In 1955, The Bowery Boys finally returned to the hard-hitting social realism of their Dead End Kids days... just kidding.... in this one, Slip and Sach make friends with a magic genie. Almost had you fooled, eh?
Bowery to Bagdad is yet another completely carefree, silly comedy far removed from anything that could plausibly happen in real life. Sach finds a lamp right at the moment that gangsters show up to scare Louie into selling the Sweet Shop and two turbaned gentleman from Persia arrive in The Bowery in search of the lamp. Needless to say, everybody wants the lamp, but Slip and Sach get the last laugh by wishing that the genie only answer to them.
Veteran character actor Eric Blore plays the genie and, aside from the boys themselves, he is the best thing in the film. Blore had worked in two films for Preston Sturges, was a fixture in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, and supported, among others, Laurel and Hardy (Swiss Miss), Hope and Crosby (Road to Zanzibar) and The Marx Brothers (Love Happy). As author Leonard Getz says in his book From Broadway to the Bowery, Monogram (now Allied Artists) was a place for up and coming talent but also for actors on their way down. After playing "the genius of the lamp", as Slip Mahoney calls him throughout Bowery to Bagdad, Blore essentially retired from the screen.
Director Edward Bernds and writer Elwood Ullman once again dig into
their bag of Three Stooges tricks and fill the film with some great
slapstick. Surprisingly it is the gangsters, not the boys, who are
turned in to Moe, Larry and Curly, with one of the film's running gags
being the various ways two lower gangsters manage to accidentally
smash head gangster (Robert Bice) in the face and head with
various doors and household objects. Actress Joan Shawlee, no
comedy slouch herself, has fun in her part as one of the
- gotta love a beautiful woman willing to take a banana cream pastry
right in the face! While Eric Blore's best roles were behind
Shawlee's were ahead of her. She will always be remembered as
"Sweet Sue" in Billy Wilder's classic Some
Like It Hot, and television fans will recall her
sporadic appearances in The Abbott and
Costello Show and The
Dick Van Dyke Show. She had previously appeared
with the Bowery Boys in 1953's Loose
in London, in a small, uncredited role.
The opening scene of the boys running a garage is reminiscent of the first reel of many of Three Stooges short (Edward Bernds had a hand in the story), where Moe, Larry and Curly or Shemp are in charge of some business until they get a telegram telling them Curly (or Shemp) has inherited a ranch or something, and then they're off for the final ten minutes doing something completely different. Sure enough in High Society, after the first ten minutes or so, Sach is approached by a lawyer who tells him he is the rightful heir to a fortune, and we bid goodbye to the garage for the rest of the story until the film's denouement.
Of course, this being a Bowery Boys film, the lawyer is a crook (or "ook-cray" in pig latin) and the Joneses that Sach, Slip and Louie go to live with are simply trying to steal a fortune away from young Terwilliger Jones by claiming Sach is the true heir to the Debussy Jones fortune. Then they plan to bump Sach off. Why they just can't bump off the kid and steal the fortune, I really don't know, but this is a Bowery Boys plot, where logic is seldom welcome. What matters is that there is good comedy throughout, with a nice chemistry developed amongst the Hall and Gorcey and actors Ronald Keith and Gavin Gordon, who play the young master and his butler. There's a scene where everybody winds up being attacked by fleas, there's a Liberace parody, there's a couple of Sach as Harpo moments (eating a plate, opening a safe that turns out to be a television, like the radio Harpo accidentally turns on in Duck Soup) --- in short, there's lot of good stuff in this one, including Paul Harvey showing up late in the film as the family banker and getting in a good shot at Sach about his looks.
When the crooks are exposed and Terwilliger Jones is once again instated as the heir to the fortune, it's back to the garage for one or two more gags, and a very good Bowery Boys film comes to an end.
There's a great story about
High Society and the
Oscars: in 1955, there were two films named High
Society - this one, and a musical starring Bing Crosby,
Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly..
meant to nominate the musical for Best Story, but due to a
mix up, they nominated the Bowery Boys film instead. The
writers graciously removed the film from consideration, but
life, Huntz Hall admitted that if it were up to him, he would not have
made that decision. Hall had a point even if he didn't
- the Bowery Boys film had an original plot (or as original as a Bowery
Boys film could get), while the musical borrowed its story
the classic The Philadelphia Story.
The exiled King of Truania, now in New York, wants to use Louie's Sweet Shop as a secret message center. Greater countries have fallen for lesser mistakes than this!
The twist in this film is that Louie's brother Felix is the commanding general in the Truanian army, and Truania is apparently Louie's birthplace. This does not coincide with what we earlier knew about Louie, but then again, in one film he said he had never been married and then in another he was married to Jodi Gilbert, so contuinity has never been a real issue from film to film. We never get to see Louie's brother Felix, which is a shame because Bernard Gorcey could have had some fun playing another character besides Louie.
For a poverty row studio, Monogram / Allied Artists occasionally displayed an uncanny knack for casting sometimes, being able to get stars and non-stars on their way up and great character actors on their way down. The always welcome Sig Ruman plays the new King of Truania, and has a fun time (or pretends to) with Huntz Hall. Young starlet Lisa Davis hits all the right points in her role as the Princess of Truania, while luscious Veola Vaugh, a doppleganger of Sig Ruman's A Night in Casablanca co-star Lisette Verea, does a fine job as the film's femme fatale. These three cast members, plus the antics of the Boys themselves, make Spy Chasers yet another winner in a long run of winners.
SCHTICK E'M UP
"He's in this country, in cognito."
"In Cognito? That's a long way from here!
At long last, Chuck!
In an earth-shaking twist not seen in this series since Gabriel Dell was a cast member, one of the Bowery Boys has a legitimate job! Chuck, all dressed up in his "George Reeves as Clark Kent" suit, is an investigative reporter who, about five minutes into the film, gets beaten nearly to death in the prison where he is working undercover on a corruption scandal. The boys, being rock stupid, decide to sneak themselves into jail in order to find out what Chuck knew and when he knew it. Unfortunately for them, they soon learn that the agent supposedly helping them get into jail was crooked, and that they are legitimately in the slammer for robbery.
The best parts of this film,
aside from the fun of seeing Barton MacLane mix it up with the boys,
are Fritz Feld's scenes as a prison shrink who is driven to the brink
madness by the boys and their petty arguments during basket-weaving
sessions. Otherwise, although it is amusing, it is too much
like previous films, especially Triple
Trouble, to rank as one of the
better films of this era.