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Our Gang  




MGM Hal Roach, 1934.  Directed by Gus Meins.  Camera:  Francis Corby.  With George "Spanky" McFarland, Scotty Beckett, Wally Albright, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Leonard Kibrick, Marianne Edwards, Jacqueline Taylor, Carlena Beard, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Tommy Bond, Philbrook Lyons, Marvin "Bubbles" Trin, William Wagner, Fred Holmes, Lyle Tayo.

Bratty Leonard breaks Marianne's doll, and refuses to do anything about it.  The little girl has been ill and older sister Jackie explains that she always takes the doll to sleep with her.  Wally and the boys promise to have a new doll in her hands by bedtime, one with eyes that open and close.

At the neighborhood novelties store, the cuddly stuffed baby of Marianne's dreams is available for $1.25, a small fortune they don't have.  However, Leonard's father, the proprietor, slyly offers to trade the doll for the gang's dog, Pete.  Wally tells him sincerely, "Say, I wouldn't trade that dog for your whole darned store," but after an unsuccessful attempt to earn the money by beating rugs, they return and sadly surrender their pet in exchange for the doll.  When they accidentally break a vase on their way out, the crabby owner takes the doll back to pay for the damage.  Then Pete turns on father and son, scaring them to death and forcing them to beg the gang's help in taking the dog away; Wally agrees, if they can have their doll, and the helpless owner agrees.  A last-minute mix-up in dolls is remedied by Pete, who zips back to the store and grabs the correct one from the window display, returning to present it personally to Marianne for a happy ending.

For Pete's Sake is another bulls-eye comedy directed by Gus Meins, perfectly paced and conceived so that every scene fits into place, framed by a running gag:  Stymie's little sister Buckwheat getting stuck in awkward places, with sideline observers Scotty and Spanky alerting Stymie to the problem each time.

As usual, the older kids don't want to be bothered when these young ones try to get their attention...until it's too late.  In the very first scene, they try to warn Wally that the sawdust he's pouring into Marianne's broken doll is landing inside the front of his pants.  "He'll never learn," Scotty wryly comments, making the same remark about Stymie, who after rescuing trouble-prone Buckwheat for the third time complains, "This is getting monopomous."

Finally, at the end of the film, after the little sister falls into a basin of water, Stymie takes care of the matter without prompting, hanging the child on a clothesline to dry.  "Well," says Scotty triumphantly, "we learned 'em."  Thus the running gag and accompanying remarks provide a perfect punctuation for every segment of the film, as well as a punch line to bring the short to a satisfying conclusion.

The story itself is worked out with equal finesse, starting with a problem that propels the gang into seeking a solution, then a seemingly insoluble dilemma, and a resolution that allows the gang to come out on top with both the dog and the doll, and see the villains get their just deserts.

Leonard is the ideal bully, in a position of power and well aware of it.  He "playfully" lassoes Marianne's doll and swings it into the street, where it is crushed by a passing truck—an act of pure meanness without any provocation.  To the gang's complaints he sneers, "Aw, it was only an old rag doll," and when Wally insists that he's got to replace it, Leonard answers, "Who's gonna make me?" staring into Wally's eyes while pulling himself up to his full height.  Wally knows darn well he doesn't want to fight this bully, but he gulps and says that he'll make him.  The threats continue, and Spanky remarks, "You guys sure talk a great fight."  A call from Leonard's mother cuts short the impending battle.

Only someone as repulsive as Leonard could have a father as seedy as the store owner, played by William Wagner.  Leonard even wields persuasive powers over his pop, convincing him that they could use a watchdog like Pete and suggesting the idea of trading doll for dog.  Happily, both Leonard and his misanthropic father are given their comeuppance when Pete turns on them and causes them to literally climb the walls for dear life, smashing most of the store's contents in the process.

The rug-beating sequence is also fun, with everything going smoothly until Spanky and Scotty rig up a lawn-mowing machine with Pete providing transportation.  The eager dog runs loose and "mows" the shag off a long carpet!  The kids try to glue back the material before the owner gets wise, but he wakes up from his nap just in time to see what's happened.  Chasing after the kids, he trips and falls onto the rug, rising with a face full of carpet!

As an unexpected but pleasing tag for the short, there is a last-minute cliffhanger ending.  Just as all seems well and the kids approach Marianne's house, they unwrap their present and discover that it's a black girl doll, inappropriate as a replacement for the blond youngster.  Suddenly Pete snaps into action, darting away and dragging Scotty and Spanky with him,  sailing downtown just as Leonard and his father are about to lock up their store.  They recoil in horror at the sight of Pete, who barges inside and grabs the right doll from the window, flying back from whence he came, dragging the two boys behind him and causing havoc along the way, bumping into pedestrians, knocking a ladder out from underneath a sign painter, etc., racing back to Marianne's window for the finale.

By now, Spanky and Scotty were established as a team within the gang, their wisecracks working as counterpoints to the main action involving the older kids.  (Never caught off-guard, when the gang says, "Look what you did!" after the carpet accident, Spanky replies, "Aw, that could happen to anybody.")  This worked so well, in fact, that the next short in the series was built around them and their contrast to the rest of the gang.  As for Leonard, he was incorporated into the cast, alternating between good-guy and bad-guy parts; but two years later, director Gus Meins reteamed him with sharkish-smiling William Wagner to perform their father-and-son villainy once more in The Lucky Corner.

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