A young New Yorker suddenly develops the ability to predict the future. Sensing a financial opportunity, his friends set him up as an act at a local fairground. His abilities attract press coverage but also bring him to the attention of an eccentric scientist, who is experimenting with mind swapping…
Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall got their big break as part of the gang of neighbourhood delinquents in William Wyler’s big hit ‘Dead End’ (1937) which also provided an early role for Humphrey Bogart. From there, they moved through a series of second feature comedies in various screen ‘gangs’ including the Dead End Kids, the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys (although Gorcey passed on them, handing the reins to his brother, David!) The boys also jumped from studio to studio (allegedly due to bad behaviour) and, although membership was via a revolving door, Gorcey and Huntz remained fairly constant participants.
By the early 1950’s, the duo were working for legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman but, after a dispute over money (no surprise there!), Gorcey walked and took Huntz with him. They formed their own production company and, despite being in their late twenties by this time, carried on regardless as ‘The Bowery Boys’, releasing an incredible 48 pictures in just 13 years! Originally, the ‘boys’ contained several of players from previous groups, mostly notably Bobby Jordan. However, by the time this film rolled around, Gorcey and Huntz were essentially a double act, here backed up by William Benedict, Bennie Bartlett and (inevitably) David Gorcey.
Hall is the hapless ’Satch’ who suddenly develops the power of foresight thanks to a bad toothache! ln what is probably the film’s only original idea, the boys feed him lots of candy to bring on his hypnotic trances. Unfortunately, in the crowd at a show one night is mad scientist Dr Druzik (Alan Napier) and his sidekick Otto (William Yetter). Napier is keeping a prehistoric man (Glenn Strange) in his spooky mansion and decides a mind transfer with Hall is just what the big lug needs. Essentially, this is a formulaic ‘old dark house’ mystery with a little bit of horror and science-fiction thrown in for good measure. The plot owes more than a slight debt to Universal Studios’ hit comedy ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948), especially as Strange appeared in that film as the Monster.
Actually, for the first twenty minutes or so, this is surprisingly entertaining for what it is. Gorcey’s spouts his trademark malapropisms, Huntz is the willing clown, and the action moves at a fair clip. Unfortunately, after the gang reach Napier’s dusty old mansion, the film simply runs out of plot and resorts to lots of predictable genre clichés. The cast creep around in dark passageways, get hit over the head in cases of mistaken identity, and are constantly confused by Hall’s weird ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ like behaviour. The only real surprise is that no-one pops up in a gorilla costume! Perhaps Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan was busy that weekend.
There are compensations in the supporting cast, however. Napier was a distinguished British stage actor who had worked extensively with Orson Welles and found fame late in life as Adam West’s butler Alfred on the classic ‘Batman’ TV show. Here, he genuinely seems to be having fun as the mad doctor, although it could be that he was just acting, of course. Still, what a surgical team he has! Nurse Jane Adams had previous form passing the forceps for mad doctor Onslow Stevens in Universal’s ‘House of Dracula’ (1945) and Skelton Knaggs brought the chills to dozens of low-budget horror and mystery programmers with his unforgettable face and line delivery.
Also slumming it after his Universal glory days is makeup genius Jack P Pierce, who uses a variation of his work on Lon Chaney Jr’s ‘Wolf Man’ to deliver Strange as the caveman. There’s more of a full-body vibe to his work this time around too; with Strange getting a good amount of hair on his naked torso. No doubt it was done on a small budget, but it’s still far more effective than you would expect in this kind of enterprise.
The billing here is ‘Leo Gorcey & The Bowery Boys’, leaving little doubt as to who was in charge of things. As well as brother David, we also get their father, Bernard Gorcey, who makes an extended appearance and gets plenty of screen time. The series as a whole might have lasted even longer if Bernard hadn’t passed away in a car accident in 1955. Apparently, Leo took it very badly indeed, hit the bottle with a vengeance and left the series shortly afterward. Hall stayed with it for the last half-dozen or so films, but things wrapped up with ‘In The Money’ (1958).
A painless way to spend an hour or so, and classic horror aficionados will get some pleasure out of the supporting cast and seeing another off Pierce’s classic monster makeups.