STORY: The Gang puts on a play called The
No more or
less amusing than watching
own kids in a school play, Shivering
asks us to be entertained solely by the Gang forgetting their
lines. It's fun, but it's not enough. Still there
and Mary Ann (or "Mariannicus", as she's known here) are all learning
how to get laughs with their line deliveries. Jackie Cooper
also learned how to
take a pie in the face without flinching, something of a required
talent for just about anybody on the Hal Roach lot.
Pies? Oh, yes, there will be
Lots of them, in the strangest pie fight you'll ever see.
partially in slow motion with no sound, it's more "funny strange" than
"funny ha ha", but thanks to the over-cranking of the camera, it is
fascinating for people interested in the physics of
pies hitting faces.
If you look closely,
you might think that
Buster Keaton is making a cameo as a recipient of one of the
pies. It is actually his brother Harry, showing up in an Our
comedy for reasons lost to posterity.
Mickey Daniels, one
the most memorable Our Gang members from the silent years, appears in a
cameo as the actor dressed in the lion suit.
Jackie and Speck duel over
Our Gang shorts often work better when they focus one one or two
individual members rather than on the entire gang itself. In The First Seven Years, the main
story is all about
Jackie Cooper, his love for the fickle Mary Ann, and his duel with his
rival Speck. This leaves Farina, Wheezer and Chubby to
incidental business and gags from the sidelines. The result
the most well-balanced Our
Gang talkie so far. The scenes where Kennedy the Cop gives
advice on how to woo Mary Ann sound half ad-libbed, with Edgar Kennedy
clearly having fun playing scenes with Jackie.
GOOD OLD DAYS
Oh, for the days when kids could settle
their difference with real swords, which Mary Ann just happens to have
in her house!
"Hey, wait a minute - I ain't washing my neck and ears for no dame!"
goings-on during Officer
Kennedy's nightly beat.
And just like that, we return to Small
theory that sound in and of itself is funny. It's not,
of course, but that doesn't stop When
the Wind Blows
from trying to
convince use otherwise in a dozen different ways. Running
and bellowing at the top of your lungs is not funny either, but Edgar
Kennedy is asked to do that all through the film. There are
things about When When the Wind Blows,
especially the nonstop musical soundtrack that finally removes all that
dead air from Our Gang films. The film also has vim and
vigor to spare,
thanks to the direction of James W. Horne, who helmed Laurel and
Hardy's classic silent short Big
and would later direct their most perfect feature
WAY OUT WEST.
Interestingly, there are continuity threads left over from The First Seven Years, such as Wheezer still being Jackie's brother. This doesn't necessarily make When the Wind Blows a better film, but it is worth mentioning in light of Our Gang's normal lack of interest in any kind of familial continuity. Remember when Wheezer was Mary Ann's brother and everybody was in an orphanage?
When the Wind Blows may be all sound and fury, signifying nothing. But its energy is a big, albeit noisy, step in the right direction.
STORY: The Gang go
is a pleasant
little film that starts off well, scoring
with a gag where Chubby's weight nearly tips over the Gang's
makeshift wagon. But once the action gets to the
campsite, the gag writers run out of ideas and dig deeply into their
Big Bag of Cheap Gags, relying on the old standbys of limburgher
cheese, a bee's nest, a skunk and a man in a gorilla suit to produce
Leon Chaney, known as
"Spud", makes his one
and only appearance in an Our Gang comedy. Somewhat older
the rest of the Gang, he didn't quite fit in, but he should get
credit for adding one unforgettable line to the Our Gang Book of
When asked why he can't go camping, he replies "I gotta stay home and
grease Wheezer!" See the film for context.
BABES IN TOYLAND
Listen closely during the first scene in which
Spud fights with
little brother Wheezer and you'll hear "Never Mind, Bo Peep" playing in
background, four years before Hal Roach would acquire the rights to
Victor Herbert's musical Babes in Toyland and turn it into one of
Laurel and Hardy's most popular films. Also watch Wheezer
off a blank camera stare worthy of both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in
Gang hang out with Stepin
features black comic Lincoln Perry, better
known as Stepin Fetchit. Fetchit's incurable but amusing
was considered a stereotype demeaning to blacks ("racially
insensitive", as we would say today), and thus, like several other Our
Gang films, A Tough
was pulled from circulation.
