Muggs and Glimpy, two East Side Kids in the army, return to their neighborhood, supposedly on furlough; actually, Muggs has been honorably discharged with a physical defect, but he tells no...
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Muggs and Glimpy, two East Side Kids in the army, return to their neighborhood, supposedly on furlough; actually, Muggs has been honorably discharged with a physical defect, but he tells no one of this. Danny, another East Side kid, is in jail because a large amount of medical supplies have been stolen from the warehouse where he works. Muggs see Spider, a new member of the gang, flashing a large amount of money around, and Muggs shrewdly turns toughie, boasting that he has a dishonorable discharge because of thievery. This leads Spider to confide in Muggs that he is the one who has been aiding in the theft of supplies from the warehouse, and he gets paid for the loot by Larry, operator of a nightclub where Muggs' sister, Milly, is an entertainer. Fingers, a henchman for Larry, kills Spider when he learns that Muggs has been let in on the operation. The police then suspect Muggs of killing Spider. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Wartime fervor fuels the drama in above-average East Side Kids entry
FOLLOW THE LEADER (1944) is a pretty remarkable entry in the East Side Kids series. It's got more drama than usual and an intricate crime plot involving theft of government supplies during WWII. The film gets off to a jolting start when Corporal Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey), who'd left the East Side with sidekick Glimpy (Huntz Hall) to join the army, is shocked to learn that he's been discharged because of his eyesight. (He'd memorized the eye chart to pass his physical, but failed when re-tested with a different eye chart at the base.) He goes back to the East Side and tells the bad news to his mother and she embraces him and he cries. (Did we ever see Gorcey's character cry in any other films in the long road from DEAD END, 1937, to CRASHING LAS VEGAS, 1955?) He also learns that Danny, the one he'd left to run the East Side Kids in his stead, has been jailed on a charge of stealing cases of medical alcohol from the government warehouse where he works. Muggs is soon embroiled in trying to find out who framed Danny.
Suspicion centers on a new member of the gang, Spider O'Brien (series regular Billy Benedict), who was working with Danny at the warehouse. Muggs and Glimpy keep an eye on him and spot him taking money from local crook "Fingers" Belmont (series regular Gabe Dell), who works for an East Side gangster/nightspot owner. Long story short: Spider's killed and Muggs is a suspect, but he uses his army connections to be allowed to go undercover and infiltrate the robbery gang. It all culminates in quite a suspenseful finale after Muggs has helped the gang unload the stolen merchandise at Maxie's, the nightspot run by Larry (Jack La Rue), Fingers' boss, but is then held captive after they get wise to him. Coincidentally, Milly (Joan Marsh), Muggs' sister, works as a cigarette girl at Maxie's and is the only one in a position to call for help. At one point, she has to find a way to divert the boss, feigning a little after-hours interest, until Glimpy and the other Kids can arrive. It's quite a scene and the attractive Marsh pulls it off beautifully. (This was Marsh's last movie before she quit the business--for good. She'd played a rich girl in an earlier East Side Kids movie, MR. MUGGS STEPS OUT, 1943.)
It's a pretty intense mix for an East Side Kids film. What holds it all together so neatly is Gorcey's performance as the proactive neighborhood group leader who manages to serve his country even when unable to wear the uniform. He's smart, tough, crafty, fearless, patriotic, and forthright. He's also learned, thanks to his military training, to be more respectful of authority than he is in the other films, an attitude improvement that keeps him out of jail here. This is quite uncharacteristic of him and he was back to mouthing off to cops in the next film.
Aside from Gorcey and Hall, Gabe Dell is the only other original Dead End Kid in the cast. He often played a bad egg in these films and he's worse than usual here, going so far as to kill one of the Kids. Curiously, Billy Benedict's character, Spider, is positioned as brand new to the group here, even though he'd already appeared in four other East Side Kids movies as, essentially, the same character, but with different names. (He was usually listed as "Skinny.") His character is killed in this film, yet he would return in five more East Side Kids movies and become a regular member of the follow-up series, the Bowery Boys. Aside from Gorcey, Hall and Benedict, the East Side Kids here include about seven other guys, generally played by nondescript actors who at least look like they might have come from the Lower East Side rather than Central Casting. Another series regular, black actor "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, who normally played Scruno, appears only in a dream sequence in the film's opening where Glimpy dreams about being on a South Seas isle, lured to a jungle hut by a sexy native girl (future film noir femme fatale Marie Windsor!), only to be lifted up by natives and dumped into a cooking pot under cannibal leader Gorcey's orders. (One of the natives is Everett Brown, who'd played Big Sam in GONE WITH THE WIND only five years earlier.)
Bernard Gorcey, Leo's father, plays the owner of Ginsberg's Deli, where Glimpy waits for Muggs' phone call on the night of the big undercover operation and eats poor Ginsberg out of house and strudel. The elder Gorcey would, of course, go on to play Louie Dumbrowsky, soda shop proprietor and the boys' unofficial godfather, in the Bowery Boys movies right up until his death in 1955.
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