STORY: A two-bit chiseler tries to buy Grandma's general
the cheap so he can sell it to a large chain.
A loving parody
of hoary old movie
is one of the
finest of all Our Gang comedies. It is amazing how in just
minutes, they can play out the entire main story and still find time
for tons of incidental business for all of the gang members.
Farina is in charge of the funny phone calls from customers.
Stymie tricks Wheezer and Dorothy into letting him sample all of
Grandma's wares, including soap and a nice glass of gasoline.
Wheezer makes lovey-dovey eyes with Shirley Jean Rickert (she of the
curls plastered in place on her forehead) and tricks Dorothy with the
old "two for you, one - two for me" gag when it comes to sharing
candy. Chubby tries to convince the chain store people that
Grandma's store isn't worth buying because times are tough:
even getting me down - I used to be fat!".
Grandma, as played by
Margaret Mann, is the
picture of sweetness until the final moments, when
she gets to sock the villain on the nose, a gag that beautifully
undercuts all the parody pathos that comes before it. The
villain, marvelously played by Oscar Apfel, is hissable
When Grandma cries about giving the store over to him, the most
sympathy he can muster is "Quit yer snivelin' and sign those
papers." Wheezer's hammer on the head is too good for him!
musical themes, including
the jolly "Candy, Candy" and the wistful "Prelude" (Grandma's personal
theme) are perfectly synchronized with the various moods of the
film. Even more than in the Laurel and Hardy films, Shield's
background music are important in setting the mood of the Our
Gang films. Some of Laurel and Hardy's funniest films, such
as The Music Box
and Going Bye-Bye!,
had little or no
background music. But an Our Gang short without a non-stop
of dance music on the soundtrack always feels incomplete.
"We all have our weak moments --- but that guy is
Crabtree moves in with
Jackie's family, and Chubby drops by to declare his love for her.
filmed before it (the
opening titles feature the short-lived novelty of twin girls announcing
the credits, just as in
and School's Out),
is the third and
funniest short in the "Miss Crabtree Trilogy". It contains
of the best dialogue of the entire series, from Jackie's reply to
being told he is lovesick - "I'm a whole epidemic!" - to
classic "Don't call me Norman - call me Chubsy-Ubsy."
habit of repeating whatever Chubby says could have become an irritating
gag, but it was dropped right after this film, in which it pays off in
a classic scene where she mangles Chubby's practiced words of woo, so
that corny love stuff like "Can you hear the pleas in my whispers?"
becomes "I can hear the fleas in your whiskers." And then
is this great exchange:
CHUBBY: Hi, Pal-sy!
JACKIE: Well, what do you want?
CHUBBY: Oh, I was just passin' by, thought I'd drop in.
JACKIE: Well just keep passin' by til you get to the river and then drop in!
The laughs don't all
dialogue. Mary Ann, who
is apparently now Jackie's sister (it's all so confusing) gets to
practice some new faces while feasting on mothball soup, while Jackie
tries out several bizarre disguises to interrupt Chubby's "date" with
Crabtree. In between Dorothy's mangled Chubbyisms, Chubby
pulls off several reaction shots obviously based on the master of
reaction shots, Oliver Hardy
GOOD OLD DAYS
Oh my. Tickled by Jackie's crush on her,
Miss Crabtree kisses
him full on the lips! These days, that would probably get you
fired, maybe get you arrested and definitely get you an hour on Oprah.
STORY: Farina is
broken-hearted because his
little brother Stymie is soon to be taken away to the orphanage.
Little Daddy was not often shown on television because...
I can't figure out why but it had something to do with its depiction of
black people. I wish somebody out there would tell me what it
is. The irony is Little
features one of the
most sympathetic portraits of blacks you will find in 1930s
movies. In the midst of all their troubles, which at the time
only included poverty but also segregation, racism and worse, the black
folks in Little Daddy
keep their community together, congregate and pray at
church every Sunday, and give what they can to the collection plate,
even if it is only coat buttons. Farina tends to his little
brother Stymie's needs, cooking for him, making sure he takes his
and reading him Bible stories. Allen Hoskins is superb
in his portrayal of Farina as the older brother heartsick over the
losing his younger brother. Then again, by this time in the
series, Hoskins was a ten-year veteran, so his beautiful portrayal of
the character is
not all that surprising.
Highlights of this
short include Farina's
Buster Keatonish machinery that makes breakfast
and the gang's Rube Goldbergesque "premature" golf course.
There's also Farina's prayer, in which he asks the Lord to watch over
Stymie in the orphanage and to rub goose grease on his neck if he
get sick: "And maybe I'll do the same for You one day." And
don't miss Chubby singing "Asleep in the Deep" in a deep bass voice,
dubbed by fellow Roach comedian Charley Chase.
include an overlong routine between Farina and Stymie based on Stymie's
confusion over the words "Yeah" and "Noah". Writer H. M.
was enamored with such routines, but the child actors were
never able to pull them off convincingly.
Daddy is a fine film, but lacks a real villain to make it
above-average Our Gang short. The man from the orphanage is
treated like a bad guy but is played as a decent fellow doing his job
to the best of his
ability. He actually seems sincere in getting Stymie into a
home, and even after getting humiliated by the gang, he is still
friendly and immediately receptive to Miss Crabtree's offer to be
responsible for Stymie and Farina's welfare. So
it's not really satisfying to see him beaten, bitten
and bared to his underwear by the Gang. Compare this ending
the one upcoming in Fly
and you will see what I mean.
STORY: Wheezer and
Stymie attempt to sell a
wheelbarrow full of junk to a lonely little rich girl.
Not a whole lot goes
on in Bargain Day. The
best moments come
right at the beginning, when the gang helps an increasingly apoplectic
Chubby try on several hats at a local shop. Finally settling
an incongruous top hat, in which he looks very much like Winston
Churchill, Chubby cries out "Now that's what I call a hat!"
true Hal Roach fashion, the various reaction shots from the gang
produce secondary giggles.
After this promising
opening, the film
really goes nowhere. There is an attempt at turning Wheezer
Stymie into a miniature Laurel and Hardy, but Stymie is not right for
the part of
mini-Stan. Although a talented kid, and an incurable ham,
was hampered by the gag writers, who weren't quite sure where they were
going with the character. At this early stage, he was given
that would make Chico Marx shake his head in embarrassment, and can
modern audiences wonder what the hell the kid is talking
It wouldn't be until the marvelous Dogs
is Dogs that the Stymie character was nailed down.
From the H. M. Walker
Big Book of Burlesque
Routines comes another tedious sequence in which Wheezer, Shirley Jean
and Stymie get confused between "Watt Street" and "What
Even though it is
relatively uneventful, Bargain
Day is not a bad
film. There were hardly any bad
films at this point in the series, just some that didn't live up to
the standards established by
the best films, one of which would immediately follow Bargain Day.
Grandma's son-in-law wants to
kick her out of her house, and and steal her valuable bonds.
The last Our Gang film for Farina, Jackie, Chubby, Mary Ann and Shirley
Jean, Fly My Kite
out on a high note with one of the most satisfying shorts of the entire
series. A companion piece to Helping
is another parody of melodramas, but with tongue planted even more
firmly in cheek this time around. The mood is quickly set
in the middle of reading an exciting comic book to the Gang, Grandma is
startled by a backfiring car and falls backwards out of her rocking
chair! Not only does is this gag immediately reprised, and is
still funny the second time, but Grandma also warms up with a
few cartwheels before sparring with the Gang. The stunt work
obvious and yet thoroughly convincing at the same time. It
possibly be Margaret Manning, but it sure looks like her.
As played by James
Mason (no, not that
James Mason), son-in-law Dan is an oily weasel, as despicable an Our
Gang villain as
they come. In the middle of his conversation with a
broken-hearted Grandma, he grows weary of Grandma's tears and pleas and
blurts out " You're broke, you're old and you're useless!".
So when the Gang
realizes he is after some important bonds, they unleash an
industrial-sized can of hurt on him, including kicking him in the
shins, dragging him across a yard over
broken glass and rusty nails, pelting him with rocks, and electrocuting
him. And every second of it is worth savoring.
social worker in Little
this guy deserves everything he gets and more!
Look quick for Mae
Busch as Dan's
hard-hearted floozy of a wife who wants Grandma's house for
herself. Busch was most famous for her many
portrayals of women, most often wive, who made Oliver Hardy's life a
living hell in the Laurel and Hardy comedies.
Losing so many cast
members after this film
hurt the series a bit, although, as it always did, Our Gang quickly
recovered. The Our Gang films managed to be consistently
entertaining no matter which set of kids were in them, but it would not
be until the late one-reelers of Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Butch,
Buckwheat and Porky that you would find a group of rascals as
individually distinctive and filled with personality as the ones
featured from Boxing
through Fly My Kite.
STORY: Wheezer tries to keep his parents from divorcing.
With a huge
chunk of the usual cast
now gone, Our Gang had only two real stars: Wheezer Hutchins and Stymie
Beard. All they had in support was cute, curly-headed Dorothy
(always good for a popeyed
closeup), and a few secondary players like
Haines and Sherwood Bailey. Although this
same cast, along with some talented adults, would soon star in
one of my favorite Our Gang shorts, Dogs
is Dogs, it was nevertheless
obvious that the series needed a few new star cast members along the
lines of Jackie Cooper or Chubby Chaney.
Meanwhile, the writers put
together Big Ears,
a pure star vehicle for
Wheezer. He is excellent, giving one of his best
but a story is not
really Our Gang material, and much of the film is uncomfortable to
watch. Overhearing his bickering parents talking
divorce, Wheezer seeks Stymie's advice. After tossing off one
excruciatingly bad pun (a divorce is an "accident", as in "That was da
vorse accident I've ever seen!") and a gratuitous "cheap Scotsman"
joke, Stymie convinces Wheezer to eat two cans of lard along with a
goodly amount of soap. The idea is that if Wheezer can get
parents will rally to his side and stay together.
Although it makes
sense that two little
boys would come up with this plan, the aftermath is not funny at
all. Hutchin's portrayal of Wheezer with a stomach ache is
realistic - a credit to such a young actor - but are we supposed to
laugh at a child in extreme pain? Worse yet, Stymie goes
to the medicine cabinet to find a cure, offering Wheezer just about
every bottle of whatever he can find. Although he
refuses most of it, the scene still hits too close to home.
idea of Stymie drinking gasoline in Fly
My Kite is funny because of the situation (he's tricking
pals into letting him try free samples of a store's wares) but the idea
of a child drinking random drugs from a medicine cabinet?
Hal Roach specialized in good, intelligent knockabout comedy, but once
in a while in a Roach film, you find yourself wondering "What were they
The best commentary on this film comes from Pete the Pup, who ends the film with a loud wet raspberry aimed in the direction of Wheezer's unpleasant parents.
STORY: Miss Crabtree and the Sea Captain hatch a plan to cure the Gang
of their desire to become pirates.
improvement over Big
My Timbers is an average short that benefits from a loud,
scenery-chewing turn by Billy Gilbert as the local sea captain given to
telling tall tales to the Gang. Stymie's puns are improving
(polar bears/pall bearers, veal cutlass - Chico Marx would have grabbed
these in a heartbeat) and some of the film's best
come when he engages Gilbert in rambling
conversations. Stymie is clearly the star of this short and
most of the best lines.
Except for Stymie,
the rest of the gang is
given little to do but run around the ship and hide during the second
reel, as Gilbert and his crew give them a taste of real pirate
life. A great ship set, used later in Laurel and Hardy's The Live Ghost,
plus LeRoy Shield's
never ending supply of chase and suspense themes, also help put this
over, but just barely. However, the shot of Petey in a pirate
with a knife in his mouth is worth the price of admission.
"Aye, aye, Captain!"
"Don't you 'Aye Aye' me!"
STORY: Waiting for their real father to return, Wheezer and Dorothy live with their evil step-mother and her prissy son Sherwood.
One of the most
intriguing aspects of Hal
Roach films of the early 1930s is how well they capture the harshness
of the Depression and the lives of the poor. This is true in
Laurel and Hardy films, such as Below
Zero and One
and especially true of many Our Gang films. Dogs is Dogs is
like a miniature
Charles Dickens novel, transported to Depression-era America.
and Fly My Kite,
the sentiment and
pathos in Dogs is Dogs
played relatively straight, and few studios aside from Hal Roach's
could get away with it. The key is the realism of the setting
the complete naturalness of Wheezer and Stymie. They play
the caricatures of the step-mother (Amazonian character
actress Blanche Payson), Sherwood's beautifully wussy mama's boy, and
the gun-toting angry farmer (Billy Gilbert) who wants to shoot
As if we needed any
are placed immediately on Wheezer's side when Payson spanks him not
once but twice in the same scene. Perfectly placed cutaway
to Dorothy and Pete the Pup underscore the
sadness of all their lives. Even the shot of Pete with tears
streaming down his face manages to be affecting and funny at the same
Although Wheezer is
the nominal star of the
short, once again it is Stymie who gets the most laughs.
self-reliant, never-say-die attitude is solidified in a scene in which
finagles a fine meal of hams and eggs for him, Wheezer and Dorothy by
employing a tall tale of how hams and eggs can actually talk.
Wheezer obviously knows Stymie is scheming and goes along with it; the
delighted look on his face all during this scene hardly seems to be
play-acting at all. Dorothy is oblivious, and there is a
moment when it seems like she has forgotten her line and must be
prompted by Stymie ("Say 'yes' "/ "Yes"). Sherwood, however,
so skeptical he allows Stymie to cook up the ham and eggs in order to
prove they can talk. There is too much classic dialogue to
it all here, but the kicker features one of Stymie's most famous lines:
WHEEZER: Stymie, where'd you ever get this idea that ham and
STYMIE: Well, I'se full of ideas when I'se hungry.
DOROTHY: Aw, I knew ham and eggs couldn't talk.
STYMIE: Well, they're saying hello to my stomach riiiiight now!
The film manages to
squeeze in two more
memorable sequences after this. First, Sherwood is knocked in
well by his own dog Nero, who seems to have had enough of this
particular master. When
Wheezer and Stymie rescue him, he runs off to tattle on
Tattle on what, we don't know. Along the way, Sherwood
Nero has killed a chicken, and to get back at Wheezer (again, for what
we don't know), he tells the farmer that Petey did
it. When the farmer grabs his shotgun and begins firing at
him with eggs until a cop (the ever reliable Harry Bernard) can be
If you are going to
have a film with an
evil stepmother, you might as well have a fairy tale ending.
Without ruining it, I'll just say that Wheezer, Dorothy
and Petey live happily ever after, while poor Sherwood... well, you
just can't help feeling sorry for the little guy. Even when
to comfort his own mother, he gets yelled at.
Dogs is Dogs is one of my favorite short films of all time, and represents Our Gang at its best.