Cast & Crew
Penrod Schofield gets into a fight with Rodney Bitts, the son of his father's boss, because Rodney torments younger and smaller Verman Diggs. Rodney lies to his father about the cause of the fight, however, stating that Penrod attacked him without provocation. When he returns home that night, Mr. Schofield scolds Penrod, sending him to his room without supper. Later, however, he learns the truth about the fight, but explains to Penrod that he must learn to be diplomatic with Rodney as he himself must be diplomatic with Rodney's father. Touched, Penrod swears his father into his junior G-man club. The next day, however, Rodney and Penrod again come to blows, and when Schofield defends his son, Bitts fires him. Later, Roy "Dude" Hanson and his gang rob the bank where Schofield worked. During their escape, they shoot and kill Verman's mother. Penrod asks his family to adopt Verman to keep him out of the orphanage. They explain that they cannot afford to do so, but after Verman runs away, the Schofields find him in the cemetery, sobbing on his mother's grave. Mrs. Schofield takes pity on Verman and arranges for their housekeeper, Delia, to care for him. Penrod, his best friend Sam, and their gang decide to help the police find the bank robbers. All except Penrod and Sam spread out to look in different areas. The two boys hear a noise in the club house, an old barn, and when they investigate, they are captured by the robbers, who have been hiding in the loft. Not wanting to be left out, Rodney sneaks into the club house and is captured as well. Verman witnesses the event and runs to bring help. Working together, Rodney, Penrod and Sam manage to knock Hanson and the criminals unconscious before the sheriff and the police arrive. The club members receive a letter of commendation from the Department of Justice. Rodney and his father are made members of the club. When the boys receive the reward for Hanson's capture, they vote to give the money to Verman so he can go to college when he grows up.
Johnnie Pirrone Jr.
Penrod and Sam (1937) - Penrod and Sam
The adventures of eleven-year-old Penrod Schofield (Billy Mauch) are initially small-scale. He and his best buddy Sam (Harry Watson) are members of a gang of budding G-Men who spend their out of school hours in an old barn trying to figure out--through crime fighting techniques--how to nab gangsters and other bad guys using their finger printing, fugitive-tracking and photography know-how. Penrod gets his first chance to do some good when a small black classmate Verman Diggs (Philip Hurlic), who acts as a look-out for the boys during their crime-fighting meetings, is targeted by bully Rodney Bitts (Jackie Morrow). Penrod engages in some fisticuffs with Rodney, who also happens to be the son of his father's boss, Rodney H. Bitts (Charles Halton). The boys' constant grappling drives a wedge between Penrod's dad (Frank Craven) and his boss Rodney Sr., who believes Penrod is the instigator of all of the trouble.
Soon petty childhood quarrels quickly take a back seat to community tragedy when the Bitts bank is knocked over by a gang of four thugs led by Roy "Dude" Hanson (Craig Reynolds) who manage to shoot and kill Verman Diggs' mother during their getaway chase and gun battle with police. Penrod begs his parents to adopt the now orphaned Verman, who they find one rainy night weeping over his mother's grave. Eventually, the Schofield parents Frank and Laura (Spring Byington) are worn down and take Verman in. But the bank robbers are still at large even after police extensively search the town. The gang ends up hiding in a hay loft in the barn where Penrod's G-Men club meets and the thugs hold Penrod, Sam and Rodney hostage as their shields while the police move in.
Made by Warner Bros., a movie studio that had previously made gangster films and charismatic criminals its metier in film's like The Public Enemy (1931) and Little Caesar (1931), Penrod and Sam signaled a turn-around for the studio. In Penrod and Sam, it is the wannabe G-Men who constitute the good guys and the gangsters who are the loathsome mamma-killers, child-kidnappers and all around bad apples.
Penrod and Sam is a remarkably progressive film for 1937 in the way it treats its black and white characters as equals. Verman eventually becomes a member of Penrod's junior G-Men gang and receives a sympathetic, multi-dimensional treatment when he loses his mother during the course of the film. Racial stereotyping does however, occasionally creep into the film. The black women in the film are maids and mammy-types. And when, at the conclusion of the film Frank Schofield asks little Verman what he wants to be when he grows up: A lawyer? A doctor? The little boy responds, "a Pullman porter."
Penrod and Sam was adapted from a novel by Booth Tarkington, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams, both of which were made into successful films. The Magnificent Ambersons was memorably directed by Orson Welles in 1942, and Alice Adams was filmed two times, in 1923 and again, in a better-known 1935 version directed by George Stevens and starring Katharine Hepburn as the title character. Along with William Faulkner and John Updike, Tarkington is on a short list of American novelists who won more than one Pulitzer for their work.
From a prominent Midwestern family that made him destined for success at an early age, Tarkington was voted "most popular" by his Princeton graduating class of 1893 where he took an active role in the school's drama club. That popularity extended to his work as a consistently beloved novelist among American readers. His Penrod novels centered on the comic adventures of an eleven-year-old upper middle class Midwestern boy growing up in 1910-era America. The first Penrod book was published in 1914. The popular books spawned a series of short films and a series of features including a 1923 silent version and a 1931 version of Penrod and Sam.
Penrod star Billy Mauch was an identical twin, whose brother Bobby Mauch often doubled for Billy on the set. Warner Bros. initially wanted to sign only Billy to a studio contract, but at their mother Dorothy's insistence, both boys were signed. When they were of age, according to an Armed Forces policy that mandated twins were not to be separated, the two brothers served together in the Air Force, in the Philippines. Billy would go on to work at Warner Bros. as a sound editor and Bobby as a film editor.
Producer: William C. McGann (uncredited)
Director: William McGann
Screenplay: Lillie Hayward, Hugh Cummings (screenplay); Booth Tarkington (novel)
Cinematography: L. Wm. O'Connell
Art Direction: Hugh Reticker
Music: Howard Jackson (uncredited)
Film Editing: Thomas Pratt
Cast: Billy Mauch (Penrod Schofield), Frank Craven (Mr. Frank Schofield), Spring Byington (Mrs. Laura Schofield), Craig Reynolds (Roy 'Dude' Hanson), Harry Watson (Sam, Junior G-Man), Jackie Morrow (Rodney Bitts), Philip Hurlick (Verman Diggs), Charles Halton (Mr. Rodney H. Bitts), Bernice Pilot (Delia the Schofield Maid), Kenneth Harlan (Real G-Man).
BW-65m. Closed Captioning.
by Felicia Feaster
Penrod and Sam (1937) - Penrod and Sam
Warner Bros. made three films inspired by Booth Tarkington's "Penrod" stories, each starring Billy Mauch as "Penrod." The next two films in the series, Penrod's Double Trouble and Penrod and His Twin Brother co-starred Mauch's real-life twin brother Bobby. For additional information on the Warner Bros. films and others featuring the characters "Penrod," see the entry above for the 1931 film Penrod and Sam and consult the Series Index.