I finished the second draft of Uncharted Territory Friday. Normally, Maureen and I would celebrate by going out for dinner and maybe going to a show. All that is gone now, of course. The world has become too dangerous, so I looked for another way to mark the occasion. And I found it. During my early days, back in the 1940s, I was a big fan of comedians who performed in the movies. That included Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, especially when they were going up against Frankenstein or the Wolf Man; the Three Stooges; and Bob Hope. Hope teamed up with Bing Crosby for the Road pictures, which I thought were hysterical. My favorite Hope film, though, was The Paleface, in which he plays a cowardly dentist (portraying cowards was Hope’s specialty) who combines with, and is regularly rescued by, Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) to take out the bad guys.
Another group from the 1940s, which has almost disappeared, was the Bowery Boys, who were also the East Side Kids. They were led by Leo Gorcey. And I got lucky. TCM ran one of their films earlier this week. I’d recorded it and had it ready to go as part of my celebration, which would also include a couple of hot dogs and a coca cola.
I didn’t expect much. I’d lost touch with American humor when I discovered British comedy in the 1950s. That started with The Green Man, starring Alistair Sim and Terry-Thomas. Sim portrayed the mad bomber of London, who only “took down those who desperately needed taking down.” I’ve rephrased that a bit. Can’t recall the exact words. He started his career by bombing his headmaster. It was a different kind of humor, unlike anything I’d seen before.
I got hooked on British comedies. Their approach was dry and clever and just more effective than the fall-down humor we got from the Stooges. The St. Trinian films also won me over. There are at least three of them. St. Trinian’s is a girls’ school, whose headmistress is portrayed again by Alistair Sim. At other girls’ schools, he tells us, the students are reminded that they need to look out for the wicked old world. “But here at St. Trinian’s, it’s the wicked old world that better look out.” In one film, the boyfriend of one of the girls is kidnapped by Middle East terrorists. The British army is sent in to do a rescue, but they have to retreat. So, ultimately, the girls are sent in.
There’s a multitude of other dazzling films. The Ladykillers, with Alec Guinness, portrays a group of thugs saddled with trying to eliminate a gentle old woman. (I haven’t seen the American version.) And, in The Man in the White Suit, Terry-Thomas devises a cloth that will stay clean and pressed no matter how it’s treated, and thereby unexpectedly threatens the entire clothing industry.
Other films include School for Scoundrels, again with Terry-Thomas; and The Lavender Hill Mob with Guinness.
Consequently when I sat down yesterday to watch the Bowery Boys film, Spooks Run Wild, I wasn’t really expecting much other than a time travel experience. But Bela Lugosi, who was Dracula in those years, was in it. And the movie did take me back. I watched Muggs and Slip and the others flee a monster killer in a remote house. It’s a 1941 movie, so the technology is weak. But there were some surprises and a lot of laughs. In the end I came out of it remembering why I’d always enjoyed the Bowery Boys.