Friday, March 17, 2017

A Quick Look: GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE (1944)

   When it comes to the old East Side Kids movies, GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE was one of the best (that I've seen). It was one of two entries to star Bela Lugosi, the other being SPOOKS RUN WILD. The gang thinks they'll be doing their recently-wed buddy a favor by fixing up the honeymoon cottage he just bought. However, the gang ends up at the house next door, a sprawling residence supposedly haunted and crawling with enemy agents. It's a situation which has been used many a time, but this one exudes all the charm one expects, with the cast in top form. Leo Gorcey, Bobbie Jordan, and Huntz Hall were among the juveniles hired to play a tough street gang in the dramatic play Dead End. When the story was brought to the screen, the kids were carried over. Though a gritty drama meant to cast a critical eye on city slums, the boys had a chemistry that made them, and DEAD END, a hit. Audiences liked the kids, and soon other crime pictures were incorporating "The Dead End Kids" into other gritty crime stories. In time, new kids joined the group and they began headlining movies as The Little Tough Guys. Producer Sam Katzman then took over and created a series of films to star The East Side Kids. These proved highly popular mixtures of comedy and drama, with the kids running afoul of Nazi spies and slum hoods. Finally, Leo Gorcey took over and re-worked the concept into The Bowery Boys. From here, the focus was more and more on laughs, until the series became full fledged comedy. This incarnation lasted through the 1950's, going beyond Gorcey's eventual departure. Huntz Hall carried the remaining films. The movies became popular on television, and in the 1960's, director Ray Steckler paid tribute to the boys with his characters, The Lemon Grove Kids, in a couple of featurettes edited into a feature film I haven't seen yet.

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