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This is the third and final cinematic appearance of a character based upon a humourous series of newspaper tales written by George W. Peck in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Jackie Coogan and Jackie Cooper portrayed him in the first two films) with this Depression era RKO entry starring Tommy Kelly in an often silly but always briskly moving work offering, along with expected slapstick, some realistic dialogue, good direction from dependable Edward F. Cline, seamless ad libbing by beautiful Benita Hume, and other nice turns from William Demarest and Grant Mitchell.
It's too bad this movie isn't more well-known these days. It probably was a B movie in it's time but regardless, it is a gem. Very nice performances throughout with several alumni from the Little Rascals comedies (Spanky, Woim and Officer Kennedy) thrown in to make it a special treat for those who enjoy those classic shorts. The story is simple, a boy has won an obstacle race at a summer camp for two years in a row and if he wins the third year he gets to keep the trophy cup. The movie follows his adventures getting to the race by way of a circus. To say any more would just spoil your fun in seeing this movie. It is definite;y worth your time to seek out this film.
PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS (RKO Radio, 1938), directed by Edward
Cline, became producer Sol Lesser's second attempt with the "Peck's Bad
Boy" stories captured on film. For this sequel of sorts to Lesser's own
carnation of PECK'S BAD BOY (Fox, 1934), starring Jackie Cooper, this
new variation to the George W. Peck stories originally published in the
1880s, was brought up to date with few alterations. While "Peck's Bad
Boy" might have been simply a little boy never allowed to grow up as
with the long running comic strip character of "Dennis the Menace, this
latest edition matures its title character to adolescent age as he
continues getting himself into various situations as well as trying the
patience of his parents.
Set in the town of Bloomfield, the story starts off with Billy Peck (Tommy Kelly) seated outside his home looking over the trophies he's won during his two years in summer camp, now having his heart set on winning a third for 1938. At the dinner table, Bill gets himself in trouble with his parents, Henry (Grant Mitchell) and Martha (Nana Bryant) for placing a frog in the soup, causing him to be punished by not attending summer camp and remaining home with Cassie, the maid (Louise Beavers). Before the parents get to have their fishing trip in the country, each has a change of heart about their son's punishment by secretly giving Bill bus fare to go to camp. With the Gordon Brothers Circus coming to town, Bill and his pals decide to earn some money in exchange for free tickets, but are refused admittance by the ticket agent for presenting a false pass. Thanks to one of the circus employees, the boys are snuck in and given places to seat. Unfortunately, they are spotted by one of Bill's friends, having Bill forced to pay for the seats with his bus fare. Along the way, Bill encounters Bailey (Edgar Kennedy), a lion tamer who's out to get that certain someone who gave one of his lions sleeping pills (guess who?) as well as befriending Fleurette Decana (Ann Gillis), a child bareback rider, who, along with her mother (Fay Helm), must cope with Myrna Darrow (Benita Hume), a temperamental sideshow performer married to the show's manager (William Demarest). Highlight includes Bill filling in for Fleurette, following her slight leg injury, dressed up in girls clothes and doing her act himself.
Bearing no resemblance to the earlier stage play nor the 1921 silent movie version featuring Jackie Coogan that preceded this, PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS could very well have been taken out of context from Mark Twain's beloved "Tom Sawyer" character, considering how this latest Peck's Bad Boy, Tommy Kelly, had previously scored so well in David O' Selznick's 1938 production of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, opposite Ann Gillis (his co-star here) playing Becky Thatcher. As much as "Tom Sawyer" continued to acquire new adaptations om either television of television over later years, there were no further attempts made for another Peck's Bad Boy adventure. Overall, a programmer geared mostly towards the matinée crowd, this production contradicts many aspects used in the previous "Peck's Bad Boy" filmization. For the Jackie Cooper version, the story, set in Pleasonton, finds Bill Peck not only living with his widower father, but discovers he's adopted. As for this edition, Bill has both parents, with no indication of he ever being adopted. While Jackie Cooper, or Jackie Coogan for that matter, would have been way too old reprising their screen roles, Tommy Kelly makes a satisfactory substitute as the teenage Bill Peck.
Other members of the cast include Wade Boteler (Murphy); Mickey Rentschler (Herman); and Billy Gilbert as Herman's father cheering his son later on in the story on the cross country obstacle course. Spanky MacFarland, better known for his appearance in a series of "Our Gang" comedy shorts, doesn't have much to do as Bill's friend, "Pee Wee," but certainly makes whatever scenes he's in count. Louise Beavers, a fine actress, best known for her nominal co-lead in IMITATION OF LIFE (Universal, 1934), is sadly wasted in such a small role as the Peck's maid, Cassie. Her reaction, however, when she finds she's going to have Billy Peck for the summer while the parents are away, does come across as amusing.
Though most sources indicate the original running time for PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS to be 78 minutes, many DVD and/or VHS copies, along with some local public television broadcasts, contain possibly reissue copies to this movie at 65 minutes. If that's the case, it would be interesting having a complete version in circulation, even with the possibilities of whatever missing material might deem unimportant to an overall average kids movie. (**)
Mischievous teenager Tommy Kelly (as William "Bill" Peck) is
sidetracked on his way to summer camp, when a traveling circus comes to
town. Mr. Kelly and his pals sneak in to see the show, after a job
putting up circus posters fails to gain them admission. Also attending
is Kelly's badder boy rival Mickey Rentschler (as Herman Boggs). Both
boys want to win the camp's annual decathlon cup. At the circus, Kelly
meets pretty pre-teen bareback-rider Ann Gillis (as Fleurette de Cava).
When circus politics derail Ms. Gillis, Kelly dons a dress and wig to
perform in her stead - leading to laughter!
