MODs of the Week: Bowery Boys, "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," Robert Mitchum and More
The Bowery Boys, Vol. 1 (Warner Archives) Monogram Pictures' Bowery Boys series was the final incarnation of the tough-talking New York street kids that debuted in the 1935 Broadway play Dead End (as well as the 1937 screen version with Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart) and would go on to make over 40 additional films and serials under a variety of monikers and iterations, including the Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys and East Side Kids. Malaprop-spouting Leo Gorcey and rubber-mugged Huntz Hall were the franchise's mainstays through their lengthy screen run, which began as straight dramas before turning to broad slapstick for the 48 (!) Bowery Boys pictures, which ran until 1958. Warner Archives' Volume 1 compiles twelve titles culled from the series' early years, including the first Bowery Boys picture, Live Wires (1946) and the horror-themed Master Minds (1949), though the popular Spook Busters and Mr. Hex (both 1946) appear to be slated for the subsequent compilation sets announced by Warner.
Also on the multi-disc front: The Film Noir Collection - Volume One (Sony). Not to be confused with Warner's Film Noir Classics Collection or Sony's own Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics series, the Film Noir Collection compiles five vintage B-thrillers previously released as part of the Choice Collection line, including The Case Against Brooklyn (1958), a police corruption story penned by blacklisted writers Julian Zimet and Bernard Gordon, who also wrote another film in the set, Escape from San Quentin (1957). William Asher's Shadow on the Wall (1957) is a tense riff on The Window (1949), with Jerry (The Beaver) Matthews as a boy traumatized after witnessing his mother's assault by three hoods during a break-in, while Richard Denning and Mari Blanchard pull a long con on Frank Lovejoy in The Crooked Web (1955).
Noir vet Robert Mitchum also turns up in two new releases: in Robert Stevenson's sudsy 1951 period drama My Forbidden Past (Warner Archives), Mitchum is a New Orleans doctor whose marriage to Janis Carter puts a crimp in old flame Ava Gardner's plan to win him back. She arranges for her cousin (Melvyn Douglas) to seduce Carter, a scheme which naturally goes awry. Also from Warner is One Shoe Makes It Murder (1982), an agreeable, Edgar-nominated noir carbon from Mitchum's late-inning run as a TV-movie staple. Here, he does his best rumpled private eye act, searching for the wife of casino boss Mel Ferrer while fielding the attentions of Angie Dickinson.
And while we're on the subject of the Ghosts of TV Past,here's a pair of oddball small screen productions from the 1970s that have enjoyed cult status in the ensuing decades. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (Sony) stars John Travolta at the height of his Welcome Back, Kotter fame in 1976 as a teenager whose compromised immune system forces him to live in an incubator-like environment until love - in the form of neighbor Glynis O'Connor - inspires him to risk entering the outside world. A relentless tearjerker, well remembered by legions of Travolta fans, Bubble is probably best enjoyed today as a camp transmission from the Aaron Spelling-Leonard Goldberg factory and director Randal Kleiser, who helmed Grease with Travolta two years later. Meanwhile, Warner offers the complete series run of Korg: 70,000 B.C., a live-action daytime series produced by animation czars Hanna-Barbera that concerned the daily lives of a family of Neanderthals led by the titular patriach (Jim Malinda). Narrated by Burgess Meredith, Korg played like the flipside of H-B's The Flintstones, offering a largely unvarnished look at the relentless challenges faced by early man with the help of the American Museum of Natural History and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which served as consultants to the short-lived program. Dinosaur-minded modern kids may still find Korg fascinating, while those who grew up with the series (including this author) will undoubtedly regard it as a fascinating curiosity from Saturday mornings gone by. -- Paul Gaita