Movie Summaries

Radio Shows




Dr. Macro's
Movie Scans

Privacy Statement Visitor Agreement
Our Gang  




MGM Hal Roach, 1936.  Directed by Gordon Douglas.  Camera:  Art Lloyd.  With George "Spanky" McFarland, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Eugene "Porky" Lee, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Darla Hood, Sidney Kibrick, Harold Switzer, Donald Proffitt, Dickie De Nuet, Dorian Johnston, Robert Lentz, John Collum.

"With vacation over, thousands of smiling, happy children return to school"—but the gang is neither happy nor smiling.  All they want to do is find a way to skip the first day of class—especially since they're going to have a new teacher, who's sure to be an old crab.  Spanky hatches an idea and rigs a phony toothache for Alfalfa, blowing up a balloon inside his cheek to make it look real.  Meanwhile, the pretty new teacher, Miss Lawrence, overhears their scheme and decides to teach them a lesson.  When Alfalfa refrains from singing "Good Morning" in class, Miss Lawrence innocently asks what's wrong, and told about his toothache, gives the groaning faker permission to go home, and encourages Spanky to accompany him.  Just as they leave, a Good Humor delivery man comes along with ice cream bars for the entire class, a little surprise engineered by the teacher.  Now Spanky has to find a way to get himself and Alfalfa back into class; he pops the balloon inside Alfalfa's cheek and tries to pull it out, but it snaps back into Alfalfa's throat.  Trying to cough it up, he gulps it back down instead.  Clutching his throat with a pained expression, he realizes "I swallowed it."  "Aw, that's nothin'," Spanky assures his pal.  "I swallowed lots of things when I was a kid.  Come on."  So fully "cured," at least to Spanky's satisfaction, Alfalfa is led back into class, where Spanky accounts for his recovery:  "Funny thing, Teacher, he's all well now."  Miss Lawrence insists that he must sing before getting his treat, so Alfalfa launches into "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms," with the balloon stopper providing a whistling sound every time he inhales!  He manages to get through the song, however, and Spanky and Alfalfa finally get their share of the ice cream from this kind—and clever—new teacher.

Bored of Education was almost never made.  When the previous season's cycle of Our Gang comedies had concluded with Arbor Day, there was speculation that the celebrated series might be suspended, despite its popularity.

With movie theaters literally dropping their shorts in favor of the double feature, Hal Roach had resigned himself to producing a new brand of ambitious, top-grade feature-length films.  Our Gang was nearly a casualty in this purge, as the Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase shorts had been.  Our Gang, though, was a favorite with MGM, and Louis B. Mayer convinced Hal Roach to continue making the lucrative comedies by agreeing to accept the shorter episodes and agreeing to distribute the Our Gang feature test, General Spanky.  Luckily, the series' farewell was postponed.

The new season of shorter length Our Gang pictures was announced to the trades with this offbeat press release:  "Certainly this year, in addition to this new feature production enterprise, there will be 12 single-reel Hal Roach Our Gang comedies.  The public just wouldn't stand for a discontinuance of Our Gang.  Might as well abolish baseball!

"Of course Spanky will continue to star in Our Gang comedies now being made by as spry a troupe of youngsters as ever gathered under the Klieg lights.  You'll find Alfalfa there, too, as he's got all those things that make folks chuckle and a weirder voice than ever!

"It is to be emphasized the Our Gang comedies are in 1-reel each now and definitely a bright spot on any program."

Somehow, remarkably, this initial gang single-reeler won the series its only Academy Award, as the best short subject of 1936.  One can only wonder how such a comparatively lackluster entry managed to win when so many more deserving Our Gang films had been bypassed through the years.  Perhaps it was because Our Gang hadn't yet won an Academy Award, and the series appeared to be nearing an end.  Or possibly the studio lobbied hard for recognition that year.  Whatever, the award seems to have been a product of whim and timing, rather than strictly a consideration of merit.  While a pleasant short, Bored of Education is hardly an outstanding one.

