Muggs, ordered by a judge to get a job "or else", is hired by a society matron as the chauffeur for her wacky family. An engagement party is thrown for the family's daughter, and the rest ...
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Muggs, ordered by a judge to get a job "or else", is hired by a society matron as the chauffeur for her wacky family. An engagement party is thrown for the family's daughter, and the rest of the gang is hired as servants for the party. However, a valuable necklace disappears during the festivities, and all the gang is blamed for the theft. Written by
The East Side Kids work for the rich in amusing tale of class conflict
MR. MUGGS STEPS OUT (1943) is one of those East Side Kids entries that avoids the boxing ring and the racetrack to tackle the element of class warfare, putting the boys from Manhattan's Lower East Side into close contact with a rich suburban family. The clever premise here is that rich matron Mrs. Murray (Betty Blythe) likes to help out the "unfortunates" in society by hiring them as servants, much to the dismay of her husband, John Murray (Emmett Vogan), who objects to all the "jailbirds" populating his house. The East Side Kids enter the story after Mrs. Murray goes down to Manhattan Police Court to bail out her daughter Brenda for driving infractions and winds up listening to the next case, which involves various charges lodged against our old pal Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey). She promptly requests the judge (Noah Beery Sr.) to remand Muggs to her custody and then hires him as the family chauffeur. This largess eventually extends to Muggs' buddies, the six East Side Kids, including Muggs' perennial sidekick, Glimpy (Huntz Hall), when Mrs. Murray hires them all to serve hors d'oeuvres at a fancy engagement party for Brenda. It's a classic trickle-down case of the free market at work. Allow the rich to spend their money as they wish and the entire economy benefits, including the hapless denizens of New York's tenement districts.
Brenda Murray (Joan Marsh) is quite a free-spirited type and resents her rather sheltered, unexciting fiancé, Virgil Wellington Brooks (Stanley Brown). She has a yen for slumming anyway, so she naturally takes an interest in Muggs and his gang and even tries talking like him in their frequent banter, which takes advantage of both class and sexual tension. Slice-of-life scenes demonstrating cultural and class collision soon give way to an actual plot that kicks in when a dowager at the engagement party is robbed of her diamond necklace and the boys are instantly accused of it, especially since Glimpy had shown inordinate interest in the lady's "rocks." Eventually, the ex-jailbird servants, Grogan and Maisie (Eddie Gribbons, Patsy Moran), figure out that it was a handsome, well-dressed party crasher (Nick Stuart) who did the job, with outside help, and Muggs gets Mr. Murray to give them 24 hours to retrieve the necklace before calling the police. Muggs and the boys, with assistance from Maisie, case an East Side dance joint where a friend of the party crasher, known to Maisie, hangs out. This friend is "Dips" Nolan, played by Gabe Dell, the only original Dead End Kid in the cast aside from Gorcey and Hall.
Maisie is accompanied by Brenda, who dresses in outlandish get-up as a "gangster's moll," anticipating Faye Dunaway's Depression Chic look in BONNIE AND CLYDE 24 years later, and peppers her speech with all manner of slang picked up from gangster movies. Maisie is aghast, but lets the thrill-seeking rich kid join her for the ride. Unbeknownst to them, Virgil, alarmed at the risk to Brenda, follows them and intervenes at key moments. It actually gets pretty exciting and suspenseful in the last quarter as dance scenes, chases, fistfights, breaking-and-entering, and abduction all get crammed into the scenario. The dance scenes include a great tap act performed in the club by someone announced in the film as Pat Monahan.
While the goings-on get a little far-fetched at times, the film never treats any of its characters, rich or poor, with condescension. Except for the diamond thief and his accomplice, everyone has redeeming qualities and one could enjoy spending time with each of them. Virgil, in particular, positioned early on as an undesirable match for Brenda, proves his mettle in the final series of confrontations and takes on new status in Brenda's eyes. He's even spotted doing a mean jitterbug in the film's final moments.
Muggs has a high vocabulary throughout, but is heard at one point mangling the language in a manner that would become a trademark of his later Slip Mahoney character in the Bowery Boys films: "This is getting a little confiscated for me." Joan Marsh (1913-2000) as Brenda is great fun to watch. She reminds me of a younger, prettier version of Lucille Ball and clearly relishes the comic aspects of the role. (She would play Muggs' sister in her next, and last, film, FOLLOW THE LEADER, 1944). The East Side Kids films were often filled with authentic- looking and -sounding character actors who were pretty much ignored by major studio casting directors, but certainly deserved recognition. Here it's Patsy Moran, with her pronounced New York accent, who practically steals the show as shoplifter-turned-maid Maisie.
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