Friday 23 November 2007

The Adventures of Penrod and Sam (1931) William Beaudine

I hadn't heard of Penrod and Sam but TCM's showing four of their films amidst a long string of other film series, so it's about time I caught up. This was the second of five, following a silent version in 1923. It was released in 1931 with a bunch of kids led by Leon Janney and Junior Coghlan as the title characters. The last three came a few years later in 1937 and 1938 with Billy Mauch and Harry Watson. Interestingly, the third credit after Janney and Coghlan goes to Cameo who plays Duke the Dog. Someone as great as Zasu Pitts comes way down the list.

Unfortunately there's not a lot here to watch. It centres around a secret society for kids called the International Order of Infidelity, naturally run by Penrod and Sam. It's the sort of thing you'd expect, very similar to the Our Gang concept and no doubt a whole host of others: there are a bunch of wholesome white troublemakers with good hearts and innocent faces and a couple of token black kids without much grey matter between their ears.

There's the usual shenanigans, but they all seem forced and far from entertaining, making me wonder why the title includes the word 'adventures'. Penrod and Sam get into trouble, get punished, and then the cycle repeats. They go to a party, have a fight and break things. It would have been bad enough if the film ended there, but just to cheer us all up we get treated to some really depressing heartache. There's no mystery, no adventure, nothing much of anything except a bunch of kids pretending to be a bunch of adults. Cameo is the most entertaining of the lot and he's not a patch on Luke the Dog. At least he doesn't get to indulge in painfully slow dialogue with painfully inevitable pauses.

The child actors aren't that bad and actually surpass the material, which is the worst offender here. Leon Janney reminds of a child version of Jimmy Cagney and Margaret Marquis isn't bad as Margie. The adults disappoint much more than the kids. Matt Moore is especially awful as Penrod's dad, suggesting that his 219 films as an actor were far more than he ever deserved. Helen Beaudine was much better as Penrod's sister; she only made two films and she was only in them because she was the director's daughter. About the only saving grace is Zasu Pitts and there are far better places to see her talents.

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