1938 - 1942
1917 - 1930 | 1931 - 1932 | 1933 - 1934 | 1935 - 1937
1938 - 1942 | 1943 - 1949 | 1950 - 1976
In 1938 Frankie appeared in such films as Reformatory (along with Dead End Kid Bobby Jordan), Wanted By the Police, Tough Kid and Juvenile Court (see lobby card, left), another "Dead End" type role about a delinquent gang in the big city and the authorities trying to figure out a way to reach these wayward kids. Frankie played the leader of the gang, and executed an interesting flip over a railing in one scene which plays as completely natural and easy for him. It's interesting that the "boy enthusiasm" films seemed to take a back seat to "juvenile delinquent turned good" movies during this particular year!
In 1938 Frankie also made another serial appearance, this time in a bit part as Little Jerry the Indian boy (or a boy who ran away and joined an Indian tribe, at least) in The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (photo below, right). Frankie as an Indian might seem a bit of a stretch but in actuality he turns in a real plum of a performance in the short time he’s on screen.
Boys’ Reformatory is one of the films Frankie made in 1939. He played a tough kid taking the rap for another kid led astray (played by Frank Coghlan, Jr.). By now his tough, energetic and enthusiastic character was well established and the movie studios continued starring him in a series of films which emphasized his part as a rugged but lovable bundle of energy, although the focus would return more to the "boy enthusiasm" as opposed to the "juvenile delinquent" characterization.
Comedy also played a part in many of these movies, and Frankie made his first film appearance with the great comedian Mantan Moreland (who is well known for his appearances in the Charlie Chan films) in another "boy enthusiasm" flick called Irish Luck. Up until this time, another comedian / singer named Snowflake had made several appearances in various films with Frankie, but this was a real teaming, with Mantan being Frankie’s sidekick, comedy relief and patsy (but in a buddy kind of way). Mantan was the perfect foil for Frankie’s boundless enthusiasm, as he usually played lazy, quiet characters who wanted no part of the murder mysteries and crooked job ventures which Frankie seemed determined to drag him into.
Their teaming was apparently well received by audiences, because 1940 saw three more entries into the Darro / Moreland series; Chasing Trouble (which undoubtedly breaks the all time record for the most times the word ‘graphology’ is spoken in one film), On the Spot, and Up in the Air (photo above, left, and below, right). One notable segment of this last film has Frankie performing a comedy routine which Mantan had previously done with another partner, in which two characters have a conversation where one finishes the sentences of the other and vice versa. It’s a well-timed routine and, apart from the oddity of Frankie appearing in blackface and affecting a corresponding accent, it’s done very well (Frankie would occasionally break into an accent for comedy effect, something he did quite well).
Laughing at Danger was also released in 1940, and one of Frankie’s best and most overlooked performances was also released in this same year. Who could forget the naughty little boy named Lampwick who turned into a donkey on Pleasure Island in Disney’s classic Pinocchio? Frankie was perfectly cast as the voice of Lampwick and turned in what is surely one of the most dramatic moments in animated history, the kind which probably gave kids nightmares and stopped more than a few from smoking cigars and shooting pool . . . for a while anyway! Frankie also played the role for the Lux Theater radio presentation of the story which aired on Christmas Day in 1939.
In 1941, Frankie appeared in Tuxedo Junction, plus another two films with Mantan Moreland, The Gang’s All Here and You’re Out of Luck. Also in that year, Frankie made a third and final appearance with Mantan Moreland in the film Let's Go Collegiate, although they did not act as a team in this film. Instead, Frankie plays a college student with Mantan as a worker / keeper in the boys’ fraternity house. Future TeenAgers co-star Jackie Moran also appeared in this movie, although it was not part of the TeenAgers series (those particular films wouldn't start for another five years).
Frankie made another brief appearance in a serial, a Dead End Kids & Little Tough Guys outing entitled Junior G-Men of the Air, in 1942.