Banning the film from
audiences of seeing a fairly funny comedian, as well as a good routine
by the Gang in which Wheezer relays a radio recipe for taffy to Mary
Ann, never realizing that the woman on the radio is actually giving
out instructions for several dishes as well as reading
commercials. Thus, the ingredients keep getting weirder -
raisins, Tabasco sauce, chili peppers, even a box of Lux soap! The
resulting "taffy" acts like industrial strength epoxy, which the gang
manage to get all over everything in the house.
The film ends on some
gags later revived by
Laurel and Hardy in their
final Hal Roach feature SAPS AT SEA. When Stepin Fetchit goes
down to the basement to check on the hot water, he manages to rearrange
all the electrical connections in the house, leading to vacuum
cleaners that ask "What number please?" and telephones that nearly suck
Chubby's hair through the receiver.
STORY: Farina gets a job as a page at the
big pet show, and promises that Gang they will win prizes if they bring
along their own pets.
opening moments when
newcomer Dorothy gleefully jumps into a mud puddle and Chubby uses
chalk to keep track of how many times she's done it today, Pups is Pups
just feels like Our Gang has suddenly found itself again. On
every level, it is better than any of the sound shorts that have come
before, and marks the beginning of a remarkable run in which films like
this were the norm and clunkers were few and far between.
Pups is Pups
exudes a level of confidence not previously seen in the Our Gang
talkies. The kids are more sure of themselves, the editing is
tighter and the camera angles are more creative. More
importantly, composer LeRoy Shield was called upon by Hal Roach to
provide new music for all his films, and Pups is Pups is
filled with these
instantly catchy melodies that perfectly underscore the
It's not all about gags (Our Gang was never
all about gags), it's more about simply allowing us to be a fly on the
wall during a typical day in the life of the Gang, something Pups is Pups does
STORY: The Gang gets a new teacher. Miss Crabtree, a name
brings visions of horror, visions that thankfully don't live up to
Perhaps the most evocative Our Gang
film, one that brings back memories of simpler times, times that today
we can hardly believe existed. Teachers as lovely and sweet
Jackie hitching a ride with a complete stranger, Wheezer riding on the
spare tire on the back. Chubby's toreador outfit! (What
would even think of sending a child to school dressed like
Pet also reminds us that there
was once a little studio in Hollywood that would leave in an obvious
mistake in the final shot of a film (Jackie's
spoonful of ice cream falling before it reaches his mouth) in order to
make it more real. Or perhaps because Jackie Cooper didn't
another take in him.
It is fitting that Teacher's Pet is
first film to feature LeRoy Shield's beautiful theme "Good Old Days",
which most people who grew up with these films on TV know as
"The Little Rascals Theme". One of his catchiest
is also his most nostalgic.
Teacher's Pet also
Matthew Beard, aka
"Stymie", a favorite of just about anybody who loves Our
Gang. Roach often
introduced new kids before he planned to phase out some older
Thus, Stymie's appearance signals the eventual release of Farina, just
as the introduction of Dorothy in the previous
Pups is Pups
meant that Mary
Ann's days were numbered as the Gang's
resident tomboy. To
paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, dragons live forever, but not so the
little boys and girls of Our Gang. They grow up, like all
children, much too soon.
STORY: The Gang is afraid that Miss Crabtree is going to get
married and leave them.
A little less
nostalgia and a few more gags
go a long way. Like Laurel and Hardy's Tit for Tat,
is a fine sequel
that works better when
viewed directly after its predecessor rather than as a standalone
film. The best scene, and one of the best scenes in
Our Gang, comes
Miss Crabtree asks historical questions and the Gang members give her
answers straight out of a joke book:
"Where was Washington?"
"First in war, first in peace, and third in the American League!"
This scene would
later inspire a similar
routine in Laurel and Hardy's prison comedy PARDON
For the record, Bobby Young,
who played the
gangly Bonedust, was not exactly new to the gang, having appeared in
several silent films. This, however, was his first Our Gang
talkie. You gotta love that name: Bonedust.
GOOD OLD DAYS
Bonedust gets his quiz answers out of The Minstrel and Blackface Joke Book.