has the boys joining the army, is fast-paced and energetic, but not
terribly funny. Until the plot kicks in, the main thrust of the film
has the boys - Slip, Sach, Chuck and Butch - doing stupid things that
keep getting them throne in the brig. It has one decent
scene, a drill routine with a great payoff, but despite the presence of
two top notch straight men in Donald MacBride and Russell Hicks, Bowery Battalion is a
below-average Bowery Boys film.
A fun mish-mosh of various Bowery Boys elements including spooky goings on and good old-fashioned Angels Alley / Fighting Fools sentimentality, Ghost Chasers is an average Bowery Boys film unexpectedly lifted a notch or two by actor Lloyd Corrigan. In the film, the boys attempt to bring down a phony clairvoyant operation that controls all the spiritual mediums in the neighborhood, maybe not exactly a ripped from the headlines plot, but an original one anyway. Corrigan plays Edgar Alden Franklin Smith, a spirit from the days of the Pilgrims who has been sent down on a mission to do just the same. Naturally, Sach is the only one who can see him, a circumstance that makes the boys dubious of Sach's sanity and Louie dubious of his own. Corrigan brings charm to his role similar to that of Eric Blore in the later Bowery to Bagdad, and his character's multiple disappearances and reappearances drives Sach into a series of hysterical fits worthy of Lou Costello or Jerry Lewis. The film also makes good if sporadic use of the backbench of David Gorcey, Billy Benedict and Buddy Gorman, who all get a chance to contribute to the plot or the comedy in some way. By far, the best Bowery Boys film of 1951.
So now we come to what has to be the most poorly plotted Bowery Boys film yet. In an effort to find two sailors that robbed them of $1600 dollars, Slip, Sach and the boys willingly join the Navy. The trouble is, we learn pretty quickly that the two sailors aren't really sailors and aren't in the Navy at all. So we have an hour-plus movie in which the Boys are looking for antagonists we already know they will not find. The second we learn the robbers are not in the Navy, all of the Bowery Boys schtick is essentially turned into padding, until the plot can be wrapped up, on land, back at the Bowery in the closing moments.
The film, therefore, is essentially a two-reeler stretched to an hour. There are some good comic bits (Sach exchanging gibberish with a native islander), and some sequences you've seen before by other comedians but nevertheless done well (Paul Harvey is accidentally given soap to eat instead of cheese and begins spewing out bubbles). Huntz Hall runs through the film at top speed, hardly ever pausing to catch a breath. Sometimes he is quite amusing, other times you just want to grab his collar right through the screen and slap him. Just when you think he can't get any more overbearing, he acquires a parrot that can't stop talking either!
Hats off to Paul Harvey and Allen Jenkins for their yeoman work as straight men. Gorcey and Hall had appeared with Jenkins in their very first film, Dead End, thirteen years earlier, and Harvey, in his third film with the team, was by now practically an honorary Bowery Boy.
An example of a Bowery Boys film that is amusing in spite of itself, Crazy Over Horses takes a minor plot element from the Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races and turns what was an uninspired story for Groucho and his brothers into a repetitious mess for the Bowery Boys. The idea of switching race horses, which happened accidentally in the Marx's movie, takes up the bulk of the Bowery Boys film, with switches, double-switches, mistaken switches and purposeful non-switches, all to get the winning horse in the right hands. As in Races, the good guys (the comedians) want to win the race in order to pay off a debt and spoil the plans for the bad guys.
There are only a handful of ways to make switching horses funny, and screenwriter/actor Tim Ryan finds none of them. The horse-switching business stops being even faintly amusing after the first go 'round, and yet it goes on and on, being as much padding as the "let's find the sailors" business was in Let's Go Navy!. There is even a rare scene of racial humor where Chuck and Butch entice a black stable hand into leaving his post by pretending to play a game of craps, and a few scenes later, Sach shows up in blackface to confuse the stable hand even further. This kind of humor was more prevalent in the East Side Kids comedies, and it is unfortunate that it raises its head again here in the Bowery Boys movies.
However, all is not lost. If you can get past the tiresome horse-switching stuff, there is some funny stuff going on in Crazy Over Horses, most of it emanating from Huntz Hall and Bernard Gorcey. It's nothing they've never done before, and Hall is once again a little too aggressive in the first part of the movie, but both men provide enough decent laughs to make Crazy Over Horses sitting through despite the endlessly repetitious non-storyline.
The film is historically interesting in several ways. As seen above, it is the first Bowery Boys film to feature caricatures of Slip and Sach instead of a montage of New York City in the opening credits. It also marks the return of Bennie Bartlett as Butch, taking over for Buddy Gorman, who took over for Bennie Bartlett a few films back. The difference is minimal, although it can be argued (and has been by me) that Gorman brought more personality to the role.
In Crazy Over Horses, David Gorcey is officially billed as "David Condon" for the first time, Condon being his mother's maiden name. The name change did not do anything to help his Bowery Boys career, which still consisted mostly of standing behind older brother Leo and Huntz Hall and pretending to look like he cared about what was going on. He would rarely get any shining moments in the Bowery Boys series, yet comedy aficionados will always remember him for one classic gag in the middling Abbott and Costello vehicle Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, released the previous year. In the film's funniest moment, Costello is seeing mirages and comes upon newsboy David Gorcey selling newspapers. When asked by Lou what he is doing selling papers in the middle of the desert, Gorcey replies "Can I help it if they gave me a bad corner?"
Most importantly, Crazy Over Horses was the final Bowery Boys film for William "Whitey" Benedict. Although in a 1993 interview, Benedict said that he got along well with all his fellow Bowery Boys, he left the series because of "in-fighting" and emotional stress. Of all the losses to the gang's lineup, Benedict's was probably the one that changed things the most. Not only was he a good comic, but the character of Whitey brought an extra dimension to Huntz Hall's Sach. In many films, Sach treats Whitey like his best friend, and when Whitey isn't around, Sach is forever talking about him ("Ooh! I gotta tell my friend Whitey about this!"). Despite the previous defections of Bobby Jordan and Gabe Dell, the Bowery Boys films still often felt like a team effort with Whitey around. From now on, Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey would be the whole show, even with David Gorcey and Bennie Bartlett still in reserve (they still got little to do!). There would be funny films to come, even some of the Bowery Boys' best as the series continued to progress toward pure comedy, but the feeling of comradery amongst the gang would never be the same.
SCHTICK 'EM UP
"I don't sell horse meat!"
"Don't yell 'Fire!'. The hamburger'll beat you to the door."