Cast & Crew
Joseph H. Lewis
To escape the heat of the city and a court sentence for malicious mischief, the East Side kids agree to visit a summer camp in the Adirondacks. En route, their car breaks down and they are reluctantly given accommodations in the home of Judge Malcolm Parker. The Judge, under indictment for bribery, has much to fear. His life, as well as that of his niece Louise has been threatened by a gang of racketeers; his companion, Giles, has accused him of embezzling Louise's fortune; and his sinister housekeeper, Agnes, blames him for the death of her mistress, Leonora. The Judge's fears are compounded when he meets Knuckles Dolan, the boys' guardian, whom he had unjustly sentenced to death, only to have his verdict reversed and Knuckles exonerated. Later that night, when Louise is kidnapped and the Judge found strangled, Giles and Simp, the Judge's bodyguard, accuse Knuckles of the murder, but the boys capture Simp and Giles and determine to find the murderer themselves. Muggs and Danny discover a secret panel in the library wall and enter a passage where they find Louise's unconscious body and glimpse the figure of a fleeing man. Knuckles captures the man, who identifies himself as Jim Harrison of the district attorney's office. Amid the confusion, the real killer takes Louise captive, but the boys track him down and unmask Simp. Harrison then identifies the bodyguard as the triggerman seeking revenge on the Judge. With the crime solved, the boys can finally leave for their summer camp.
Joseph H. Lewis
Boys of the City
Boys of the City (1940) is a highly atmospheric horror comedy in the tradition of such chestnuts as The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940). Produced by famous poverty row celluloid mill Monogram Pictures, the film suffers from the usual bottom-scraping production values and often amateurish performances from the young male stars (a fusion of the earlier Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys). Despite the admirable ethnic and cultural diversity of the group (Italian, Polish, African American), modern viewers cringe at the dubious treatment of long-running character Scruno, played by "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison. Though his character was far more dignified in later entries, here he fills the requisite "scaredy cat" role complete with sniggering racial jokes that were sadly a by-product of the times ("I sure do miss bein' on that plantation" being an obvious example).
If one can overcome this hurdle, Boys of the City has plenty to offer. Two of the other regulars shine here; Danny (Bobby Jordan, offering the best juvenile performance in the film) and the ingratiating Mugs (Leo Gorcey) get to deliver some surprisingly snappy rat-a-tat dialogue for the period thanks to a William Lively script filled with winking references to The Cat and the Canary, Rebecca (1940), and The Thin Man (1934).
However, one of the film's strongest assets is its director, a name familiar to cult movie fanatics: Joseph H. Lewis. Best known for his seminal noir classic, Gun Crazy (1949), he also helmed a number of powerful B-movie thrillers including My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), The Big Combo (1955), and So Dark the Night (1946) as well as a stream of Westerns on the big screen and television. Boys of the City was the first and most stylish of his East Side Kids tenure, which also included That Gang of Mine (1940) and Pride of the Bowery (1941). Later to become a favorite of the auteur movement in the 1960s, Lewis began in the editing departments at MGM and Republic before taking the helm at Universal, where he was known (sometimes to the great frustration of editors) for his long takes and unorthodox framing. Sharp-eared viewers will notice a preponderance of studio looping in the early outdoor scenes in Boys of the City due to Lewis' technical aspirations for time-consuming set-ups and costly dolly equipment, all of which were denied by Monogram. As the director himself explains in Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Devil Made It, "I became so incensed that I made up my mind we were going to have a dolly shot: I had the camera taken off the tripod and mounted on the back of a grip truck and we drove the truck and recorded with the motor going and everything; they had to dub later on. I said, 'Don't ever refuse me a dolly again.' And I wasn't. You know, those pictures were meant for an automaton. They wanted to stamp 'em out in so many days, at so much cost, with so much film and forget about it."
With a collaboration spanning nineteen subsequent films, the East Side Kids proved to be a formidable rival to the popular Bowery Boys, another gang of lovable street youths. Twenty boys carried the name of East Side Kid during the hurried productions, which lasted a hectic six to seven days thanks to Monogram's rushed schedules and temporary use of sets from other studios like Warner Brothers and Republic. The film's producer, Sam Katzman (nicknamed "Jungle Sam" thanks to his successful Jungle Jim series), began the East End Kids series as a direct offshoot of the Dead End Kids cycle (itself derived from a 1937 play, Dead End) and moved on to produce several of Monogram's more fondly remembered Bela Lugosi horror titles including Bowery at Midnight (1942) and two pairings with the Bowery Boys, Spooks Run Wild (1941) (a virtual remake of Boys of the City) and Ghosts on the Loose (1943). His touch for youth culture never faded over the years, as he went on to such drive-in titles as Hot Rods to Hell (1967), AIP's surreal Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969), and two Elvis Presley vehicles, Harum Scarum (1965) and Kissin' Cousins (1964).
As for the Kids themselves, all of them remained busy in Hollywood thanks to minor roles in other films and another decade of reliable work in East Side Kids and Bowery Boys job assignments. The clear winner for sheer output remains Gorcey, who racked up the highest tally of screen credits thanks to all of the Dead End and East Side Kids films along with no less than 41 quickie Bowery Boys films. Thanks to a notoriously huge roster of traffic tickets and a much later messy divorce that involved the exchange of gunshots, he became an enduring minor legend in Hollywood and proved that some kids just never grow up.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay: William Lively
Cinematography: Robert Cline, Harvey Gould
Film Editing: Carl Pierson
Art Direction: Fred Preble
Music: Lew Porter
Cast: Bobby Jordon (Danny Dolan), Leo Gorcey (Muggs McGinnis), Hal E. Chester (Duster), Dave O'Brien (Knuckles Dolan), Frankie Burke (Skinny), Vince Barnett (Simp).
by Nathaniel Thompson
Boys of the City
Where is Knuckles? Is he is going to eat?- Algy
He's taking a bath.- Danny
That kid's gonna get sick for washing himself too much.- Muggs
You can eat later.- Judge Parker
Oh gee and I was so hungry.- Simp
Then why don't you eat?- Pee-Wee
He ain't paying me for that.- Simp
Five millions guys thumbing their way along the road and we gotta pick up a Judge, that's fate.- Muggs
I think this organ has something to do with the secret. Then Agnes said "not to touch it" and Knuckles said that Ms. Mason was to meet him in this room. She vanished from this room. I'll bet you there's a secret panel.- Muggs
You're crazy. You've been seeing to many movies.- Danny
Movies hey that's it! Say what's The Thin Man got that I ain't got?- Muggs
Myrna Loy.- Danny
Although the onscreen credits list Eugene Francis as "Algy," Variety credits Jack Edwards with the role. Modern sources note that the film was re-released under the title The Ghost Creeps. According to the Los Angeles Times, "The East Side Kids" was formed by the merger of "The Dead End Kids" Bobby Jordan and Leo Gorcey and Hally Chester from "The Little Tough Guys." For additional information on the series, consult the Series Index under those headings and see entries below for Crime School, Little Tough Guy and East Side Kids.