Saturday, June 8, 2013
When Spanky has Porky put an absence note on the teacher’s desk at the end of the school day, so that they can go to the circus the next day, they have no idea that their teacher has made plans to take the class there as a surprise.
With the school locked for the night, the boys must brave the dark to retrieve the phony note. With a dark and fierce storm raging; at least it seemed that way to me when I watched it as a kid; the boys enter the building, waking the janitor, and scaring him half to death before doing the same to themselves. The scene with the skeleton really caught my attention at age 6.
Naturally, the boys are outwitted by their common enemy; adults; and when they catch cold due to their exploits they cannot attend the circus the next day due to the very real colds they once strove so hard to pretend they had. As for the stereotyping in these films; I've said it before, and I’ll repeat it now; the common enemy of the gang were the adults.
The characters were all stereotyped to one degree or another. There was the arch typical bully, the good girl, the fat kid, the black kid, the little kid, the maiden teacher; hell, even the dog was stereotyped. So, forget the political correctness for about 6 minutes and enjoy the film for what it was meant to be. And whatever you do, don’t listen to Spanky. He’s always getting the gang into trouble!
Saturday, March 9, 2013
This is probably the first “Little Rascals”/”Our Gang” episode which I remember watching. It’s interesting to note that the name on the credits is “Hal Roach and His Rascals.” They went through two more changes in name as the years passed, finally becoming known mainly as “The Little Rascals.”
In this 1931 episode, “Grandma”, who is really just an old lady in the neighborhood, is having her usual day of fun with the neighborhood kids. She reads to them, feeds them and even boxes with them. The children are all from poor families and presumably the parents are all out working during the day, leaving the children at “loose ends.” She is the anchor which holds their little world in place.
Grandma’s son-in-law, a mean fellow named Dan, has promised to let Grandma stay in her home until she passes away. He had previously broken Grandma’s daughter’s heart with his philandering ways, which she blames for causing her daughter’s early death. With no money of her own to live on, she is forced to accept the promise that Dan will always take care of her.
But when Dan and his new girlfriend arrive at the home unexpectedly, they find Grandma roughhousing with the neighborhood kids. The girlfriend tells Dan that unless Mom moves out, she won’t move in. Grandma, hearing the arrival of the cab with Dan and his girlfriend in it, tells the kids to hide.
When Dan tells Grandma that he is kicking her out and sending her to the poorhouse, all seems lost. As Dan leaves the home he checks the mail, finding a letter informing Grandma that she is in possession of some gold bonds which will make her secure for the rest of her life. Dan takes the letter to an attorney who informs him that the bonds are transferrable and worth about $100,000; more than Grandma can ever hope to use in the few years remaining to her. He quickly returns to her home in an attempt to retrieve the bonds. Meantime, Grandma, while packing her belongings, has given the worthless bonds to “Chubby” for a tail on his kite.
Dan rushes home from the lawyer, and once there, he crushes Grandma’s glasses and reads the letter to her, informing her that the bonds she once held are worthless. But he’s in for quite a surprise when she informs him that the bonds have “gone up”. When he realizes that she has given the bonds to “Chubby”, he rushes outdoors to retrieve the kite, and the bonds. Meantime, Grandma, while packing her belongings, has seen the letter through the “lens” created by the fishbowl where the letter has been laying and dispatches the children to help “Chubby” retain the now valuable kite.
These films were the basis for many of life’s lessons in morality, honesty and hard work. In spite of the stereotyping of everyone in these films; the helpless old Grandma; the fat kid “Chubby”; the racist portrayal of Stymie and Buckwheat; and even the villainous son-in-law, complete with an evil looking moustache; were a staple each morning before I went to school. And, sometimes I think I learned more about life from these old films than I ever did in in class.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
This is the first time I have ever seen an episode of the Little Rascals in color. I didn’t think that I would enjoy it as much as I did. I was the same way when it came to the colorizations of many of my favorite classic movies when that was first being done in the 1990’s., but I have come to really enjoy it with some films. Of course, certain movies should always be viewed in black and white; Casablanca is a prime example of that; but for the most part the colorization process lends certain clarity to the old films. It’s also interesting to be able to see the furnishings and clothing more clearly. There is so much more detail, which I did not expect.
In this 1935, the gang struggles with the everyday problem of finding enough food to eat. In the midst of the Great Depression this was not an isolated problem, but one with which audiences could readily identify. Even if they themselves were not on Public Assistance, everyone in the audience knew someone who was.
Woven into this story is a bit of Social Injustice, as Stymie tries to keep the dreaded Dog Catcher from taking his dog to the pound. Unless he can come up with the $5 necessary for a license, the dog will be gassed by the end of the day. With no money for food, it’s a stretch of the imagination to figure out where he is going to get the money to save his dog. But, they say that the Lord hears the prayers of children first, so when Stymie prays for that $5, and it just floats in on the wind, it is really no surprise. Neither is the policeman who chases him thinking the money is stolen.
When the gang finally arrives at the Pound with the money, they are told by the sadistic Dog Catcher that they are too late and the dog is dead. He actually smiles as he tells them. But things usually work out in these old shorts, and this is no exception. I used to watch these old films every day before going to school. As a kid I readily identified with their problems and the injustices heaped upon them by the adults. And, at 58 years of age, I still do.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
As a kid I used to watch these Our Gang comedy shorts on TV before going to school in the morning. I expect that most “baby boomers” share this same memory. These films were a “double banger” for me, as they not only allowed me a look back at life in the 1930’s; a period I have always been interested in; but they also taught me that some of life’s troubles were universal and unchanging, especially when it came to the world of children. And, being a child at the time, I considered myself somewhat of an expert on the subject.
In this episode, the gang is confronted by a new teacher on the very first day of a new school year. With the cunning that does not come of age; or wisdom; the boys decide to play hooky by pretending to be sick. What they really want is a day off, even before the school year has begun.
Spanky fixes Alfalfa with a phony toothache and they wait until the class has begun before asking to be excused. Spanky, of course, needs to accompany Alfalfa home. It wouldn’t be right to let him make the journey alone. The teacher readily agrees to their request, all the while hiding a little secret of her own.
As a new teacher on the first day of school, she has prepared a little treat for the class; ice cream. When Alfalfa and Spanky leave the school, they find themselves left out of the little “surprise” which the teacher had planned for their classmates. With a natural inclination towards improvisation, the two pals need a quick “fix” if they are going to be able to partake of the ice cream.
These old films have been restored over the years and many are in pristine shape, as this one clearly is. Another thing that many people never notice when watching them, is that even though there is quite a bit of “politically incorrect” humor involving the racial differences of the kids, they are; for the most part; equal in their roles as children. They even attend an integrated school at a time in which Jim Crow still reigned supreme throughout much of the nation. These little “shorts” by Hal Roach represent some of the first times in which blacks and whites were portrayed as somewhat equal on film. And remember, they were all united against a common enemy; the adults.
There were 4 African-American actors in the main cast of the “Our Gang” series. They were Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. Morrison was actually the first African-American actor ever signed by a major studio to a long term contract. He was also the first African-American “movie star” in the history of Hollywood.
If you think the 4 African-Americans were stereotyped, then just take a look at the white kids. Morrison and Thomas were both of the opinion that the white kids were much more “pigeon holed” than they were. There was the little blonde girl, Darla; the freckle faced kid, Alfalfa; a neighborhood bully, Butch; and the little toddler, whose name I don’t even remember.
In an article about the Our Gang series on Wikipedia, "Stymie" Beard is quoted as saying “We were just a group of kids who were having fun." Ernie Morrison recalled that, "When it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind." I don’t know if that is accurate, as some of the stereotyping would seem to be at odds with that statement.
No matter; these films are wonderful snapshots of what life was like for kids almost 100 years ago, and as such are invaluable in our being able to look back. And, for me, they are great reminders of my younger years and the things that amused me.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
This is the first time I have ever seen an episode of the Little Rascals in color. I didn't think that I’d enjoy it as much as I did. I was the same way with the colorization's of many of the classic movies when that was first being done in the 1990’s, but I have come to really enjoy it with some films. Of course, certain movies; like “Casablanca”; should always be viewed in black and white, but for the most part, the colorization process does lend a certain clarity to the old films. It’s also kind of interesting to see the color patterns of the home furnishings, as well as the clothes. There’s a lot more detail to be appreciated, which I did not expect.
In this 1935 episode, the gang struggles with the everyday struggle to find enough food to eat. In the midst of the Great Depression this was not an isolated problem, but one with which audiences could readily identify. Even if they themselves were not on some sort of Public Assistance, fully 25% of the country was.
Woven into the story is a bit of Social Injustice, as Stymie loses his dog to the Dog Catcher, and unless he can come up with the $5 necessary for a license, the dog will be gassed by the end of the day. With no money for food, it’s a stretch of the imagination to figure out where he is going to get that money. But, they say the Lord hears the prayers of the little children first, so when Stymie prays for that $5, and it floats in on the wind, it is really no surprise. Neither is the policeman who chases him thinking he has stolen the money.
When they finally arrive at the Pound with the money, they are told by the sadistic Dog Catcher that their dog is dead. He actually smiles when he tells them. But things usually work out in these old shorts, and this one is no exception. I used to watch these old shorts every day before school. As a kid I readily identified with their problems and the injustices heaped upon them by the adults. And, at 58 years of age, I still do.