An improvement over Hot Shots, due to a more committed Huntz Hall, Hold That Hypnotist revisits various Bowery Boys plots, especially that of Ghost Chasers, as Duke tries to prove that a popular hypnotist is a fake. The hypnotist fails to put Duke under his spell, but Sach is accidentally hypnotized and regresses back to a a past life when he was a colonial tax collector named Algie Wilkes (stick with me). In a marvelous flashback scene, Algie wins a treasure map from Blackbeard the Pirate, so the film revolves around both the crooked hypnotist and his gang and the boys themselves trying to locate the map and the treasure.
Hall brings his A-Game to the movie, making it good for some solid laughs. Yet, three films into the post-Leo Gorcey era, it is still hard not to notice how little anybody else is contributing, and although I like actor Stanley Clements, I find myself increasingly irritated with his character of Duke. Who is the guy who is yelling at Sach and running the gang? Who got drunk, quit the series and made him king?
Oh, yeah. Leo Gorcey.
Spook Chasers is a painfully unfunny and loud haunted house comedy that truly makes me wish the series had ended with Leo Gorcey's exit after Crashing Las Vegas. There's no reason to say anything about the plot - just assume that there's a house, there's some hidden money, and there's some gangsters. What concerns me more is why they thought that it would be perfectly fine to bring back the Louie's Sweet Shop set, hand it over to character actor Percy Helton, call it "Clancy's Cafe" and pretend that everything was just like the old days. Percy Helton was a popular character actor with a mousy face and a wheezy voice and While I respect his long career, and had no problem with him in the earlier Bowery Boys film Jail Busters but I simply cannot take him in large doses, and Spook Chasers features Helton in a very large dose. Suffice to say, this actor used to scare me as a kid. He is no substitute for Bernard Gorcey.
As can be gleaned from above, the plot of Spook Chasers is a rehash of Abbott and Costello's Hold That Ghost, as well as every other Bowery Boys haunted house comedy, and there is nothing in it that we haven't seen a thousand times before in far funnier films like, oh, Hold That Ghost. There's much banging, clanging, crashing, screaming and running around in an effort to substitute action and sound for real gags. Although I have defended Stanley Clements as an actor in other reviews, he is just a placeholder. There is nothing intrinsically amusing about him (he's not funny looking like Leo and Huntz), and despite a couple of laugh lines here and there, he seems to exist solely to yell things like "I'll break your head!" at Sach. Unlike Bud Abbott or Dean Martin, Clements is not a natural straightman for his screen partner. He has no timing or talent at reigning Huntz Hall in, which is unfortunate, given his fine rapport with Carl Switzer in Going My Way years earlier. If his character of Duke was more like an adult Tony Scaponi, the fast-talking, affable wiseguy with a good heart, he might have fit in better with Hall. But Duke is strictly one-dimensional. Sach says or does something, and Duke threatens him with violence.
This is one of those rare films where Huntz Hall tries so hard to get laughs, he is irritating rather than amusing. While there are a few funny Sach lines and gags here and there, for the most part Hall misses the mark. Reviving the character of Blinky, played by Gabe Dell in the final East Side Kids film Come Out Fighting and by Eddie LeRoy here does nothing to help.
NOTE: As friend, actor and Bowery Boys fan Derek Taylor Shayne noted, Percy Helton would have been perfect as Scabbers, or, more to the point, Peter Pettigrew, in the Harry Potter films. A more mouselike character actor never existed!
Looking for Danger, a so-so Bowery Boys comedy, is yet another attempt to pretend that everything is just as it always was. Once again, the film begins with the Boys hanging out on the Louie's Sweet Shop set, now Clancy's Cafe with Dick Elliot replacing Percy Helton as Mike. Toward the end of the film, Chuck, Myron and Blinky are called in to rescue Sach and Duke from the clutches of the Nazis, the way Chuck and Butch used to come in at the end of films to take care of the fighting. At one point, Duke even calls out "Routine 29!". Most ridiculously, the caricatures of Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey have returned to the opening credits, except that Gorcey's caricature has been altered in a vague attempt at making it look like somebody else. Who, I don't know. It may be Stanley Clements, but it looks nothing like him.
Clements and Hall even reprise one of the best Bowery Boys routines, the one where Sach gets so caught up in being slapped around and interrogated, he throws the interrogator in the chair and begins slapping him around. The scene was inspired in Private Eyes, but it falls flat in Looking for Danger, due to a lack of commitment to the material. In the film's favor is one of the best gags the team ever executed, in which a government agent tracks down Duke after many years and mentions some missing army property, and the Boys immediately produce an entire cache of stuff they've hoarded over the years.
