou Costello would do same for the other. Costello's contribution to this agreement was Jack and the Beanstalk, a kiddie-matinee adaptation of the famed fairy tale. Constructed along the lines of The Wizard of Oz, the film begins in black and white. Jack (Costello) is a professional baby-sitter, while Dink (Abbott) is Jack's "agent." After a run-in with a gargantuan cop (Buddy Baer) and a statuesque waitress (Dorothy Ford), Jack and Dink show up at the home of Eloise Larkin (Shaye Cogan), there to look after Eloise's troublesome nephew Donald (David Stollery) while the girl and her boyfriend Arthur Royal (James Alexander) rehearse at their community theatre. While reading the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to the bratty Donald, Jack falls asleep, and begins dreaming himself, and his cohorts, into the story as the impoverished boy sent out to sell the family cow. While en route to town with his cow, he encounters a shady butcher (Abbott) who bilks him out of his broken-down bovine for the price of a few 'magic' beans. In keeping with the traditional tale, Jack plants the beans and from them a magnificent vine grows and reaches into the clouds. Along with the butcher, Jack climbs into a fantastic world inhabited by a terrifying giant (Baer) and other magical creatures, including a gold egg-laying hen, a singing harp, and a distressed prince and princess. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Former Dead End Kid Huntz Hall made his first appearance with the East Side Kids in 1941's Bowery Blitzkrieg. The plotline concentrates on Danny Breslin (Bobby Jordan), a good kid in danger of going bad thanks to the influence of two-bit crook Monk Martin (Bobby Stone). When Danny is disqualified from the upcoming Golden Gloves boxing championship, his pal Mugs (Leo Gorcey) takes his place. Thanks to the chicanery of Monk and his gambling cronies, the public becomes convinced that Mugs intends to throw the fight. Nothing could be further from the truth, but for a while it looks as though both Mugs and Danny will be kayoed permanently by the villains. As "Limpy", Huntz Hall doesn't have much to do except act as Mugs' dimwitted stooge; Hall's unique comic gifts wouldn't fully blossom until the next East Side Kids entry, Spooks Run Wild. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Spooks Run Wild
In their first of two Monogram spook comedies, the East Side Kids and Bela Lugosi square off in yet another haunted house. On their way to summer camp, the malapropism dependant East Siders are warned of a "monster killer" loose in the area, and, sure enough, almost immediately encounter Nardo (Lugosi) and his weird little helper Luigi (Angelo Rossitto). Nardo does very little to repudiate the Kids' impression of him as a vampire (the Kids say "vulture" lest Monogram should get in trouble with Universal, who held the rights to Dracula), but is he really the monster killer? Perhaps Doctor Von Grosch (Dennis Moore) knows, the famed mystery writer and "monster hunter" having arrived like clockwork at the creepy Billings mansion with camp nurse Linda Mason (Dorothy Short) in tow. Although Peewee (David Gorcey) is at one point feared to have become the victim of the "vulture," the smart aleck turns up safe and sound, and Muggs (Leo Gorcey) and the Kids decide to trap the killer. And so they do, ably assisted by young attorney Jeff Dixon (Dave O'Brien), who, for reasons not immediately clear, has a vested interest in the well being of the East Side Kids. O'Brien and leading lady Dorothy Short were married in real life. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi
Short of funds to buy baseball uniforms, the East Side Kids are forced to go to work for their crooked ex-pal Hank (Gabriel Dell). When Hank's fugitive mentor Butch Brocalli (Max Rosenbloom) shows up to make trouble, gang member Danny (Bobby Jordan) is instrumental in Butch's arrest, earning a big reward in the process. Danny intends to suprise his pals by buying the uniforms himself, but Mugs (Leo Gorcey) wrongly assumes Danny wants to hoard all the money for himself. Mugs and the rest of the gang force Danny to turn over the dough, whereupon they buy a beat-up car. But when Danny is seriously injured by the escaping Brocalli, the kids offer to sell the car to pay for an operation. Kindly brain surgeon Dr. Ornsby (Walter Woolf King) sizes up the situation and straightens things out to the satisfaction of everyone. The East Side Kids are at their most contentious and least appealing in this second-rate entry, while Maxie Rosenbloom, usually a comic actor, is sorely miscast as the villain. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi