The twins Mauch twins played in some of the Penrod series films (1937-38). Perrod was Booth Tarkington ranbunctious Midwest boy set in the 1900s. These were, however, minor films although I quite enjoyed them. Only Billy was credited, but both boys probabnly appeared. It was released in late February, 1937. Two sequels followed: "Penrod's Twin Brother" later that year, and "Penrod's Double Trouble" in 1938. The squels allowed both boys to appear. The first of these "Penrod" films is the best, I think. "Penrod and Sam" packs a surprising amount of adventure and social commentary into a film just over an hour long. The film also could be described as a "children's melodrama", as well. While both adults and children can enjoy "P&S", the target audience is surely young people. One can easily imagine school-age children in good attendance at an old movie palace 70 years ago, enjoying a Saturday matinee showing. They twins would sometimes flip a coin to decide who got what role.
The twins Mauch twins played in some of the Penrod series films (1937-38). "Penrod and Sam was released in late February, 1937. Two sequels followed: "Penrod's Twin Brother" later that year, and "Penrod's Double Trouble" in 1938. The squels allowed both boys to appear. These were, however, minor films although I quite enjoyed them. Only Billy was credited, but both boys probably appeared. The twins would sometimes flip a coin to decide who got what role.
Perrod was Booth Tarkington ranbunctious arch-typical American boy. Penrod is today a lesser-known American boy literary hero. But what wonderful Americana the Penrod novels are! The 1914 book, Penrod. was written by Booth Tarkington. It chronicled the travails of an American boy, duely outfitted in knickers--usually buckled above the knee. Penrod is confronted with the normal trials of pre-World War I American boyhood. He has to dress up in an enbarassing pagent costume, attend dancing school, face bullies, and many other problems. Apparently sailor suits by the 1910s were just for little boys and chaps like master Roderick Bitts outfitted by his parents in a crisp white sailor suit were in for trouble when they cross Penrod's path.
The film was set in the Midwest during the 1900s.
After the Mach twins very well received film, "The Prince and the Paupers", Warner Brothers wanted to use them in some more films. Billy Mauch, and possibly Bobby as well, played Penrod in this film. Sam is played by Harry Watson. We don't know much about Harry.
One other boy actor, Matthew "Stymie" Beard from "Our Gang" has a small part in the film. Stymie had left
the "Gangsters" about a year or so before "Penrod and Sam" was filmed. Frank Craven and Spring Byington are magical as Penrod's parents. They would reprise their roles in the sequel, "Penrod's Twin Brother".
Gene and Kathleen Lockhart took over these roles in "Double Trouble". The Lockharts were
fine performers, just not for these parts. I thought Kathleen a little too sweet for the part of Mrs.
Schofield. Gene Lockhart plays the role of dad a little too broadly. When he scolds Billy/Bobby Mauch
(no one was ever sure!), he looks as though he knows this is just a film we're making.
"Penrod and Sam", The first of these Mauch twins "Penrod" films is the best, I think. "Penrod and Sam" packs a surprising amount of adventure and social commentary into a film just over an hour long. The film also could be described as a "children's melodrama", as well. While both adults and children can enjoy "P&S", the target audience is surely young people. One can easily imagine school-age children in good attendance at an old movie palace 70 years ago, enjoying a Saturday matinee showing. Penrod Schofield (Billy Mauch) is the leader of a group of Junior G-Men, youthful wannabe detectives and crimefighters, in a small midwestern town. The boys meet in an old barn outside town, and they've organized themselves into offices for photography,
fingerprinting, and crime reports. Bank robberies and gangsterism are headline news in Depression-era
America, and the Junior G-Men are eager to do their part to fight crime. One younger boy, Verman (Philip
Hurlic), an African-American, is too young to join group, but he worships them as heroes and happily
guards their club meetings.
Penrod's father, Frank Schofield (Frank Craven), works
as a bank manager for crusty Mr. Bitts, the bank
president. Mr. Bitts' son, Rodney (Jackie Morrow), is
a rather spoiled only child and a schoolmate of
Penrod, Verman, and the other boys. One day after
school, Rodney tormented Verman by throwing chestnuts
at him. Verman, much smaller than Rodney, endured the
bullying bravely and walked awy to join Penrod and his
friends. Rodney caught up with him and threw another
chestnut, this time causing Verman to cry. Penrod
defended his small friend and fought with Rodney. The
fight took place in front of Mr. Bitts' office window,
affording him and Mr. Schofield full view. A passerby
broke up the fight, but crybaby Rodney ran into his
father's office claiming that Penrod and his "gang"
have it in for him and started the fight. Rodney
embellished his story by lying that Penrod and his
gang also steal tires and sell them. Mr. Bitts
believes Rodney, though Mr. Schofield has his doubts
about the story. Penrod's dad tries to make peace by
promising to talk to Penrod and to punish him, if
Penrod started the fight.
At home Mr. and Mrs. Schofield (Spring Byington) are
shocked by Penrod's alleged behavior; Mrs. Schofield
told Penrod that he's turning into a "roughneck." Mr.
