The first Bowery Boys release of 1948, Angel's Alley is an attempt to capture the spirit of the boys' past, when they were known to the public as "The Dead End Kids" and were appearing in films like Angels with Dirty Faces with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. There is also a joking reference to Leo McCarey's Oscar-winning film of 1944, Going My Way, a classic about a priest who, among other minor miracles, turns a group of Dead End Kid-like youths into a boys' choir. Unfortunately, Angel's Alley is a far cry from either Angels with Dirty Faces or Going My Way. Although it has a handful of nice scenes in which Gorcey gets to stretch his acting muscles a little, Angel's Alley is neither terribly funny nor heartwarming and is generally a misfire.
Still, it is worth sitting through for the few minutes where Sach tries to lift Slip's spirits by running through some of his latest imitations. As Slip finally brightens up and playfully hits Sach with his hat, you get the feeling - rare in this series - that these two people actually love and care about each other as friends. Gorcey and Hall's combined work is outstanding in this one scene, and Hall shows some sides of his talent that was not often exploited in the films. There are scenes, here and there, in the series that make you realize Huntz Hall was a very talented man well beyond his ability to play a lovable moron. This is one of them.
If you're wondering why Gabe Dell is not listed as a member of the boys, it's because he does not play his usual character "Gabe Moreno" in his one, but rather a small time crook named Ricky Moreno (the writers apparently didn't have the budget to change his last name!). Louie's Sweet Shop are missing altogether, and for some reason, Bernard Gorcey as Louie would only appear sporadically in the 1948 films.
Angel's Alley finishes with a gag that breaks the fourth wall in a similar fashion to gags in Marx Brothers or Hope and Crosby films where a character will reveal their knowledge of being in a movie. Although completely out of place in this particular film, it is the kind of ending gag The Bowery Boys would resort to occasionally to good effect.
The second Bowery Boys film of 1948 finds the gang in a fun and fast-paced gangster romp with an excellent supporting cast that includes Donald MacBride and Sheldon Leonard. Slip and Sach stumble across fifty thousand dollars, not knowing it belonged to a gangster who was killed after winning it in a poker game. The identity of the mysterious "umbrella killer" who is disposing of all the gangsters from the game is telegraphed early on, but who watches Bowery Boys comedies for the "who dunnit?" aspect? What's fun is the teamwork - even without Bobby Jordan. The best scene is when the boys take a trip to the bank, looking for all the world like bank robbers, check with the bank's president to see if the fifty thousand is real money, and then leave without even opening an account.
Gabriel Dell's "Gabe" character is officially back and has moved up in the world, working as a newspaper reporter. With Bobby Jordan now gone from the series, Bennie Bartlett, who played a car-stealing thug in Angel's Alley, was hired to play "Butch", a new character to help David "Chuck" Gorcey fill out the background behind Gorcey and Hall, while Billy "Whitey" Benedict, playing a character possibly even dumber than Sach, got a little more screen time. Neither the younger Gorcey nor Bartlett would ever get much to do in these films, and you can usual count the number of lines they get per film on the knuckles of two fingers. Overall, they helped fill up the screen and give the illusion that the Bowery Boys was a bigger team than they actually were.
SLIP OF THE LIP
"Hey, not bad. Not bad at all. I might even say it's a little promiscuous."
THOSE KIDS'LL DRIVE ME CRAZY!
The boys find fifty thousand dollars, pledge twenty thousand of it to charity, and still don't pay Louie the measly five bucks they owe him! (Louie does take things into his own hands, literally, just before the fadeout. Good for him!)
Slip mistakenly believes he has fallen heir to Mahoney Manor, and discovers a load of smugglers in the hidden walls and tunnels of his new abode.
Smuggler's Cove is a fun, somewhat minor entry in the Bowery Boys series, but one that is greatly enhanced in its later moments by the performance of Paul Harvey, who had already appeared with the Bowery Boys in their second film In Fast Company. As in that film, Harvey seems to be having a load of fun clowning around with the boys in this otherwise average "haunted house" comedy.
Moving further up in the world, Gabe is now a private eye. Meanwhile, Mr. Louie Dumbrowski is nowhere to be seen in this film.
SLIP OF THE LIP
"I don't like to sound arbitrary, Gabe, but from now on when you talk to me, you'll be undressing a wealthy man!"
A SACH IN TIME
"If I'm not careful, I'll become stupid!"
So far, William Beaudine had been in control of the Bowery Boys films, making some winners, some average pictures and at least one misfire. He was a proficient and prolific director who had worked so much with the Bowery Boys when they were the East Side Kids, he was a natural choice to continue with them in their new phase.
Yet Reginald Le Borg, not William Beaudine, directed Trouble Makers, and it is a few notches above most Beaudine-Bowery collaborations. Terrifically paced, fast-moving and slick, it has the feel of a good early Abbott and Costello comedy like Hold That Ghost or Who Done it, with Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall standing in for Abbott and Costello, Gabe Dell and and Helen Parrish standing in as the love interests, and a swell cast of supporting players matching just about any supporting cast Abbott and Costello ever had at Universal. Perhaps because this was the first time Le Borg had worked with the Bowery Boys in any incarnation, he could approach the films with a fresh, creative eye. Whatever the reason, Trouble Makers was one of best Bowery Boys films to date.
The story, which could have worked for Abbott and Costello, has Slip, Sach and the (woefully underused) boys hustling up nickels in the streets by selling peeks through a telescope. In the course of their work, they accidentally see a murder on the 20th floor of a fancy hotel a few blocks away. Gabe, now a rookie cop (Gabe was nothing if not occupationally mobile), helps them investigate the scene of the crime but they find no clues and no body (or no "corpus delicious" as Slip says), so Slip and Sach become bellboys at the hotel to facilitate a more thorough investigation. There they tangle with chief suspect Silky Thomas (John Ridgely), his old gangster pal Hatchet Moran (Lionel Stander) and easily perturbed hotel manager Andre Schmidlapp (Fritz Feld).
Frank Darro, an actor whose career went back to the silent days, had already played Slip's cousin Jimmy in Angel's Alley and would reappear in the Bowery Boys next two films, Fighting Fools and Hold That Baby!. Buddy Gorman, who had appeared in several East Side Kids films, had been popping up in small parts since Angel's Alley and would work his way through several Bowery Boys films such as this to eventually become a full-fledged Bowery Boy, temporarily taking over from Bennie Bartlett in the the role of Butch.
SCHTICK 'EM UP
"I did everything I could to save him. I even gave
him artificial respiration."
"Artificial respiration? You could have at least given him the real thing!"
"Yeah, no wonder he's dead!"
IT'S ALL ROUTINE
One of the most memorable bits of business the Bowery Boys used in their films was "The Routine". Not a comedy routine, but a plan of action. When cornered by gangsters or other bad guys, Slip would have a line like "Routine five, fellas", and the boys would launch into a pre-planned fight maneuver to facilitate escape.