- Wide Release
- Director: William West
- Written by: Al Martin
- Running Time: 65 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: G - General Audiences
- Cast: Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Donald Haines, David Gorcey, Bobby Stone, Ernest Morrison, Eugene Francis, Joan Barclay, Dave O'Brien, Herbert Rawlinson, George Pembroke, Forrest Taylor, Dennis Moore, Robert F. Hill, Mary Bovard, Alden 'Stephen' Chase, George Eldredge, Al Ferguson, Carey Loftin, Bud Osborne, Eddie Parker
An interesting, if not, slightly convoluted, plotline helps elevate this East Side Kids movie, the fifth in the series, to the level of merely good, which, in my opinion, makes it one of their best. As expected, Leo Gorcey reprises his smart alecky Muggs McGinnis role, however, this time he seems to have toned down his abusive, malicious, street - tough act to at least a lukewarm glow. Heck, he’s almost likeable. Fans of the boys will surely not be disappointed by "Flying Wild" (originally titled 'Air Devils') as all the usual East Side Kids’ antics are on display including lots of pratfalls, general rough housing, and their hallmark, verbal slips and gaffes, of which come faster and with more vivacity than one can handle. Imagine a less crude version of the “Jack Ass” guys transported to the 1940s and you’ll have some idea of what you are in store for. I have to admit, I’m not necessarily a fan of the East Side Kids but with this film, I actually found myself grooving to the film’s premise, as well as the action -- most of which took place above the ground.
Thanks to their friend, Algernon 'Algy' Reynolds (Eugene Francis), the East Side Kids, minus Muggs, of course, have all landed well-paying wartime factory jobs, assembling airplanes for Algy’s gruff but fair pop, played by silent era leading man, Herbert Rawlinson. For all of his majestic talk, the unemployed Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey), seems to survive simply by driving his friends to and from work in his topless, broken-down jalopy, and then milling around their place of employment looking to cadge food off of them during their lunch breaks. He’s practically a member of the Royal Family. Anyways, later we discover that a string of mysterious accidents have occurred on the base, leading Mr. Reynolds to suspect that someone is deliberately sabotaging the aircrafts. At this point, the bored and nosy Muggs, whose fondness for attractive females, leads him to Helen (Joan Barclay), who works exclusively as a nurse on an experimental aircraft prototype called “The Flying Ambulance.” While snooping around the modified super-craft, Muggs accidentally overhears a bizarre conversation by the plane’s owner, a revered local physician named Richard Nagel III (George Pembroke), who seems to hint at a strange transaction to take place -- one that involves flying the plane back and forth from the border. It isn’t long before Muggs and the Kids are drawn into a treacherous cat and mouse game that pits them against the murderous saboteurs. Assisting them is Helen and her pilot boyfriend, Tom Lawson (Dave O'Brien), whom, earlier in the film, Muggs dove into a fiery wreck to rescue. The ending might seem highly implausible, but it does offer up the requisite thrills, and laughs, you hope to get from enduring an East Side Kids title.
In my opinion, some of the funniest bits involve the Kids dealing with their fear of flying, however, the rest of the jesting seems to correspond perfectly with the film’s overall tone, which drifts in between comedy and melodrama. It rarely feels forced (Pee Wee’s near death was a bit much, however), something that can’t be said for the rest of the films in the series, where the situations don’t always bode well for the Kids typical brand of comedy. Watching as the obtuse Muggs conks a pilot over the head with a metal bar only to discover that he was the only one who could fly their now rapidly descending plane, is actually funny – especially if you’re in tune with Muggs’ distinctive ‘act first, think later’ mentality. Also, I’ve read that this is the film that introduced us to Gorcey’s now famous, and tired, misuse of words (‘humidity’ becomes ‘humility’ – and I could go on). Not sure if that’s a good thing.
In 1941, Sam Katzman, owner of Monogram Pictures, had garnered a bit of a reputation for churning out cheaply produced movies, often utilizing only a single take before moving on to get the next shot. Take note of this when, at about the five minute mark of the film, Muggs, speeding across the airport tarmac in his jalopy, cranks the wheel a bit too hard, tipping the entire thing over, sending everybody on board flying. The horrified expression on the faces of Gorcey, Haines, Jordan and Morrison, is absoluely priceless. As it turns out, this accident, which Katzman chose to include in the final cut of the film, has become one of the most talked about elements of the picture. It's also interesting to see how quickly Katzman, West and Al Martin were able to write this unexpected moment into the film, even giving it a punchline by suggesting that this is just how Muggs drives.
Ernest Morrison (1943's "Ghosts on the Loose") as Sunshine Sammy Morrison, as usual, steals the picture out from under Gorcey and crew. He's easily the funniest of the lot, and his zany actions, which include piroetting in slow-motion across a tarmac, will have you laughing while shaking your head. Leo Gorcey (1941's "Spooks Run Wild"), as I said, is at least tolerable this time out. Kept to a minimum are the nasty cheap shots and ugly, angry veneer that accompanied much of his later work. Joan Barclay (1942's "The Corpse Vanishes") as Helen Munson, does an admirable job playing a woman caught in the middle of a very bad situation -- her allegiance torn between that of her boss, who treats her well, and Gorcey's Muggs, who just happened to save her boyfriend's life. Last but not least, keep an eye out for Robert F. Hill (1943's "The More the Merrier") in a small role as Mr. Woodward. This is interesting because it was Hill who created the original "East Side Kids" movie in 1940.
Be aware that there seems to be a large slice of film missing from around the the middle area, in which Grocey and Jordan are beaten and kidnapped by the gang of saboteurs. They also have a ten year old blueprint for a bombsite stolen from them before finally being dumped into a couple of empty kegs in a warehouse. No explanation was ever given for this missing minutes. All in all, this is one of the best of the East Side Kids flicks, so I guess if you have to see one of them, make it this one. For more information on this movie check out the imdb.com and the wikipedia links. Also, since the film is now considered in the public domain, it can be watched legally and for free here and here. For the best quality version of "Flying Wild", I suggest you head on over to ReelClassicDVD. These are brand-new transfers made directly from the original prints. However, if you just want a copy of the film for the cheapest possible price, check Mill Creek Entertainment.