STORY: When Wally's girl Jackie is impressed by a rich kid's
miniature fire engine, the Gang resolve to build their own.
As can be seen from the "New to the Gang"
listing above, Hi'-Neighbor!
introduced a whole
host of new kids on the Our Gang block. Although the
few minutes of the film showcase each gang member with his own little
bit of business, the post-1931 formula had not changed: two or three
members were showcased while the rest were portrayed as a
collective entity, where background kids could be dropped and new ones
added without changing the dynamics of the group.
Of course, Spanky and
ever-reliable Stymie continued
to be the stars, now joined by Wally Albright, filling in the spot
formerly held by Dickie Moore, and Scotty Beckett, in sideways
and raggedy clothes that look like they were donated by Jackie
Coogan, playing Spanky's sidekick.
Both were excellent
additions to the
gang. In his short tenure with Our Gang, Albright split his
between playing the Gang's leader and being the rich outsider who
prefers hanging with the Gang to his own pampered existence, and was
equally likable in both guises. Scotty Beckett was
Spanky, two peas in a
thinking along the same track. They act like a Greek chorus in several
these films, critiquing the various actions of the gang ("He ain't
doin' so good") and spotting the flaws in the Gang's plans.
as the "little kids" by others only a year or two older, they prove to
be smarter time and again.
is a good natured film built on
situations and personalities and a smattering of gags. The
"firetruck", built to hold the entire gang with a platform on the back
Petey, is one of the classic images of the series, and the film ends on
a gag that features this vehicle. Rocketing down a steep
the vehicle passes through a a hedge before coming to a stop.
can only happen in movies or cartoons, the hedge has somehow stripped
the entire Gang of their clothes except for their underwear.
except for Spanky, who looks at his fellow gang members and, not to be
the odd man out, begins
unbuttoning his own clothes before the film fades out.
Gus Meins was already
a veteran comedy
director by the time he took over the Our Gang series. As
directing shorts in other Roach series (the Thelma Todd - Zasu Pitts
series, The Taxi Boys), Meins had helmed many Buster Brown shorts in
the silent days, working with "his dog Tige", later to be the first
Pete the Pup. Like Robert F. McGowan,
Meins understood children and knew how to portray things from their
point of view. It's no coincidence that he would co-direct
and Hardy's BABES IN TOYLAND the same year.
STORY: After failing to earn any money by mowing a lawn, the Gang trade Petey for a new doll for Jacquie's sick little sister.
sweet and compact short, For
Pete's Sake! is typical of Gus
Meins's Our Gang films - it has a smooth story that moves logically
scene to another, with gags liberally sprinkled throughout. The Meins
films lack the rough edges found in some of the earlier films, and are
more consistent from short to short. They may never reach the
wild heights of earlier shorts like Free
Eats or The
Kid from Borneo,
or approach the poignancy of Dogs
Dogs or The
nevertheless some of the films from the "Meins Era" rank among the best
of the entire series.
Wagner as the storekeeper who trades a doll for Petey and Leonard
Kibrick as his bully of a son are both so good, they would return in
the later short The
as the same characters. Wagner plays the storekeeper with the
kind of overdone hand and head gestures that may seem like overacting
to adults, but are immediately identifiable to kids as the
unmistakable moves of an unlikable weasel. Leonard
Kibrick is perfect as an irredeemable brat, one who will lasso away a
sick girl's doll or practically choke a dog with his leash.
returns as Stymie's little sister, only this time her name is not
rather Buckwheat. This may strike some viewers as strange,
other baby in this film, Billy Thomas, would later be the most
famous Buckwheat. He would have to wait a few
more films before inheriting the role, and a few more
films after that before he would firmly identified firmly as a
DOGS IS DOGS
While Petey terrorizes the storekeeper and his son, he tears
doll of Mickey Mouse, perhaps a gentle rib at Walt Disney. In
Roach and Walt Disney were on very good terms, and "Mickey Mouse" (or
at least a monkey dressed like him) would appear the same year in
Laurel and Hardy's BABES IN TOYLAND, along with a few bars of Disney's
"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf", with Disney's blessing.
GOOD OLD DAYS
In a gratuitous racial gag, the Gang accidentally wind up with a black doll, but Pete rushes back to replace it with a white one.
STORY: The Gang go camping.
First Round-Up is a highly
pleasant confection, but it's not all that amusing. However,
whereas the similar Bear
Shooters from 1930 seems a little empty even as
it is throwing limburger cheese and skunk gags at you, The First Round-Up
manages to be
engrossing and entertaining even if one wishes it had a few more
Stymie has a new sister Buckwheat, played by Willie Mae Taylor, and Billy "Not Yet Buckwheat" Thomas is still hanging around without any explanation as who he belongs to. We can assume it's Stymie, but it's never mentioned.
Billy Bletcher, who
plays Wally's father,
was famous for his deep voice, best heard in Walt Disney's Three Little Pigs
in which Bletcher
provided the voice of the Big Bad Wolf.
GOOD OLD DAYS
the Gang ask Spanky
and Scotty how they managed to get to the campgrounds first, they
indicate that they hitch-hiked. The thought of two
boys hitch-hiking their way to the faraway woods just brings up
horrible images these days.
STORY: Algebra the
Mule causes trouble for
Wally's driver Barclay.
One of the funniest and loosest of the Our Gang films of 1934, Honky-Donkey asks us to accept the fact that the Gang has a pet mule named Algebra who runs wild at the sound of a sneeze and sits at the sound of a bell. This premise is ingeniously established by the mini-carousel the Gang has built on an empty lot, a ride which depends on Algrebra's reaction to sneezes to put it in motion and Spanky's use of an alarm clock to make it stop. Once we've accepted Algrebra's peculiar personality quirks, the film's gags pretty much write themselves.
Adding to the fun is
Don Barclay as Wally's
fussy and slightly effeminate chauffeur. One of the best
comedians to enter the Our Gang world, Barclay holds his own against
the two great enemies of any actor - kids and animals.
Spanky and Scotty ("Now, boys, was that nice?"), Algebra
my camisole... that's not digestible!") or a traffic cop ("Listen, cop,
I'm on the verge of disliking you!"), Barclay never gets upstaged,
letting the kids and the mule get their own share of laughs while using
his face and his dialogue to snatch scenes right back
from them. The give and take between his own brand of comedy
the mini-comedy team of Spanky and Scotty keep this film bubbling.
The second half of the film
features Algebra chasing Barclay and Wally's Mom all over the house
(naturally, they both let loose with some ill-timed sneezes).
It's emotionally satisfying to see the Gangers wreck yet another house
and put Wally's uptight and over-protective mother in her place -
chased by Algebra into the fountain on the front lawn.
"Thank you gigantically!"
International Silver String
Submarine Band (The Gang) compete for a spot on a radio show.
Fright is a film that pits The Gang against over-rehearsed
under-talented child performers, and concludes with the inevitable: the
Gang wins. One must wonder however if the kids doing the
versions of "Jimmy Had a Nickel" and "Little Grass Shack" knew they
were bad and were playing it up for the cameras, or if they were
actually what they seem to be - kids with little talent at singing
pushed into a show biz career by their parents. The one child
with actual talent (aside from the Gang members) is the little guy who
tap dances in a sailor suit, but his demeanor is completely phony -
he's one of those kids who copied his moves from the adults he had seen
on stage or in the movies, and you just know that every time he dances,
he does so with the exact same moves and head tilts.
International Silver String
Submarine Band, who wail their way through "The Man on the Flying
Trapeze", blowing away all competition. Of course, this fight
fixed from the beginning: Hal Roach and company couldn't have found
more off-key, out-of-time singers for the competition if they had
tried. But that
doesn't take away anything from the Gang, whom, even with a handful of
kids here whose names I will never learn, are still the most charming
exuberant children you'll likely ever see captured in a Hollywood movie.
The adult cast is excellent, but the most interesting older figure is the piano player who never gets a closeup or a line. He is Marvin Hatley, Roach composer responsible for such ditties as as Laurel and Hardy's theme "Dance of the Cuckoos" and "Honolulu Baby" from Laurel and Hardy's SONS OF THE DESERT.
GIRLS SINGING: Jimmy had a nickel, Jimmy had a nickel, Jimmy had a nickel...
SPANKY: Who's this guy Jimmy?
SCOTTY: He's the fella that's got the nickel.
SPANKY: You're too smart.
MELODIES OLD AND
"Good Old Days", the famous Our Gang theme song, does not
this film, which opens (appropriately for this short) with LeRoy
Shield's "Little Dancing Girl" and ends with a reprise of the Gang
singing "The Man on the Flying Trapeze".
STORY: Mother wants
Waldo (Wally) to play a
violin piece for her party guests, but he has other ideas.
once again features Wally, named Waldo for this short, as the
neighborhood rich kid who wants nothing more than to rough it up with
the Gang. This time, he gets into the middle of a football
which dirties his clothes just before Mother wants him to play his
violin piece. The Gang's attempts at washing the clothes fail
miserably even though they import the local kid from the Chinese
laundry to help. After that, they give up and are just
cause the usual unintended chaos amongst the hoi polloi.
The film is loaded
with slapstick gags,
much like Hook and
Ladder from the year before. Petey swallows
whistle and subsequently tweets instead of barks; a monkey throws
pastries at the guests; soap bubbles float from the basement up through
and land in the strangest places at mother's party. It is a
surefire comedy, and, unlike Hook
and Ladder, its gags have
something strong to play against.
is Wally Albright's final Our Gang film. Why his time was so
unclear. Perhaps he didn't catch on the way Hal Roach had
or (my theory), the Spanky-Scotty relationship was so promising, Roach
or McGowan decided the
Gang didn't need a Jackie Cooper-type leader any more (call it
"The Breezy Brisbane Syndrome"). In any event, Albright kept
working, but his subsequent movie career was undistinguished.
was also the last of Tommy Bond's early Our Gang films. He
return to Our Gang in its final years to play the greatest Our Gang
villain of them all, Butch.
GOOD OLD DAYS
The section featuring the Chinese laundry kid, played by Yen
edited as if something offensive had been removed from the print long
ago. My copy
is one of the restored prints issued on VHS.
STORY: Spanky and the
Gang go hunting for
treasure, and get more than they bargained for.
The first of two consecutive films to enter the realm of fantasy,
both of which are excellent examples of how times had
The Our Gang films from 1929 through mid-1933 were grounded in reality,
sometimes harsh reality, with the Gang's never-say-die attitude pitted
against the grittiness of the neighborhoods, houses and alleys they
lived and played in. In the old days, when the Gang hunted
treasure, their exploration took place in the dirty basement of an
abandoned building where they meet a decrepit crazy person (Moan and Groan, Inc.).
In Mama's Little Pirate,
the expansive cave sets of Laurel and Hardy's BABES IN TOYLAND where
they meet a mythical giant.
Little Pirate is a visual and aural treat with neat
those wonderfully crafted sets, a non-stop LeRoy Shield soundtrack
some new tunes) and a perfectly believable giant, played by Tex Madsen
and voiced by, who else, diminutive Billy Bletcher. There are
gags, including some good ones involving Billy Thomas, who is now
finally and forever Buckwheat, but the laughs are merely punctuation
for the fantasy elements.
Joe Young, as
Spanky's father, was Robert
Young's older brother. The resemblance is obvious and even
stronger in the next film.
STORY: Two adults wind up in
when their wish to become children again goes awry.
One of the most
memorable and inventive
shorts of any Our Gang era, Shrimps
for a Day is also one of the few to delve completely into
world of fantasy (in the end, the Giant of Mama's Little Pirate
was just a
Spanky dream). Revisiting the world of orphanages and mean
caretakers from earlier films like Mush
and Milk, Shrimps
for a Day
adds a magic lamp to the mix that allows two likable adults to
experience what the Gang's life is like under the thumb of mean old Mr.
Crutch at the Happy Home orphanage, which rival's Mush and Milk's
Bleak Hill for
The film is a
beautiful mix of comedy,
characters and music, and features the talented midget duo of George
and Olive Brasno as the "child" versions of Dick and Mary, the adults
who are magically turned young
again and accidentally taken to the orphanage. In one of the
sweetest scenes of the entire series, young Dick finds bed space
inseparable pals Scotty and Spanky, who are both sound
They two boys experience some involuntary muscle ticks, and then
suddenly turn over and wrap their arms around Dick. However,
in their sleep, they sense something is wrong and begin hitting and
slapping him until he is forced to make his way out of bed, leaving a
contended Scotty and Spanky holding each other.
Mr. Crutch is
marvelously played by
Clarence Wilson. He successfully straddles the line between
and comedy so that even as you hate him, you can't help but like
him. He berates and belittles the kids while at the
but when they all travel to a swanky party histed by the Happy Homes
owner, Crutch is as obsequiously sweet as can be. While
stepping off the "bus" (a cage on wheels, really), one of the orphans
gets his revenge by stepping on Crutch's foot, knowing that Crutch
cannot do anything about it. As Crutch winces in pain, the
let's loose with an "Am IIIIIII sorry!" in a voice dripping with Our
Mr. Crutch suffers
even further when the
two "kids" get changed back into adults and tell the owner how badly
the old buzzard treats the orphans. Not only is Crutch fired
his post, but Spanky uses the lamp to turn him into a
mini-Crutch and the film fades out just before we see get to see Spanky
beat the snot out of him.
for a Day completed Gus Meins first year directing Our
a fine year it was. Seven solid shorts from Meins with
good one directed by James Parrott, a new star in Scotty Beckett, and
some of the most imaginative stories yet to be seen in the
series. Our Gang was certainly in good hands.
"Ooh thez?" (Buckwheatese for "Who says?")