Schofield sent the boy to his room without his dinner
as punishment. Later, Penrod tells his dad that he was
defending Verman and that's why Rodney started the
fight. Mr. Schofield asks Penrod to try to be nicer to
Rodney; Mr. Bitts is after all his boss. Penrod
promises to try to be nicer to Rodney. Penrod also
told his dad about the Junior G-Men and swore him in
as a member. Soon, however, Penrod and Rodney have
another fight, and even Mr. Bitts and Mr. Schofield
have a brawl in the bank! For that Mr. Schofield is
The next day, four gangsters rob the bank and make a
getaway with the police in hot pursuit. The chase
takes cops and robbers down the street in front of
Penrod and Verman's school minutes after school has
ended for the day. The children are in the schoolyard
and crossing the street as the get-away car and police
roar toward them. Verman's mother, Hattie has come to
walk him home, when shots are fired. Hattie is killed
by the robber's stray bullets! Verman is
understandably distraught and unconsolable. The crooks
escape, and a manhunt is on.
Penrod asks his parents to adopt Verman, now orphaned,
but they say no. Verman is sent to an orphans' asylum.
He eventually runs away, but Penrod knows just where
to find him. Verman was kneeling and crying softly at
his mother's grave. Delia, the Schofield live-in cook
and maid, adopts Verman, and he comes to live with the
Penrod and Sam (Harry Watson) get a tip that the
police believe the robbers are hold up at a barn. They
call for the Junior G-Men to meet them at the barn,
then investigate. There,the robbers capture them.
Penrod tries to escape, nad one of the crooks for a
moment pulled a gun on the child. Duke, Penrod's
beloved little dog, had run into the barn and growled
at the thugs. One of them threw a horseshoe at Duke,
hitting him, and almost killing him. If Penrod wasn't
sore before his dog was hurt, he was plenty mad now.
Rodney happens upon the scene and is taken captive.
The crooks plan to use the boys as shields to make a
getaway. Verman, however, has seen all this from a
distance runs home to tell Delia and Mrs. Schofield
what has happened. The sheriff and his deputies take
the Schofields and Mr. Bitts out to the barn where
their boys are captive.
Penrod tries once more to escape, and the attempt
causes a fight with the bank robbers. The boys use
everything they can get their hands on to knock out
the bad guys, and the sheriff's men are thrilled by
their bravery and resourcefulness. Rodney and Penrod,
and their dads are friends again, and the Junior G-Men
receive a commendation and a $1,000 reward. They boys
vote to give all the money to Verman, now a
full-fledged Junior G-Man. All the other boys are
fortunate to have both parents who can provide for
their children's needs, except Verman.
The boys wear light colored dress shirts and long sleeved pullover sweaters. Most wear ties to school,
also. Penrod's ties had nice diamond patterns. All of the boys wore long pants, pleated and with cuffs.
Their shoes were lace up dress shoes, usually a little scuffed. This gave the boys a typical "all-boy" look.
Many of them wore flat caps, also. At the conclusion of the film, where the boys receive their reward for
capturing the crooks, the boys wear dark suits, light colored shirts, and neck ties. They also had
handkerchiefs in their suit coat pockets. The boys wore conventionally short haircuts typical of the late
1930's. Verman was the only boy with somewhat cropped hair. Many African-American boys at this time wore
their hair quite short perhaps to fit in better at predominantly white schools.
"Penrod and Sam" interests me for many reasons. The film shows Penrod and his friends treating Verman as a friend and an equal. Children's features from this era, such as "Our Gang" and the "Penrod" films, show
white and African-American as good friends and playmates, free of racism in their interactions.
Bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, and others are iconic of a crime wave that erupted in
Depression-era America. Many Americans, victimized by the Depression, blamed bankers for compounding their
misery with foreclosures on their homes and property. For some Americans the 1930's bank robbers were rather
heroic. They were certainly famous, and they attracted the interest, naturally, of lawmen. Junior G-Men
clubs, like Penrod's did form throughout the U.S.
I can only imagine, though, that parents today would forbid their children to form such a club. Moms and
dads today would be horrified if their offspring tried some of the stuff that Penrod and his friends did.
Probably, school counselors and specialists would be summoned to "intervene" and work out Penrod and
Rodney's differences for them! In all honesty most boys very likely never had anything like the
adventures the boys in this film experienced. And real-life moms and dads in the 1930's wouldn't put
their children in harm's way either, of course. Still, Penrod's hometown in this film may have been similar
to many town across the US in the '30's. Police and bank robber chases in films aside, the school children
seemed to have a relatively easy-going, carefree time without the temptations and violence familiar to us
today. Life was harder then than now, I know. Many kids didn't have time to join gangs, experiment with
controlled substances, or become promiscuous. They were helping their families, working at a job, taking
care of siblings, anything to help their families through hard times. If I rage, maybe I'm just raging
against the machine, against intrusive tecnology and electronics. As hard as those times were, I think
(overall) people were more optimistic then than now; a certain social connectedness existed then that's long
There are some scenes from the film that deserve special mention. When we first meet Hattie Diggs
(Mildred Gover), Verman's mother, she is so tender and loving to him, we could easily believe he's her real
child. Their bond and love seem absolutely true and genuine. When Hattie is killed, Verman's reaction is
heartrending. His grief is not overdone; it seems perfectly natural and real. When Penrod, his parents,
and Delia, find Verman kneeling, in tears, at his mother's grave on a rainy night, it's one of the
saddest - and sweetest - little scenes a film ever captured.
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