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Our Gang  




Hal Roach, 1937.  Directed by Gordon Douglas.  Camera:  Art Lloyd.  With Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, George "Spanky" McFarland, Darla Hood, Bill "Buckwheat" Thomas, Sidney Kibrick, Darwood "Waldo" Kaye, Eugene "Porky" Lee, Gloria Brown, John Collum, Yoshi Nistu, Yoko Kawachichi, Beverly Lorraine Smith, Shirley "Henrietta" Coates, Robert Winkler, Rosina Lawrence.

Valentine's Day is a lot of hooey so far as Spanky, Buckwheat, and Alfalfa are concerned.  They decide to start the He-Man Woman-Haters' Club to make their displeasure official.  But when Darla walks by and winks at Alfalfa, he forgets about his vow and goes after her, accepting an invitation to lunch and exchanging valentines.  Spanky wants to teach this Romeo a lesson, so while Alfalfa is off with Darla at the swings, he substitutes soap for cheese in his sandwich, and liquid soap for whipped cream in the cream puff.  In class that afternoon, when the teacher asks Darla to play the piano, she agrees if Alfalfa will sing.  He takes a drink of water first, so that with every line of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," a raft of soap bubbles flows from his mouth! At the finish of the song, Alfalfa runs out of the classroom, and Spanky triumphantly tears up his lovelorn pal's valentine from Darla.

Hearts Are Thumps (often misnamed "Hearts Are Trumps") is another fast-moving, entirely satisfying one-reeler that is built on a single, simple idea.  Also, it's yet another short that benefits tremendously from the superb musical background scoring of Marvin Hatley.  One is never quite sure why Alfalfa goes along with his pals in the renunciation of women, since he hasn't indicated such tendencies before.  Nevertheless, he repeats Spanky's improvised oath:  "We, the He-Man Woman-Haters' Club, promise not to fall for this Valentine business, because girls are the bunk."  All it takes, however, is goo-goo eyes from Darla to set Alfalfa's heart quite literally a-thumping, and that's the end of his involvement with the club.  As he tells Spanky, "I have to live my own life."  Darla, of course, is no dummy.  She knows how to go after her man, combining flirtatiousness with food and telling Alfalfa that she likes him above all the others because "you have personality."  His face lights up like a thousand-watt bulb as he replies, "Have I?"

When Alfalfa starts to eat Darla's sandwich (as doctored by Spanky) he chokes on the soapy substance, contorting his face in obvious pain.  When he tries to make a tactful comment to Darla, she haughtily replies that if he doesn't want to eat her lunch, she knows plenty of boys who will.  Alfalfa immediately begs her to let him finish the lunch, promising to eat every bite.  "Pretty please?" she asks.  "Pretty please," he replies sheepishly, resigning himself to finish the sandwich and cream puff.

Later, when Miss Jones asks Darla to play the piano, she in turn asks Alfalfa to sing with her.  He replies that he'd rather not...he isn't in the mood.  Spanky leans toward him, aping Darla, and says mockingly, "Pretty please!" goading Alfalfa into agreeing to sing.

It's easy to take a sequence like the bubble song for granted, but aside from the wonder of movie special effects to make the gag seem real, there is the skill of Alfalfa and the other kids in pretending to play with, and react to, imaginary bubbles onscreen (the animated bubbles were added to the picture after the live-action scenes were finished).  Alfalfa's exaggerated emphasis of the words in his song, especially at the end of each phrase, widen his mouth and make more logical the thrust that propels the bubbles to emerge, a group at a time.  His wide-eyed amazement and discomfort at the results are those of a skilled comic actor-who just happens to be nine years old.

Laughter evoked by Alfalfa's mime and music is doubled, too, each time the camera cuts away to a broadly smiling Spanky and Buckwheat, who are content to sit back and relish the crooner's struggles.  The camera cuts to a stunned Darla, also, though one may wonder whether she's bewildered as to what's made Alfalfa become a bubble machine, or whether it's simply that she can't figure out where the violins are coming from that gradually merge with her piano accompaniment!

Of course, Spanky's momentary victory over "women" doesn't keep Alfalfa from becoming increasingly fond of Darla, as their on-again, off-again sweetheart relationship formed the basis for more and more story lines during the coming year of Our Gang films.

As a behind-the-scenes footnote to the theme of this picture, it is curious to learn that late in life, Darla Hood admitted to having had a slight crush on Spanky, rather than Alfalfa.  Spanky, of course, was never linked romantically with Darla on-screen, and in front of the cameras was seldom a Lothario of any kind.  "He was by far, though, at least to my girlish eyes, the most likable of the gang regulars," Darla said.  "It was Alfalfa who was the dominating one, and so was his father, who pushed Alfie and his brother Harold into prominence, and encouraged Alfie's sometimes arrogant and unruly behavior around the lot.  Spanky may have gotten along with him, but I was terrified of him.  In regard to Spanky, though, I always felt a certain kindliness and generosity; I guess I always had a gentle feeling for Spanky, who after all was the real pro of the gang in every way.

"None of us socialized off the set except for an occasional birthday party.  I believe the parents were mostly to blame—as you know how kids are—they love anyone and everyone unless they learn prejudices from their parents.  I recall that Alfie's and Spanky's fathers fought continually over billing, salaries, and star status between their sons.  Very much unlike his screen character, Tommy Bond, of all, seemed most 'normal,' perhaps because he was a semi-regular Our Gang member and missed the jealousy and constant status-seeking conflicts the Switzers and the McFarlands went through.  Honestly, I must say that these are my impressions, but as I was three to four years younger than Spanky and Alfalfa, as well as being the only girl around, I did feel a little left out of their activities, and perhaps never fully understood these kinds of things."

The Little Rascals
by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann
Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York 1992