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Retro Cinema – The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters

Retro Cinema – The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters
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Comedy and horror inevitably overlap in films where funnymen find themselves in haunted houses occupied with a surplus number of ghouls, mad scientists and ectoplasmic mayhem. The Bowery Boys had already run amok in such creepy settings during the 1940s with Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, back when they were under the East Side Kids banner. But this 1954 offering takes the old haunted house comedy into a wild, almost Dadaist environment.

The film begins with harsh slapstick, as a baseball goes careening through the window of Louie’s Sweet Shop and bops poor Louie (Bernard Gorcey) on his head. The baseball is the result of kids playing in the street because they have no local park for their recreational hours. A relatively rare brainstorm by the malaprop-slinging Slip (Leo Gorcey) results in phoning the owners of a vacant lot to seek permission to turn the space into a ball field. Slip and his dimwitted sidekick Sach (Huntz Hall) go to the lot owner’s residence to discuss the matter – not realizing it is the mansion of mad scientist brothers (John Dehner and Lloyd Corrigan), each eager to transplant a human brain into their respective experiments: one has a pet gorilla in a cage, the other has an oversized robot. Also in residence is their sister Amelia (Ellen Corby), who tends to a giant man-eating plant, and their niece Francine (Laura Mason), a seductive babe who self-identifies as a vampire.

Needless to say, Sach’s brain-free behavior makes him a perfect candidate for the brothers, while Francine is eager to sink her fangs into Sach’s unsuspecting neck. Only Amelia has eyes for Slip, believing his plump physique will satisfy her plant’s diet. But when Louie and the other Bowery Boys (David Gorcey and Bennie Bartlett) show up in search of Slip and Sach, all hell breaks loose as the scientists and their machete-wielding butler Grissom (Paul Wexler) chase Slip and Sach, with the robot and the gorilla joining in the madness.

Fans of the Bowery Boys series will appreciate Gorcey’s brilliantly atrocious command of the language (“Thunder is something that never calcified me” stands out as an extraordinary line) and the shameless milking of inane jokes (when Slip asks Sach how he is able to read a book in the dark, the indignant Sach responds, “I went to night school!”). And there’s even the obligatory “Walk this way” gag, with Slip and Sach emulating the stiff gait of the formal butler Grissom (whom they repeatedly misidentify as Gruesome). While Gorcey is a lot of fun, as usual, Hall steals the show with over-the-top mugging that is presented with an intensity that he never displayed before or since – he is a force of power here that takes the comedy to a higher level of intensity.

Yes, the film betrays the no-budget production of Allied Artists’ 1950s Bowery Boys output – the “mansion” looks particularly threadbare – and the clunky robot in particular with certainly generate laughs for all of the wrong reasons. But the film moves at a surprisingly rapid clip thanks to Edward Bernds’ expert direction and his amusing screenplay co-written with Edward Ullman. And at 65 minutes it packs in more happy nonsense than any contemporary comedy running twice that length.

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters may not deserve to be called a classic, but it comes pretty close for sheer exuberance and energetic knockabout.

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Phil Hall Phil Hall has enjoyed a three-decade career in the film industry as a journalist, critic, publicist, distributor, festival programmer and actor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Wired, American Movie Classics Magazine and Film Threat. He is the author of seven books, including "The History of Independent Cinema," "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time" and "In Search of Lost Films."

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