RKO wisely wooed Kelly and his "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1938) co-stars to this natural follow-up film. Kelly updates previous "Peck's Bad Boys" Jackie Coogan (1921) and Jackie Cooper (1934) well. Based on the characters (not a re-make), "Peck's Bad Boy with the Circus" provided young moviegoers with a fun and funny winter trip to both summer camp and the circus. You may recognize gruff manager William Demarest (as Daro) and rascally "Spanky" McFarland (as Pee Wee) in the cast. Edgar Kennedy, Billy Gilbert, and Grant Mitchell are always perfect, as is Louise Beavers (as Cassey).
****** Peck's Bad Boy with the Circus (12/2/38) Edward F. Cline ~ Tommy Kelly, Ann Gillis, Mickey Rentschler, Edgar Kennedy
"Peck's Bad Boy" was made twice--one in 1921 with Jackie Coogan in the
lead and another in 1934 with Jackie Cooper. Here in 1938 in "Peck's
Bad Boy with the Circus", it stars a virtual unknown--Tommy Kelly.
However, the different leading man isn't the only difference. In fact,
the story and characters are mostly different. Peck now has a mother
(his mother died when he was a baby), there is no bratty cousin or aunt
and you really won't recognize the sequel as a sequel at all. That's
okay--just assume it's NOT a sequel and you'll be fine.
In addition to Kelly, the film has an interesting cast that includes: Spanky McFarland, Billy Gilbert, Edgar Kennedy, William Demarest and Grant Mitchell as Dad. So, even if this is a low-budget film, the cast is made up of some excellent supporting actors.
The story is crazy but works if you suspend disbelief...and I mean TOTALLY suspend disbelief. It begins with Peck about to go to camp while his parents are on a vacation. His parents leave the day before Peck is to go on the train to camp. During this day, he goes to the circus with his friends. But, when they are forced to sneak in (after being cheated out of their tickets), they are caught and Peck feels obliged to pay for every one of his friends. BUT, then he's left with no money for the train and decides to hitch a ride with the circus to the next town--which is near the camp. It is AMAZING how easy this is and how the circus folk have no problem with him hanging out with them!
There is a subplot involving an evil lady who is intent on becoming THE star at the circus--and Billy Peck is able to help foil her plans. It's all pretty weird--and difficult to believe at times (such as when she locks Edgar Kennedy in the cage with the nasty lion, Demon). But, it's all in good fun.
The bottom line is that in spite of a plot that occasionally made no sense, I still enjoyed the movie. It's the sort of fun old fashioned film I like, even if it isn't exactly Shakespeare--it's just entertaining. Worth seeing if you are an old movie buff--those who aren't probably won't understand or care for it. But even if you don't like it, you can at least say you saw a film where Spanky got loopy while taking drugs (you have to see it to understand).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This kid pulls all kinds of crap...and gets away with it! Man, my dad
would have killed me had I even thought of this sh*t.
Okay, it's a fun movie, but it seems to be made up of various mini-plots rather than a single main theme: There's the kid screwing up getting to camp so he can win the cup again; then there's the circus poster mishap business; the devious plans of the circus manager's wife against the kid bareback rider; the sleeping pill & lion episode; & Mr. & Mrs. Peck both giving in to the kid scenario.
The movie begins with Billy polishing his prized cup which he has won two years in a row at camp.
Billy is a very mischievous kid who has pulled many stunts and now his parents have forbidden him to go to camp where he can win the cup for the third time (he gets to keep the cup permanently after the 3rd win). This is especially devastating to Billy since he is a braggart and has harassed his rival (who he calls "ice truck") about winning.
Both parents (separately) relent and give Billy money to reach camp. But Billy (and his gang) encounter the circus. When they are cheated by the circus promoter who forges a pass for Billy & his buddies, they attempt to sneak into the circus. But to get back at Billy, his rival "ice truck" snitches on him and Billy has to use the money his parents gave him to pay for circus tickets.
Meanwhile, the woman lion-tamer (wife of circus mgr.) has finagled her way to top billing over the more-talented child bareback rider. But the lion-taming performance is ruined when Billy & his friends put sleeping pills in hotdogs and feed them to the lions.
Now, later in order to get to camp, Billy hitches a ride with the circus and gets acquainted with the young girl bareback rider. And when she gets injured by a malicious act of the woman lion-tamer, Billy dresses as a girl and takes her place as the bareback rider. (This was presumably supposed to be a comical scene, but it only consisted of Billy swinging on the supporting rope trying to hang on to the horse from time to time...although he caught the tail finally.) This was a tough decision for Billy because he knows he'll miss the cup race at camp by subbing in the circus.
But, alas, the lion-keeper gives billy a wild ride in a chariot to the camp and billy enters the race...still dressed as a girl. Billy wins the race with a last-minute flagpole stunt featuring his arch-rival "ice truck".
Even "ice truck's" dad gets (unfairly) bashed by the lion-keeper who mistakes him for Mr. Peck whose name was on the sleeping pill package which was found near the lions' cage earlier.
Thankfully, the woman lion-tamer gets canned by the big wig. (Now, I would have liked it better had one of the lions taken a big bite out of her butt).
All ends well for Billy (imagine that), and the movie ends with Billy again polishing his cup and gloating over his success.
This movie was cute but would never withstand today's standards. I mean, that kid just got away with too much crap. I can just see every parent blaming this movie for all their kids' misbehaviour.
If you like stuff like "Our Gang", "East Side Kids", or "Dennis The Menace" this should entertain you.
Copyrights have expired on this movie and it is available for free download. Quality is good for age of movie. (See forum discussion for download info.)
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