The original members of the 'Dead End Kids' were now working at several studios, so these films were made at the same time that Universal was making 'The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys' series.
A total of twenty-one films were made, with the final one, Come Out Fighting, being released in 1945.
The main characters were Terrence Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney (Leo Gorcey), Horace Debussy "Sach" Jones (Huntz Hall), Whitey (Billy Benedict), Chuck (David Gorcey, sometimes billed as David Condon), and Butch (usually Bennie Bartlett, occasionally former East Side Kid Buddy Gorman). The proprietor of the malt shop where they hung out was the panicky Louie Dumbrowski (Bernard Gorcey, Leo and David's father). Perhaps to emphasize they were no longer teenagers, the "boys" now wore suits; and their mothers, who appeared in some of the "East Side Kids" series were no longer seen.
Like the previous incarnations of the team, the members went through a number of changes over the course of the series. Thirteen actors were members of the team at one time or another. Bobby Jordan, an original Dead End Kid, appeared in the first eight films, but left after being injured in an elevator accident. Jordan was also unhappy with the direction of the series, which favored Gorcey and Hall, excluding the rest of the cast. "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison (aka "Scruno" in the East Side Kids films), declined the invitation to rejoin the gang and took a long hiatus from acting.
Gabriel Dell returned in the fourth entry, Spook Busters (1946) as "Gabe Moreno," a former member of the gang just out of the Navy with a French war-bride in tow. He remained (minus spouse) for the next 16 features. Gabe was a convenient "utility" character, frequently changing jobs (private investigator, policeman, reporter) to suit the story at hand — and the limited casting budget. He reprised one of his East Side Kids roles in Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947), playing Gabe as a myopic nerd with thick glasses, ascot, and cap. His final appearance was in Blues Busters in 1950, generally regarded as one of the funniest in the series.
The early films such as In Fast Company (1946) flirted with the same crime-drama laced with humor of the previous series, but they gradually shifted to all-out comedy, growing more slapstick and fantasy-oriented over the next decade. After 1950 the series began to resemble the farcical Abbott and Costello comedies—a far cry from the grim social realism of their 1930s films. The grittiness of the old days was sanitized (the gang's dingy basement club-house was now an ice cream parlor).
The team spirit of the ensemble cast faded as Huntz Hall was elevated to co-star status to showcase his comedic skills. The stories now focused entirely on the Slip and Sach characters, with the diminished three or four "boys" receding into the background with little or nothing to do. Time and again the plot revolved around Sach accidentally acquiring some strange power or ability (he becomes a psychic, champion wrestler, crooner, etc.) that Slip is quick to exploit. Old plot devices from their earlier films (haunted houses, mad scientists, nefarious spies) were trotted out and reworked as the ever-profitable series chugged along.
Like a streetwise Abbott and Costello, Gorcey and Hall became a cohesive comedy duo, extending their verbal and physical humor into broader slapstick comedy that served to increase the popularity of the series. In 1953 a new producer and director transformed the series into lucrative kiddie-matinée fodder, with Gorcey and Hall re-enacting gags borrowed from The Three Stooges. (Huntz Hall cited Shemp Howard, who did three Little Tough Guys films, as a major influence during this latter phase in the series.)
Leo's character "Slip" was famed for his malaprops (always delivered in a Brooklyn accent, such as "a clever seduction" for "a clever deduction," "I depreciate it!" ("I appreciate it!"), and "I regurgitate" ("I reiterate").
As the series wore on, the writers appear to have drawn more than a little inspiration from the hugely successful Abbott and Costello films. In the 1940s, Abbott & Costello did a quartet of "service comedies" for each branch of the military. The Bowery Boys duplicated this feat a decade later with Bowery Battalion, Let's Go Navy!, Here Come the Marines, and Clipped Wings. Abbott and Costello spoofed westerns: Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), the upper-classes: In Society (1944), and hillbillies: Comin' Round the Mountain (1951). The Bowery Boys repeated this formula in Bowery Buckaroos (1947), High Society (1955), and Feudin' Fools (1952), respectively.
Abbott and Costello went on safari: Africa Screams (1949), to the Middle East: Lost in a Harem (1944), and even tangled with pirates in Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952). Once again, the Bowery Boys followed suit with Jungle Gents (1954), Bowery to Bagdad (1955), and Hold That Hypnotist (1957).
After Abbott and Costello's haunted-house comedy Hold That Ghost (1941) became a smash hit, the East Side Kids released the similar Spooks Run Wild with Bela Lugosi later that year. Ironically, Lugosi went on to help make Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein one of A&C's most popular and critically-acclaimed comedies. The basic premise—Dracula schemes to transplant Costello's brain into the Frankenstein monster (played by Glenn Strange)—was duplicated a few months later by The Bowery Boys in Master Minds (1949). Glenn Strange once again plays a hulking monster who switches minds with Sach (Huntz Hall).
After filming Dig That Uranium in 1955, Bernard Gorcey was killed in an automobile accident, devastating his son Leo. Leo drank heavily, and it visibly affected his performance in the following film, Crashing Las Vegas, which would be his last. (During filming he became violently unhinged, trashing the set and destroying every prop in sight.) At a subsequent meeting with Allied Artists, Gorcey demanded an increase on the 40% interest he held in the series. This was denied, and after a heated exchange he quit the series and stormed off the studio lot.
The studio owed exhibitors three more films for the 1956 season, so Gorcey was replaced by Stanley Clements, a former tough-teen actor who had been in a few East Side Kids movies. Clements, as "Duke Coveleskie," adapted to the series easily and completed the three films, which now starred "Huntz Hall and The Bowery Boys." The new Hall-Clements partnership was successful enough to be renewed for the 1957 season. Four more films were made, with Eddie LeRoy joining the cast as bespectacled "Blinky."
In all, there were 48 Bowery Boys films (the longest feature-film series in motion picture history), with the final film, In the Money, being released in 1958. Only Huntz Hall and David Gorcey had remained with the series since 1946.
The Bowery Boys and East Side Kids picked up a new generation of mostly younger fans when the films were repackaged and syndicated for television in the 1960s and '70s. They became a staple for independent stations across the U.S., often used to fill up the early-afternoon time-slots on weekends. In 1967 The Beatles even paid homage by selecting pictures of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall for the photo-montage cover of their celebrated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. (The Gorcey photo was removed after Gorcey's agent demanded a $400 payment for use of his image.)
|1946||In Fast Company|
|1947||Hard Boiled Mahoney|
|1949||Hold That Baby!|
|1949||Angels in Disguise|
|1951||Let's Go Navy!|
|1951||Crazy Over Horses|
|1952||Hold That Line|
|1952||Here Come the Marines|
|1952||No Holds Barred|
|1953||Loose in London|
|1954||The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters|
|1955||Bowery to Bagdad|
|1956||Dig That Uranium|
|1956||Crashing Las Vegas||Last film with Leo Gorcey|
|1956||Fighting Trouble||First film with Stanley Clements|
|1957||Hold That Hypnotist|
|1957||Looking for Danger|
|1957||Up in Smoke|
|1958||In the Money|