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East Side Kids (1940)



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Let me see if I can get this straight. The Dead End Kids debuted in a Humphrey Bogart film called Dead End in 1937, made by United Artists. Warner Brothers picked them up for supporting roles in a series of A-list crime dramas (1937-1939), which included the classic Angels With Dirty Faces.

Then Universal signed up the boys for a series called the Little Tough Guys (1938-1943), which were low budget and mostly poor. Then Monogram, which specialized in low budget B series pictures, signed the boys up for the East Side Kids series (1940-1945). The fourth and longest series was the Bowery Boys series, which were comedies (1946-1958). Altogether, there were 92 films and serials.

The East Side Kids is the first film in the third series. It's the only East Side Kids film that did not star any of the major players from the previous series; starting with the second episode, series staples Leo Gorcey and Bobby Jordan, among others, would join the gang.

Characteristic with the other episodes in the series, this film involves the kids caught between cops and criminals, suspicious of one side and duped by the other. The kids were pretty much always on the verge of falling into a life of crime -- they're decent guys, but they happened to land on the downtrodden side of society. Perhaps some of the appeal of the series was this tension.

One thing that surprises me about this series is how rough it gets, but I'd be giving away the end of this episode if I went into detail. Suffice it to say that I cannot imagine it being made today. Successive installments would lean a lot more on the comic side.

The film's low budget shows, but it works as pulp entertainment: it's an interesting story, more complex than you might think, with colorful characters we care about.

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