Muggs and Glimpy, two East Side Kids in the army, return to their neighborhood, supposedly on furlough actually, Muggs has been honorably discharged with a physical defect, but he tells no one of this. Danny, another East Side kid, is in jail because a large amount of medical supplies have been stolen from the warehouse where he works. Muggs see Spider, a new member of the gang, flashing a large amount of money around, and Muggs shrewdly turns toughie, boasting that he has a dishonorable discharge because of thievery. This leads Spider to confide in Muggs that he is the one who has been aiding in the theft of supplies from the warehouse, and he gets paid for the loot by Larry, operator of a nightclub where Muggs sister, Milly, is an entertainer. Fingers, a henchman for Larry, kills Spider when he learns that Muggs has been let in on the operation. The police then suspect Muggs of killing Spider.
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FOLLOW THE LEADER (1944) is a pretty remarkable entry in the East SideKids series. It's got more drama than usual and an intricate crime plotinvolving theft of government supplies during WWII. The film gets offto a jolting start when Corporal Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey), who'dleft the East Side with sidekick Glimpy (Huntz Hall) to join the army,is shocked to learn that he's been discharged because of his eyesight.(He'd memorized the eye chart to pass his physical, but failed whenre-tested with a different eye chart at the base.) He goes back to theEast Side and tells the bad news to his mother and she embraces him andhe cries. (Did we ever see Gorcey's character cry in any other films inthe long road from DEAD END, 1937, to CRASHING LAS VEGAS, 1955?) Healso learns that Danny, the one he'd left to run the East Side Kids inhis stead, has been jailed on a charge of stealing cases of medicalalcohol from the government warehouse where he works. Muggs is soonembroiled in trying to find out who framed Danny. Suspicion centers on a new member of the gang, Spider O'Brien (seriesregular Billy Benedict), who was working with Danny at the warehouse.Muggs and Glimpy keep an eye on him and spot him taking money fromlocal crook "Fingers" Belmont (series regular Gabe Dell), who works foran East Side gangster/nightspot owner. Long story short: Spider'skilled and Muggs is a suspect, but he uses his army connections to beallowed to go undercover and infiltrate the robbery gang. It allculminates in quite a suspenseful finale after Muggs has helped thegang unload the stolen merchandise at Maxie's, the nightspot run byLarry (Jack La Rue), Fingers' boss, but is then held captive after theyget wise to him. Coincidentally, Milly (Joan Marsh), Muggs' sister,works as a cigarette girl at Maxie's and is the only one in a positionto call for help. At one point, she has to find a way to divert theboss, feigning a little after-hours interest, until Glimpy and theother Kids can arrive. It's quite a scene and the attractive Marshpulls it off beautifully. (This was Marsh's last movie before she quitthe business--for good. She'd played a rich girl in an earlier EastSide Kids movie, MR. MUGGS STEPS OUT, 1943.)It's a pretty intense mix for an East Side Kids film. What holds it alltogether so neatly is Gorcey's performance as the proactiveneighborhood group leader who manages to serve his country even whenunable to wear the uniform. He's smart, tough, crafty, fearless,patriotic, and forthright. He's also learned, thanks to his militarytraining, to be more respectful of authority than he is in the otherfilms, an attitude improvement that keeps him out of jail here. This isquite uncharacteristic of him and he was back to mouthing off to copsin the next film.Aside from Gorcey and Hall, Gabe Dell is the only other original DeadEnd Kid in the cast. He often played a bad egg in these films and he'sworse than usual here, going so far as to kill one of the Kids.Curiously, Billy Benedict's character, Spider, is positioned as brandnew to the group here, even though he'd already appeared in four otherEast Side Kids movies as, essentially, the same character, but withdifferent names. (He was usually listed as "Skinny.") His character iskilled in this film, yet he would return in five more East Side Kidsmovies and become a regular member of the follow-up series, the BoweryBoys. Aside from Gorcey, Hall and Benedict, the East Side Kids hereinclude about seven other guys, generally played by nondescript actorswho at least look like they might have come from the Lower East Siderather than Central Casting. Another series regular, black actor"Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, who normally played Scruno, appears only ina dream sequence in the film's opening where Glimpy dreams about beingon a South Seas isle, lured to a jungle hut by a sexy native girl(future film noir femme fatale Marie Windsor!), only to be lifted up bynatives and dumped into a cooking pot under cannibal leader Gorcey'sorders. (One of the natives is Everett Brown, who'd played Big Sam inGONE WITH THE WIND only five years earlier.) Bernard Gorcey, Leo's father, plays the owner of Ginsberg's Deli, whereGlimpy waits for Muggs' phone call on the night of the big undercoveroperation and eats poor Ginsberg out of house and strudel. The elderGorcey would, of course, go on to play Louie Dumbrowsky, soda shopproprietor and the boys' unofficial godfather, in the Bowery Boysmovies right up until his death in 1955.