25 March 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Ersatz Bowery Boys plus three great pros.
The low-budget 'Bowery Boys' movies were popular programmers that made healthy profits, so it's not surprising that several other studios would attempt imitations. Among these were the Gas House Gang, the Lemon Grove Kids, That Tenth Avenue Gang and the Little Tough Guys. The latter came nearest to matching the originals, as the membership roll of the Little Tough Guys included Billy Benedict (a.k.a. 'Whitey' among the Bowery Boys) and Leo Gorcey's untalented brother David, whose contribution to the Bowery Boys epics seldom transcended such deathless dialogue as 'Gee, Satch! What'll we do?'
'Little Tough Guys in Society' features a gang of teenagers who aren't so little and don't look so tough, especially as some of them are played by actors who are well past their teen years. One genuine teen on offer here is Jackie Searl as Randolph Berry, the sensitive son of a society matron. Randolph spends all his time in bed reading philosophy treatises. This is clearly a crisis requiring immediate intervention, so the Little Tough Guys descend upon the Berry mansion en masse, determined to 'cure' Randolph and turn him into a 'normal' teenager ... presumably stealing hubcaps and getting into gang fights.
This counterfeit Bowery Boys movie has the same flaw as all of the genuine Bowery Boys movies, or at least all the instalments which place the Boys in high-toned situations. The plot lines depend (for both their drama and their comedy) on the contrast between the prole semi-hoodlum Boys and the hoity-toity 'society' folks. But all of these movies are made on such low budgets that the depictions of 'wealth' are always very unconvincing. Whenever the Bowery Boys (or their imitators) are turned loose in a mansion, a Las Vegas casino, or any other expensive locale, the low production budget is always their downfall. In 'Little Tough Guys in Society', Mrs Berry is supposed to be wealthy enough to employ a butler *and* a footman ... but her 'mansion' is clearly a dodgy set on the Universal Studios backlot.
For lovers of old-time Hollywood, 'Little Tough Guys in Society' does have one merit which renders it absolutely unique. Three of Hollywood's greatest character players -- Mischa Auer, Edward Everett Horton and Mary Boland -- are teamed here for the only time in their long prolific film careers. I personally dislike Boland, but I admire her professionalism ... and Auer is one of my favourite character actors. Boland as the society matron (Randolph's mother), Horton as her stuffy butler, and Auer as the dour physician who ministers to Randolph are all in splendid form here, despite a lacklustre script. For their presence, I'll rate this movie 6 points out of 10.