22 January 2011 | lugonian
Boys of the City
EAST SIDE KIDS (Monogram, 1940), a Four-Bell Production directed by Bob Hill, is a social drama centering upon the lives and activities of youths in the tenement district of New York City's lower east side. Somewhat inspired by Samuel Goldwyn's screen adaptation to DEAD END (United Artists, 1937), and others like it, EAST SIDE KIDS offers nothing new nor original in this premise. Monogram's earlier contributions to this genre did produce such worthy offerings as BOY OF THE STREETS (1937), GANGSTER'S BOY (1938) and STREETS OF NEW YORK (1939), all starring Jackie Cooper. Unlike EAST SIDE KIDS, those Cooper products didn't spawn any sequels of its own, only imitations. Considering how this edition happens to be an ordinary 62 minute programmer, it's uncertain whether a sequel or series to EAST SIDE KIDS was originally intended. Aside from becoming a cut rate version to DEAD END, EAST SIDE KIDS also borrows a little from MGM's highly popular, BOYS TOWN (1938) starring Spencer Tracy, where the central character, a policeman in place of a priest, doing everything possible assisting or reforming teenagers in the neighborhood where he was once raised from following the path of an idolizing gangster.
Through its fade-in capturing New York City from across the Hudson River leading inward to the streets and tenement surroundings, the story gets underway with the introduction of the title characters rolling dice on the sidewalk before focusing on Patrick O'Day (Leon Ames), former East Side kid now police officer, wanting to help his childhood friend, "Knuckles" Dolan (Dave O'Brien) who is serving prison time for murder. Although innocent and set to face execution in the electric chair within a month, Dolan refuses to reveal the guilty party of the crime. As a favor to Knuckles, O'Day not only looks after his kid brother, Danny (Harris Berger), but prevents him from learning the truth by making him believe Knuckes to be working in South America. As O'Day tries to keep Danny and his pals from getting into further mischief, he forms the Vasser Street Junior Police Club where they gather together for various activities as boxing and a game of pool. All goes well until the arrival of a well-dressed mobster named Mileaway (Dennis Moore) returning to his old neighborhood, where his influence on the boys, especially Danny, leads them to getting arrested for unknowingly by passing out fliers containing counterfeit $5 bills. Further complications arise through O'Day's dismissal from the police force that prevents him from obtaining enough evidence to clear Knuckles' name.
Other members of the cast include Joyce Bryant as Molly, O'Day's love interest (minus any love scenes) and sister of Knuckles and Danny; Vince Barnett (Whisper, Mileaway's henchman); Richard Adams (Mr. Schmidt, the German pawnbroker); Maxine Lewis (May, Mileaway's girl); and Alden Chase (Detective Joe Forbes); along with Jack Edwards (Algernon "Algy" Wilkes); Hally Chester (Dutch Kuhn); Eric Burtis (Eric, the crippled boy on short-wave radio); Frankie Burke (Skinny) and Donald Haines (Pee-Wee) in the roles of the East Side Kids.
For what's become a series opener, anyone expecting to find "East Side Kids" regulars (Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall and Sunshine Sammy Morrison) will be totally disappointed or lead to believe they're viewing an entirely different movie altogether. Actually dismissed as part of the subsequent series that followed, EAST SIDE KIDS is in fact the initial entry to that series, bearing, in television terms, a "pilot" for a possible series, for which it turned out to be, leading to cast changes before the right element took place. While observing this particular entry, consisting of unfamiliar faces with a virtually unknown cast, only Dave O'Brien in the role of Knuckles went on to reprise his role in sequels, BOYS OF THE CITY and THAT GANG OF MINE, before his character was written out, as well as two additional entries in two different roles. Take notice that feature billing for EAST SIDE KIDS goes to Leon Ames, shortly before being type-casting in fatherly roles for MGM in the 1940s, 1950s, as well as on television, making both his rare lead performance and minus his mustache.
As in most cases pertaining to Monogram programmers, production values for EAST SIDE KIDS are limited and tight editing a bit clumsy. The only benefit of creativity to take place comes from its opening sequence as camera captures the East Side Kids from an upward position as they look downward shooting dice onto the sidewalk, the sidewalk being the camera. While this method has been done before, it's still quite impressive filmmaking.
Formerly shown on commercial television prior to the 1980s during the weekend morning or early afternoon broadcasts of such named presentations as "East Side Comedy" (New York City edition) EAST SIDE KIDS, distributed to video cassette and later DVD, premiered September 13, 2004, on Turner Classic Movies as part of its own "East Side Kids" series marathon. Sequel" BOYS OF THE CITY (1940) featuring soon to be series regulars (namely Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey and Sunshine Sammy Morrison). While there are those who still feel this not part of the "East Side Kids" series (1940-1945), this is where it all began before being revamped to the longer running film series of "The Bowery Boys" (1946-1958) (**)