Our Gang / The Little Rascals (series)
Synopsis of Movie
Many classic films have been lost to the sands of time, especially short films. However, the “Little Rascals” films (a.k.a. “Our Gang”), a series of shorts about the colorful antics of a group of kids, have continued to remain popular since their genesis in the 1920’s. Like The Three Stooges, the Little Rascals have become television standards, entertaining the TV generation as humorously as they did their parents and grandparents in their silver screen heyday.
The Little Rascals series was developed by comedy film pioneer Hal Roach, a producer who had made countless classic silent films with comedians like Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy. He was inspired to create the series when he looked out his office window and saw a group of little boys fighting over a pile of sticks. Thinking to himself that kids were natural comedians, he set to auditioning young actors to form a ragtag group of funny rambunctious kids that he dubbed “Our Gang.” It’s interesting to note that some of the kids passed over in the audition process included Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple.
The first “Our Gang” comedy, simply titled Our Gang, was released in 1922. Like all the early “Our Gang” shorts, it was a silent film. The colorful group of kids, including Mickey Daniels and Joe Cobb, instantly hit it off with audiences because they mixed sprightly charm with a genuinely down-to-earth quality that set them apart from other kid stars. Pete the Pup, an adorable mutt with a distinguishing circle around one eye, was also introduced in these early films and would go on to become the one of the symbols of the series.
The silent era of “Our Gang” comedies introduced the basic elements of plotting for the series. There was often a thread of competition driving the plot, like a few of the kids vying for the attention of a girl or a pretty teacher. The competition could also take the form of the kids fighting off a bully or competing with a rich kid. However, the plots were usually pretty episodic and allowed the kids to act like kids: they played, they fought, and they dealt with puppy love. Also, each kid had his or her own great double-take expression that would be used to punctuate the antics. Thus, the spontaneous nature of these short brought the natural, unforced charm of the kids that made “Our Gang” into a movie-house hit.
After seven years and 88 shorts, the “Our Gang” series made the transition from silent to talkie. The addition of sound added a new layer to the comedy. A great example of the boost that sound brought to these films is When The Wind Blows, which depicts Jackie sneaking out of the house to recover an abandoned textbook. In the process, he goes through a series of misadventures that wake up the whole neighborhood. The mishaps are punctuated by sounds: glass shatters, cats howl, pots and pans clang, the wind blows, and everybody lets out a yell when frightened.
The talkie era of “our gang” comedies introduced the cast of young actors that most Little Rascals fans know best. Jackie Cooper quickly became a popular child actor and managed to translate his early success into an adult acting career in films like Kilroy Was Here and Superman. Another popular cast member was Spanky McFarland, a round-cheeked tyke who always wore a beanie cap. Spanky also had an amazing ability to coin catchphrases like “And how!” and “You’re tellin’ me!”
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer was a kid who loved to croon and had a distinctive middle-part haircut with a long-strand of hair sticking up at the back. Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins had an unsinkable spirit and a great smile. Allen “Farina” Hoskins and Matthew “Stymie” Beard were talented young African-American comedians who brought both talent and racial diversity to the mix. Stymie was also notable because he wore a bowler hat in tribute to his comedic idol, Stan Laurel.
As new cast members were worked into “Our Gang,” the heart-tugging stories that dominated the silent era were downplayed in favor of pure comedies. There were also many annual ‘follies’ shorts like Our Gang Follies of 1936. These musical-comedy revues made a superstar out of Alfalfa and his “crooning” skills. Darla Hood, the little girl with the big, brassy singing voice, was a later addition who added much to the musical interludes. And, of course, there was always the indecipherable duo of shock-haired Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas and Eugene “Porky” Lee trying to horn in on the show with their inimitable version of “Strolling Through The Park One Day.”
In 1938, Hal Roach closed up his studios. However, this was not the end of the “Our Gang” series. The rights to the series were snatched up by MGM studios, which continued to use the same cast. They also added new members, including the cute, Wheezer-like Mickey Gubitosi and the perpetually hoarse Billy “Froggy” Laughlin. Years later, Mickey would grow up to become Robert Blake, star of films like In Cold Blood and television shows like Baretta. These new episodes brought a new sense of polish to the series, as the filmmaking became slicker and the young actors grew more mature in age.
The MGM years added another 51 shorts to the ever-growing roster of the Little Rascals filmography. The series ended for good in 1944 after 22 years and 221 films. However, the series lived on through television. Since the “Our Gang” name was owned by MGM, the films were retitled “The Little Rascals” and began being telecast around the world in syndication starting in the 1950’s. They became a staple of children’s television and continue to be popular to this day. In fact, the classic shorts have inspired a recent big-screen feature remake, 1994’s The Little Rascals. Their continued success proves what Hal Roach knew from the start: children really are the best comedians.
Movie Release History1922 - Our Gang
Movie Sub Categorieslive-action
Movie StudioHal Roach, MGM
CastMickey Daniels Mickey
Joe Cobb Joe
Jackie Cooper Jackie
George McFarland Spanky
Carl Switzer Alfalfa
Bobby Hutchins Wheezer
Allan Hoskins Farina
Matthew Beard Stymie
Billie Thomas Buckwheat
Eugene Lee Porky
Mickey Gubitosi Mickey
Billy Franklin Froggy