Irish Luck is a short little 1939 movie starring Frankie Darro as a hotel bellhop who fancies himself an amateur detective. Frankie Darro had been hired in 1938 by Monogram Pictures to star in action melodramas. But his flair for comedy was quickly noticed and the laugh content of his movies was increased. Irish Luck, which also co-starred Mantan Moreland as Frankie’s often unwilling sidekick, proved to be such a success for Monogram that they quickly turned out seven more amateur detective films. Monogram also increased Mantan Moreland’s role in the movies.
Frankie Darro was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 1917. His parents were circus aerialists. Frankie made his first film at age six. Frankie Darro’s youthful appearance and small size (he was five foot three inches) allowed him to play teenagers well into his late twenties. He also did all his own stunts; a necessity because his small stature made it difficult to find stunt doubles. Frankie’s small stature also led to him often being cast as a jockey and he became an accomplished horseman.
Frankie Darro had a successful run with his amateur detective comedies with Mantan Moreland. The films were so successful for Monogram Pictures that Monogram used the series “as a haven for performers whose own series had been discontinued: Jackie Moran, Marcia Mae Jones, and Keye Luke joined Darro and Moreland in 1940, and Gale Storm would be added in 1941.”
Frankie Darro left Hollywood for active service in the US Navy Hospital Corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to Monogram Pictures. His “perennially youthful” looks and short stature led to him being cast in campus comedies and in the Bowery Boys movies.
Eventually, it became harder and harder for Frankie Darro to land roles. Because of his expertise at doing his own stunts, Frankie began doing stunts for other actors. He also did a lot of voice over work. His career faltered even more after he opened his own tavern and descended into alcoholism. He died of a heart attack, three days after turning 59 in 1976.
Among Frankie Darro’s most famous roles:
- Wild Boys of the Road, a 1933 movie about vagabond youth during the Great Depression.
- Co-starred in Gene Autry’s 1935 cult classic serial The Phantom Empire.
- Portrayed the voice of Lampwick in Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940.
- His most famous but also most anonymous role – Frankie was the inside actor-operator of Robby the Robot in The Forbidden Planet in 1956.
- Frankie also was a regular on the Red Skelton Show and often played little old ladies.
Irish Luck is a very short film, only about 50 minutes long. Frankie Darro stars as bellhop Buzzy O’Brien who works at the Royale Hotel. Buzzy fancies himself an amateur detective. The film opening leaps right smack into the middle of one of Buzzy’s plots to unmask a group of robbers who are hiding out at the hotel. Buzzy is helped by his friend Jefferson the janitor. Jefferson is played by actor Mantan Moreland. I’ve only seen Mantan in a couple of films. He often played a likeable but whiny scaredy-cat kind of character. This is one of my favorite types of characters in comedy-horror and comedy-action movies. Some of my favorite movies with similar scaredy-cat heroes include:
- Lou Costello in Hold That Ghost and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (neither are in the Public Domain).
- Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers (unfortunately not in the Public Domain).
- Bob Hope in My Favorite Brunette and Where There’s Life (Yes, both are in the Public Domain. Please click the links to go to my reviews of each movie which include links to watch the movies FREE at the Internet Archive).
- The Ritz Brothers in The Gorilla (Yes, it’s in the Public Domain. Please click the link to go to my review which includes a link to watch the movie FREE at the Internet Archive).
- Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (nope, not in the Public Domain).
- Mantan Moreland in King of the Zombies (Yes, it’s in the Public Domain. Please click the link to go to my review of the movie which includes a link to watch the film FREE at the Internet Archive).
But, in real life, Mantan Moreland is a somewhat controversial actor. He was a very popular actor in the 1930s and 1940s but he came under immense fire during the rise of the Civil Rights movement and his roles where considered “demeaning and offensive to both blacks and whites.” In Irish Luck, Mantan is definitely playing second fiddle to star Frankie Darro. Mantan doesn’t have a great deal to do in the first half of the movie but he does manage to save the day in the end. I have read that Mantan’s role increased in the later Frankie / Mantan team up movies but I have not yet watched those.
Irish Luck was so successful that Monogram made seven more Frankie / Mantan movies. In all the films, Frankie Darro plays a character named Frankie and Mantan Moreland plays a character named Jeff or Jefferson but the similar names and a penchant for getting into trouble are all the various characters have in common. Here are the other films in the Frankie / Mantan series. All are FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive except On the Spot and Laughing at Danger:
- Chasing Trouble – January 1940.
- On the Spot – June 1940.
- Laughing at Danger – August 1940.
- Up in the Air – September 1940.
- You’re Out of Luck – January 1941.
- The Gang’s All Here – June 1941.
- Let’s Go Collegiate – September 1941.
Irish Luck does cram a lot of mystery and a lot of action into its approximately 50 minutes. There are robbers, a mysterious woman in a striped dress, dead bodies, missing bank bonds, interfering police, an Irish mother, and several half-witted plots. Here is some of the dialogue that I enjoyed:
- Buzzy has to take a telegram to mysterious banker Mr. Porter. The desk clerk tells Buzzy he will probably get a big tip. Buzzy laughs back, “From a banker? If I do I’ll split it with you.”
- Buzzy’s Mother is positive Kitty is in trouble, “Sure you must be in trouble. You’re bound to be if you’re with Buzzy.”
- Buzzy is looking for Police Detective Steve Lanahan, “Have you seen Lanahan?” His friend Jefferson, who has been repeatedly questioned, snaps back, “Seen him? I can’t lose him.”
- Buzzy is confident, “Can’t you see I’m just one step from finding out who the murderer is!” Jefferson is not so sure, “Yeah and you got your other foot on the banana peel.”
- Buzzy wants Jefferson to help him search a hotel room, “Tear it apart if you have to!” Jefferson is not too happy, “OK, Mr. Buzzy, I’ll tear it apart. But my heart ain’t in it. No sir, my heart sure ain’t in it.”
- A bad guy is not impressed with Buzzy’s innocent look, “Never mind the baby stare.”
- Buzzy is proud of his deductions, “It was a very simple case of elemental deduction.”
- Jefferson reminds Buzzy of his little statue of the three wise monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”) and his vow to stay out of trouble, “Uh uh, Mr. Buzzy! Don’t forget the monkeys!”
Overall, Irish Luck is very fast paced and packs a lot into approximately 50 black and white minutes. Frankie Darro as Buzzy is cute but over eager to jump into danger and Mantan Moreland is his very reluctant but loyal sidekick. There are a couple of dead bodies only briefly seen and Frankie gets held at gunpoint a couple of times but there is nothing really to scare young movie fans. I watched the on site movie at the Internet Archive and the Ogg video and the sound and picture quality of the film is excellent. The film is based on the story “Death Hops the Bells” by Charles Molyneaux Brown but I could not find the story anywhere.
Of course, the very best thing about Irish Luck is that it is FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive.