The Fabulous Forties #33: Boys of the City (dir by Joseph H. Lewis)


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The 33rd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1940’s Boys of the City.

As a classic film lover, I have to admit that I groaned a bit when the opening credits announced that Boys of the City starred “East Side Kids.”  The East Side Kids were a group of actors who appeared in a number of B-movies from the 1930s through the 50s.  Many of the actors started out as members of the Dead End Kids and a few more were members of a group known as The Little Tough Guys.  In the 40s, they merged to become the East Side Kids and then eventually, once the East Side Kids started to hit their 30s, they became known as the Bowery Boys.  Their movies started out as tough and gritty melodramas but, by the time they were known as the Bowery Boys, they were making cartoonish comedies.  Occasionally, one of their films will show up on TCM.  Their early serious films (Dead End, Angels With Dirty Faces) remain watchable but, from what little I’ve seen of them, their later comedies appear to be damn near unbearable.

Boys of the City finds the East Side Kids in transition.  The kids still have an edge to them.  They are definitely portrayed as being juvenile delinquents who are walking a thin line between either a short life of crime or a long life of poverty.  But them film itself, while it may not be as cartoonish as the films that were to come in the future, is definitely a comedy.

Basically, the East Side Kids (Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Hal E. Chester, Frankie Burke, Sunshine Sammy, Donald Haines, David Gorcey, and Algy Williams) have been arrested for vandalism and are given a choice.  They can either go to juvenile hall or they can spend the summer at a camp in upstate New York.  Somewhat reluctantly (and hopefully remembering the unlucky fates of Humphrey Bogart in Dead End and James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces), the kids agree to go to the camp.

However, on the way to the camp, their car breaks down and they are forced to stay at the nearby home of a crooked judge (Forrest Taylor) until they can get the car repaired.  The judge, however, is killed and it’s up to the East Side Kids to solve the murder!  Was the judge killed by the gangsters that he was set to testify against?  Was he killed by his niece (Inna Gest)?  Or maybe it was his housekeeper, Agnes (Minerva Urecal, who appears to be parodying Judith Anderson’s performance in Rebecca)?  Or was he murdered by Knuckles (Dave O’Brien), who the judge wrongly sentenced to die and who, following his vindication and release from prison, has become a guardian to the East Side Kids?

Who knows?  Who cares?  I certainly didn’t.

Clocking in at 68 minutes, Boys of the City is a typical 1940s second feature.  Designed to keep audiences entertained without requiring them to think, Boys of the City moves quickly and adds up to nothing.  I know that there are some classic film lovers who can tell the difference between the various East Side Kids (or Dead End Kids or Bowery Boys or whatever you want to call them) but they all pretty much blended together for me.

Not surprisingly for a film made in 1940, Boys of the City is full of casual racism.  Sunshine Sammy plays an East Side Kid named Scruno.  As soon as Scruno sees the cemetery next to the house, his eyes go wide and he says, “G-g-g-ghosts!”  Apparently, that was very popular in the 40s but today, it’s impossible to watch without cringing.

Boys of the City has some interest as a time capsule but otherwise, it’s a film that is easily and happily forgotten about.

Shattered Politics #13: The Fearmakers (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


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Did you know that 75% of people are sick of hearing the results of polls about what people think about other polls?  It’s true!

Me, I first got sick of polls back in 2012.  That was when, every day, everyone on twitter would be talking about the result of another political poll.  A poll would come out showing that Obama was ahead of Romney in the presidential election and all of my Republican friends would immediately start tweeting about why the poll could not be taken seriously.  Then 2014 came along and polls started to show that the majority of American citizens did not approve of the job Obama was doing.  And all of my Democrat friends would immediately start tweeting about why those polls could not be trusted.

As for me, I was always more concerned with what the polls said over on Rotten Tomatoes.  Really?I would think.  Only 35% of critics gave California Scheming a good review?  67% of moviegoers want to see the new Transformers film?

Oh my God, I thought, those numbers have to be so fake…

Because, let’s face it.  The only time that we believe a poll is when we agree with it.  Otherwise, we assume that they’re either the result of subtle manipulation, selective interpretation, or just completely and totally untrue.

Believe it or not, this suspicion is not a new phenomena.  I’ve always felt that you can learn a lot about history by watching the movies.  That doesn’t mean that movies are historically accurate.  One need only read my review of Magnificent Doll to see that.  However, movies do reflect the culture and concerns of the time in which they were made.

For instance, The Fearmakers was made in 1958 and it shows that not only has polling been around for a while but so has the fear of being manipulated by a fraudulent poll.

In The Fearmakers, Dana Andrews plays Alan Eaton.  Before the start of the Korean War, Alan owned one of the best and most respected polling firms in Washington D.C.  However, while serving in the army during the war, Alan was captured and held prisoner by the Chinese.  After years of being tortured and perhaps brainwashed, Alan is finally released.

He returns to an America that is far different from the country that he left.  For instance, while on a flight to Washington, D.C., he finds himself sitting next to a shifty scientist (Oliver Blake) who tries to convince Alan to support a group that believes in nuclear disarmament.  Even worse, once the plane lands, Alan discovers that he’s been forced out of his polling firm and that his partner has died under mysterious circumstances.

The firm’s new owner, the outwardly friendly, inwardly cold-hearted Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran), offers to hire Alan as a special consultant.  Alan is at first resistant but then he has a meeting with his old friend, Senator Walder (Roy Gordon).  Walder explains that he suspects that Alan’s old polling firm has been infiltrated by outside forces and that it might be using its polling to try to push communist propaganda on the American people.  Alan agrees to work for Jim and to help track down any and all subversives….

The Fearmakers is better than it sounds.  Beyond the fact that the story remains relevant in our poll-driven times, it was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who directed several atmospheric and intelligent horror films in the 30s and 40s.  He brings a similar atmosphere of doom to The Fearmakers.  Perhaps the film’s best scenes are the ones where Tourneur just focuses his camera on Andrews’s face while Alan struggles to understand the country to which he has returned.  As played by Andrews, Alan is troubled and hardly your typical hero.  You’re never quite sure how much of the film’s danger is real and how much of it is just the result of Alan’s own paranoia.

I first saw The Fearmakers on Netflix.  The next time you’ve got 84 minutes to kill, check it out.

Scenes That I Love: Dennis Moore And His Horse Concorde


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So, what did you do on Sunday night?

Myself, I watched The Adventures of Robin Hood on TCM.  There I was, watching the film and posting comments on twitter about how superior Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood was to Russell Crowe’s when suddenly I realized that a lot of very strange tweets were appearing on my timeline.

One person tweeted, “WHAT THE FUCK, GAME OF THRONES!?”

Another tweeted: “OMG!  #GoT”

And my personal favorite: “no, no, no, no, no #GameOfThrones.”

Later, I discovered that these people were reacting to the Red Wedding on Game Of Thrones.  I have been using twitter since 2009 and I have never before seen so much anger and sadness as I did last night after the Starks were massacred on HBO.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy Game Of Thrones and I DVR every episode but, at that moment, I was really happy to be watching The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Whenever I watch The Adventures of Robin Hood, I think about one of my favorite Monty Python skits, the story of Dennis Moore, the highwayman who attempts to steal from the rich and give to the poor and discovers that the redistribution of wealth isn’t as easy as he originally figured.

Or, as the Dennis Moore theme song puts it: “He steals from the poor and gives to the rich … Stupid bitch!”

In honor of The Adventures of Robin Hood, I figured why not share this classic skit?  If nothing else, maybe a little absurdist comedy is just what the doctor ordered for those of you who still haven’t recovered from the Red Wedding…