Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mill Creek comedy classics #50: "Flying Wild" (1941)

The East Side Kids use their wits... and big pieces of wood... to clobber some saboteurs in Flying Wild.

The flick: Flying Wild (Monogram Pictures, 1941) [buy the set]

Current IMDb rating: 6.2

Herbert Rawlinson, future star of Ed Wood's Jail Bait.
Director: William West (made two other films for Monogram around this time, and that was it)

Returning series regulars: Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Ernest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Dave O'Brien, Donald Haines, Eugene Francis (all in Boys of the City)

Additional series regulars: David Gorcey (Leo's kid brother; series regular from 1938-1958), Bobby Stone (series regular from 1942-1944)

Other actors of note: George Pembroke (Meet John Doe, Call Northside 777), Joan Barclay (Grand Hotel, 42nd Street), Herbert Rawlinson (Ed Wood's Jail Bait, plus Dark Victory, Follow the Fleet, much more)

Leo Gorcey as Muggs
The gist of it: Thanks to their buddy Algy (Francis), the East Side Kids all have jobs at an aircraft plant, except lazy Muggs (Leo Gorcey), who just gives his pals a lift to work every morning and spends the rest of the day snooping around the airfield. He tries to make time with pretty nurse Helen Munson (Barclay), but she only has eyes for test pilot Tom (O'Brien). Because of some mysterious recent accidents and thefts, plant owner Mr. Reynolds (Rawlinson) is very concerned about saboteurs, so he sends one of the more trustworthy Kids, Danny (Jordan), to deliver some decoy plans and lure the saboteurs out of hiding. Muggs accompanies Danny on this dangerous mission, and they're both tied up by thugs and dumped in an alley until being discovered by the other Kids. The plant's real saboteur is seemingly-respectable Dr. Nagel (Pembroke), who's been using his so-called "flying ambulance" (a medical transport plane) to deliver secret plans across the border. The situation gets more urgent when the sabotage at the plant causes a heavy airplane wing to fall on poor Peewee (David Gorcey), who then has to be airlifted to a hospital. Muggs has been suspicious of Doc Nagel from the get-go and figures out his evil plan, and together he and the other Kids team up to sabotage the saboteurs with a scheme which again involves using Danny as a decoy.

A cheapjack DVD release of the film.
My take: Well, well, well! Here we are at #50 -- halfway home! I bought this set just before Halloween last year but didn't start actually reviewing the movies until the beginning of June this year. In a way it's both appropriate and unfortunate that the fiftieth film in Mill Creek's 100 Comedy Classics is another East Side Kids adventure, since their previous outing, Boys of the City, is one of my least favorite films in this entire DVD collection. Of course, that's before I knew what true cinematic pain was. I'm glad to report that Flying Wild was not as unpleasant to watch as Boys of the City. It's not good, but it's not as egregiously bad as that one, even though the setting and plot are much less interesting this time around. While I'm never going to be an East Side Kids fan, I found myself less annoyed by their exaggerated New York accents, malapropisms (mostly from Leo Gorcey, who loves to substitute soundalike words in his speech), and quasi-Stooges slapstick.

William West's filmmaking career was extremely brief and unimpressive, but Flying Wild is a respectable enough effort, given the cast, budget, and script. His direction, while flat and uninspired, doesn't get in the way of the jokes at least. But this movie is not much of a calling card for West either. It's a cheapo quickie production whose too-frequent aerial sequences consist of a lot of staticky stock footage along with some highly dubious model work. Meanwhile, actors on cheap sets which supposedly depict the interior of the plane, do their best to sell the illusion by lurching back and forth like crew members on Star Trek when the Enterprise was being attacked.

It's theoretically interesting to note that Flying Wild was released about nine months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America's subsequent entry into WWII. Having not been around in 1941, I can't rightly convey to you the mood of the country at that time. I suppose we felt that war might be just around the corner, hence all the talk in the script about patriotism and "the fifth column." But perhaps it was a mistake to have the East Side Kids be such obedient lackeys for the military-industrial complex. That undermines their status as cinematic rebels. Only Leo Gorcey's Muggs cannot be tamed, and I eventually came to appreciate him for that. But the maudlin subplot about Peewee, who sustains internal injuries while saving Muggs and Danny, is far too sappy for a comedy this dumb. If you want to be sentimental, you have to earn the right to do so. Flying Wild doesn't come close.

Is it funny: Well, that depends. Do you think it's funny when someone substitutes a similar-sounding word for the one he really means? If so, you might die laughing during the viewing of this film. Me, I chuckled politely once or twice out of respect to these departed actors who were giving it their all. But miraculously, several of the film's physical comedy bits do work fairly well and coaxed audible laughter from your humble reviewer. For example, the front fender of Mugg's jalopy falls off whenever he touches it, so he pulls his hand away from it and sits on the car's running board... causing the fender to fall off anyway. Okay, it's not Moliere, but what do you expect in an East Side Kids movie?

My grade: C

P.S. - In terms of racial stereotyping, Flying Wild is nearly as bad as Boys of the City, which makes it a contender for the most racist film in this entire series. In the first few minutes, I thought Ernest Morrison's character, Scruno, had been elevated  in status somewhat and now was just another interchangeable East Side Kid like all the others. Uh, nope. The racial humor takes a while to build up, but one it gets started, it really gets out of control. When all the other Kids chase after a villain in one direction, for instance, Scruno tells us that he's running in the other. Muggs gets a black eye during a fight, and Scruno gets a "white eye," i.e. a big white circle painted around his eye. In another scene, Scruno adds 2 and 2 and gets 5. In another scene, Scruno sees Danny with black oil or dirt smeared on his face and says, ""Boy, you look just like my Uncle Rochester when he had the mumps." And so on and so on.

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