Most surprised of all was the film's director, young Gordon Douglas.  Although he had been with the Roach studio for several years, working in the casting office, the prop room, as assistant cutter, as assistant director, and as part-time actor (in some earlier Our Gang and Boy Friends shorts), his name had appeared as director only twice before, on undistinguished Irvin S. Cobb shorts in roach's All Star series.  This was his first important assignment, and, significantly, it was the first Our Gang short in the new one-reel (ten-minute) format, after years of comedies twice that length.  When his maiden effort in the series won an Academy Award, Douglas was elated.  "I figured if at twenty-two I could get an Oscar, I had this town made," he recalls.

But reviewed today, the film Bored of Education doesn't stand up to earlier Our Gang efforts or to Douglas's later films in the series.  The young filmmaker was still learning his own lessons, in a sense, when he made Bored of Education.  Each successive film showed a firmer grasp of timing within each scene, and overall pacing within the ten-minute format.  In addition, Douglas got to know the kids much better and elicited more convincing performances from them.

Bored of Education suffers most in comparison with Teacher's Pet, the superb 1930 two-reeler from which it was derived.  The warmth, sincerity and poignancy of Teacher's Pet are not to be found in this more streamlined edition.  Miss Lawrence's gesture in handing the two would-be truants their ice-cream sticks at the end of Alfalfa's song can hardly compare with the reconciliation between Miss Crabtree and a weeping Jackie Cooper in Teacher's Pet, but even without the comparison, one feels no real resolution in the ending of Bored of Education.  The kids haven't really learned much of a lesson, since they got away with their scheme and didn't suffer for it, and it doesn't appear that they've drawn any closer to Miss Lawrence because of the incident.  One fully expects them to try something else another day—and, of course, they do.

Within one year, Gordon Douglas nailed down the one-reel Our Gangs and directed a series of slick, entertaining films that were near-perfect in construction and pacing.  He has gone on to become a successful director of feature films, with Come Fill the Cup, Them!, Young at Heart, Tony Rome, and Harlow among his credits.  bust after all these years he still harbors special feelings about the Hal roach studio.  "It was a marvelous family.  Everybody was there to make the picture as good, and as fast as possible...and as funny.  Nobody was there to hurt anybody else.  I've never run into as many nice people in one spot as at Hal Roach."

Just as it was Douglas's directorial debut with Our Gang, Bored of Education marked Rosina Lawrence's debut as Our Gang's schoolteacher, in the first serious attempt to revive the role popularized by June Marlowe six years earlier.  Hal Roach was grooming Rosina Lawrence for big things, casting her opposite Charley Chase in Neighborhood House, Laurel & Hardy in Way Out West, and Jack Haley in Pick a Star.  The young actress had looks and talent (she sang and danced well, having learned to dance as a child to combat a spinal paralysis), but somehow she never quite made the splash the studio expected.  Roach publicist Dick Hurley believes it was because she wouldn't go out and "push," as other movie protégés found they had to.

Rosina was dating Johnny Downs at the time this film was made, but within a few years she left show business behind.  She married a judge and raised three children of her own.  After her husband died, she met John McCabe, Laurel & Hardy's biographer.  In 1987 the lady who worked with Stan and Babe married the scholar who chronicled their lives.

Production footnotes:  From script to screen, Bored of Education underwent surprisingly few alterations.  By this time, each short was scripted fairly tightly, and Spanky McFarland recalls that the only improvisation during on-the-set rehearsals involved motions and rhythms, and occasionally dialogue, in order to make it sound natural for whoever had to deliver the lines.  Usually the directors would encourage the kids to iron out awkward dialogue that didn't sound right to them, or seemed somehow unnatural.  "Well, how would you say it?" they might ask.  The technique fostered spontaneity; and the charming rough edges only enhanced the films' believability.

In Bored of Education, the camera setups and pan shots, the cuts, actions, reactions, attitudes, and dialogue were all executed essentially as set forth in the eight-page shooting script.  However, one running gag was excised; it involved Spanky's repeated characterization of the new teacher as an old owl, calling for Buckwheat "takems" (as the script labeled such exaggerated reactions) each time Spanky mimed an owl's look and imitated the "Hoo! Hoo!" sound it makes.  In turn, each time the script would also call for a cut to an amused Rosina, "as she takes it big," too.  In the release print, the only trace of this gag is a single scene in class with Spanky drawing an owl on a slate ("the new teacher") and showing his handiwork to Alfalfa, thereby eliciting an exchange of approving nods between the two Rascals.

The Little Rascals
The Life and Times of Our Gang
by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann
Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York, 1992