Tuesday, April 13, 2010

East Side Kids vs Fifth Column Propagandists

This post is part of my month-long observance of the 65th anniversary of the Nazi Germany's defeat in WW2.

Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
Starring: Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Sammy Morrison, Bobby Jordan, Billy Benedict, Bobby Stone, Ava Gardner and Bela Lugosi
Director: William Beaudine
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When a gang of inner-city kids decide to fix up a house as their gift to a newly wed couple, they run afoul a cell of Nazi propagandists covertly working out of a purportedly haunted house next door. Hi-jinx ensue.

I suppose I might have liked this movie if I was more familiar with the characters. I've seen listings for numerous "East Side Kids" movies, and I understand they are a spin-off from an early feature. Perhaps with a clearer understanding of who these kids are, I'd find them a little less annoying and a little more interesting.

As it is, I only got some mild chuckles out of this picture, mostly because almost every character is dumb beyond words. But it's not a funny kind of dumb like what you get from an Abbott & Costello or Mel Brooks picture, but rather a brain-hurting "I can't believe anyone can be that stupid" sort of dumb. I get the feeling the writers expected the audience to be amused first at the industriousness of the boys, then at their hijinx in the "haunted house", and then at the back and forth as they fight against the Fifth Columnists.

Speaking of the Fifth Columnists, if infiltrators and sabateurs were as stupid as the ones in this film, no espionage or terrorist rings would be able to function. Sure, these dastardly villains had invested a lot of time and money in making their hideout seem haunted, but once discovered they could either have a) stayed safely in their hidden room until the activity died down, or b) carried their printing press and papers out the secret tunnel and to the far end of the back yard where no one would have seen it until a truck could be brought in to take it away. But, if they'd been smart, there wouldn't have been a movie.

These Nazi agents aren't even particularly sinister, even if they are led by Bela Lugosi. In fact, Lugosi is wasted more here than in any other film I've seen him in, except perhaps the 1940s version of "The Black Cat."

Unless you're the world's biggest fan of the East End Kids, this is a movie you can skip. The only other reason to possibly see this movie is for the moment when Bela Lugosi puts William Beaudine's reputation for never doing more than one take a scene to the test. During one of the film's gags, Lugosi utters a four letter word ("shit"), partially masked by a sneeze. Beaudine nonetheless stayed true to his nickname of "One Shot" and Lugosi's obscene language was immortalized for the ages.

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