Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pride of the Bowery - 1940

In “Pride of the Bowery” (1940), Leo Gorcey and the so-called East Side Kids ( aka Dead End Kids, aka Bowery Boys) in their fourth film leave the urban jungle for a different sort of rough-and-ready experience in a CCC camp.

When we discussed in this post about the seeming lack of coverage in films of the day about the Civilian Conservation Corps, blog reader Tony saved the day with an update that proves the CCC was not entirely ignored by Hollywood. Here is the link Tony provided to “Pride of the Bowery” now in public domain and free for viewing at the Internet Archive website.

This B-movie, only about an hour long, takes the boys out of the city into the rugged wilderness and the rough-hewn CCC camp as more of an escapade than a struggle to find employment. Gorcey plays Muggs, a Golden Gloves boxing hopeful, who gets unwittingly enrolled in the CCC by his pals to provide him with his much desired outdoor boxing training camp, like the pros have.

It’s a difficult adjustment for the bombastic showoff when he must submit to military-style discipline and hard work. We get pick and shovel scenes, and crystal mountain lakes, the regimentation of the mess hall and saluting the flag at sundown.

Surprisingly, but probably fortunately, the film avoids too much cheerleading about the virtues of the CCC and manages to fill the time with subplots of stolen money, revenge in the camp boxing ring against a rival, played by Kenneth Howell, and a day of freedom with a pass into town. At one point Leo Gorcey pushes Howell out of harm’s way when the boy is about to be crushed by a falling tree. The camp’s Captain approvingly remarks,

“I think this camp is going to be the means of you finding yourself.” Which is only about as much CCC propaganda as the film contains, but its enough, along with the occasional reminders that their folks are getting $22 a month, to remind the audience in this seventh year of the CCC’s existence that it was still kicking and still saving boys and their families from starvation.

One boy is pleased to be accepted into the cooks training program, and others are told they will be qualified for jobs in the U.S. Forestry Service when their hitch is up. At the time this film was made, the CCC did not need to be described or explained to the general audience. It would only exist about another year or so, when our entry into World War II provided young men with far more urgent duties.

The camp is given a fictional name, but though we only see sections of the camp, I have to wonder if this was just a set or if it was really filmed at an actual CCC camp? There is an authentic look about it. I haven’t been able to find any information on that yet, and I hope some of you who might know will help clarify that.