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The Bowery Boys are still entertaining us

The Bowery Boys
The Bowery BoysWarner Archive

From 1946 to 1958, The Bowery Boys averaged four comedy films a year for Monogram/Allied Artists. The most famous of the Bowery Boys were Leo Gorcey as Terence Aloysius “Slip” Mahoney and Huntz Hall as Horace Debussy “Sach” Jones. Fans of the movie series will also remember Gabriel Dell as Gabe, Billy Benedict as Whitey, Bobby Jordan as Bobby, Gorcey’s brother David as Chuck and father Bernard as long-suffering ice cream shop owner Louie Dumbrowski.

While filmed in Hollywood, the series was set in the lower section of Manhattan known as The Bowery. The plots were usually simple. In the earlier films, the Bowery Boys often attempted to right some wrong in the neighborhood, while later in the series, Sach would sometimes accidentally acquire a power such as mind-reading or smelling diamonds that Slip would then try to turn into a money-making enterprise. Over 13 years and 48 movies, the Bowery Boys battled gangsters, tussled with mad scientists, tangled with ghosts and monsters, spent time in jail and joined all four branches of the armed forces. Their home base was Louie’s Sweet Shop, where they indulged in sodas and sundaes, driving Louie into apoplexy with their endless moronic schemes and their constant inability to pay their tab. Most of the laughs in the films came from Gorcey’s mangling of the English language (‘That’s a clever seduction on your part’) and Hall’s ability to ad-lib comedy out of almost nothing.

The Bowery Boys are rarely mentioned in discussions of great comedy teams. Even their best films, such as Trouble Makers (1948) or Blues Busters (1950), could not be called comedy classics. They were never meant to be anything more than fun little movies aimed at a general audience. Even when the scripts let them down, Gorcey and Hall could make a film enjoyable through the force of their personalities. After Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis had all disbanded, The Bowery Boys were still plugging away, making movie audiences laugh well into the late fifties. Now being made available on DVD on demand by Warner Archive, the Bowery Boys continue to live on in the 21st Century. As Slip Mahoney might say, ‘It’s a miracle of technocracy!’