As the film takes place in flashback, Stanley Clements takes over the narration duties that used to go to Leo Gorcey. In one way, we may be grateful that they didn't load Clements dialog with malaprops, as it would simply remind us that Slip is no longer around. On the other hand, we expect the narration of a Bowery Boys films to contain some laugh, and Clements is given almost nothing funny to say.
The real trouble with Looking for Danger, aside from the usual Stanley Clements not being Leo Gorcey problem, is the same problem with the interrogation scene: a lack of commitment. Almost everybody, from the boys themselves down to the supporting cast, seems to be just collecting a paycheck but not putting their all into their parts. There are no real memorable performances from anybody, including the Boys.
A definite improvement over the last few film, Up in Smoke benefits from character actor Byron Foulger's pitch perfect portrayal of The Devil, who appears when Sach says he would sell his soul for a winning horse. The film is not overly funny, although it does has several good routines in it. It also lacks, as do all of these post-Leo Gorcey films, a sense of real teamwork and comeradery. Still, Foulger's work alone makes this one of the better late Bowery Boys pictures, and the plot and its various twists make up somewhat for the lack of big laughs.
What sets things up nicely is that Sach is not being unselfish when he sells his soul for money. The boys have been collecting donations for a young kid with polio, and on his way to the bank, Sach is tricked by crooked bookies into losing the money. So his quest for a winning horse is merely to pay back the money he lost and win more for the kid. Mr. Bub takes full advantage of this and doesn't care one whit if Sach keeps blowing opportunities to bet on on each day's race - all Bub cares about his after the final race of the week, he will collect Sach's soul. It's a nifty plot and one that a Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges could have had marvelous fun with. Here, we have William Beaudine back at the helm, and there is no chance of this being a screwball classic.
Still, there are a couple of scenes that stand out. Sach attempting to sell the gang's jalopy to a shady used car dealer is nicely played (Sach winds up getting a dime for it) and a trip to the psychiatrist's office means another encounter with Fritz Feld, who for a few moments winds up on the couch himself being analyzed by Sach. Mr. Bub's appearances vary in unexpected ways - he even shows up once as a talking monkey. Although a bit forced, the way Sach gets out of his contract works neatly and sets up a good gag in the end where Mr. Bub winds up working at Mike Clancy's Cafe!
Two years earlier, with Edward Bernds behind the camera, a Bernds and Ullman script and the real Bowery Boys in the cast, Up In Smoke might have been one of their best films. It is clear now that by 1957, their best films were behind them. However, judged on its own and not against the better films of the past, Up in Smoke works fairly well.
It's quite impressive that the Bowery Boys series lasted until
1958. Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers were
retired from the screen by 1958, while both Abbott and Costello and
Martin and Lewis had disbanded by 1956. The golden age of comedy teams was
coming to a close, but the Bowery Boys were still right there at the end.
It would have been nice if The Bowery Boys ended their career with one of their best films, but by this time, that would have been too much to expect. We can be thankful that they did go out with an energetic little comedy that contains just enough of Huntz Hall's patented silliness to make it an average Bowery Boys film. Sach is hired to be the bodyguard of a dog named Gloria who is being transported to England. Unbeknownst to him, the dog is being used by its owners to smuggle diamonds, hidden in a false pelt of fur concealed on her body.
There's some half-hearted and obvious slapstick here and there, but the main humor comes from Hall's lines and a couple of good sight gags. Surprisingly, this final Bowery Boys film contains one of my favorite Sach lines, a beautifully thrown away "Please - come to my funeral" as he is being forced out a hotel room onto a window ledge. Perhaps the most distressing moment is when the writers give Stanley Clements a scene of dialog which contains several Leo Gorcey-like mangled words. It just doesn't work if it ain't Gorcey doing it.
Although Hall often talked of plans of reviving the series in some way, and of making a new film with his old pal Leo Gorcey, In The Money , the 48th film in the series, was definitively the end of the Bowery Boys.
P.S. Early in the film, Sach is given a large wad of cash by the diamond smugglers. When he gets to Mike Clancy's Cafe, he pays off all the gang's debts. I can only imagine Louie Dumbrowski in Heaven seeing this and sputtering "That schlemiel! NOW he pays his bills!"