East Side Kids (1940)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir, Juvenile Delinquency Film, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Feb 10, 1940 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 62 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

A B-movie directed with all the briskness that the genre demanded, East Side Kids was vastly entertaining and diverting, a low-budget successor to such well-intentioned major studio dramas as Dead End and Angels With Dirty Faces. East Side Kids is also a very dark film, however, when compared with the East Side Kids series of movies that followed it -- this was the only movie in the series (and essentially wasn't part of the series, but spawned it) in which a member of the gang is killed. Producer Sam Katzman recognized that he'd struck gold with the movie, but did some retooling of the concept. He signed up the available principal members of the original Dead End Kids (all except for Billy Halop and Bernard Punsley) rather than the secondary players such as Hally Chester who'd starred in East Side Kids, and put together a less realistic but more memorable and charismatic, as well as more humorous, gang led by Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall. Dave "Tex" O'Brien, seen here as unjustly convicted felon Knuckles Dolan, was kept and shown as the reformed, upright mentor to the group in the first few movies that followed, but the role of his brother Danny was recast with Bobby Jordan. The character of Algernon Wilkes, introduced here as the only well-spoken, serious student among the gang, was also kept but also altered slightly, so that he was a teenager from a wealthy background in future installments. Katzman maintained the Lower East Side New York setting and made it even more vivid, despite the low budgets involved, and the result of all of his work, and the contributions of several writers and directors who became very important down the road including Phil Karlson and Carl Foreman, was one of the longest-running film series in the history of movies, so successful that it spawned an even longer-running successor series, The Bowery Boys.