Saturday 24 November 2007

Penrod and Sam (1937) William C McGann

There's more charm in the first five minutes of this film than there was in the entirety of 1931's The Adventures of Penrod and Sam. The characters are the same but suddenly there's depth and story and character. Penrod Schofield is still a rough and ready kid with a dog called Duke and a gang and a clubhouse. However he's no idiot this time, his gang is a bunch of Junior G-Men and the clubhouse is a large and equipped barn, if believably cheap. He still gets into fights with Rodney Bitts, the son of the bank manager Penrod's dad works for, and he still gets into trouble but at least the handling of the whole affair is believable.

Mr Schofield has his own mind and seems a good sort, though he still falls on the side of punishing his son before he finds out what actually happened. He does find out though and believes his kid, and the whole concept of making Penrod take Rodney into the club is handled believably, partly because it makes sense, partly because Mr Schofield is played by Frank Craven who knows how to act and partly because Penrod even signs him up into the Junior G-Men. In fact he even takes a leaf out of his kid's book and gets into a fight with his boss.

There's also a plot that goes well beyond throwing a bunch of kids into a few completely unrelated situations. Bank robbers hit the local bank and get away with $20,000, and get written into the plot in a number of ways. During the getaway they accidentally kill little Verman's mother, hide out in their clubhouse and take them prisoner. This plot leads to a whole slew of subplots: melodramatic adoption scenes, a tense attempt at escape, Verman seeing the bad guys and bringing in the cops, the scenes where they save the day.

As a perfect example of how much better this is than the last version, there's a scene where one of the crooks has to fight off Duke and he knocks him senseless with a horseshoe. It's believable, it fits in the story and leads to more of it. In The Adventures of Penrod and Sam, Penrod comes home from a party to find that Duke got hit by a car and we don't see him again. It's all completely unrelated to anything and has no real place. By extension, that goes for pretty much everything in the entire film.

This one's no classic, that's for sure, but I enjoyed it: the story, the acting, the sentiment. It is sentimental and very dated but it's not hard way to spend an hour. In comparison, the 1931 version was painful to sit through. The only thing that one had going for it was Zasu Pitts; this one has Billy Mauch, Frank Craven and Spring Byington, plus Charles Halton and a plot. It's only average but it's so much of an improvement.

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