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Our Gang  




MGM Hal Roach, 1936.  Directed by Gus Meins.  Camera:  Ernest Depew.  With George "Spanky" McFarland, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Scotty Beckett, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Leonard Kibrick, Harold Switzer, Marianne Edwards, Merrell Strong, Alvin Buckelew, Donald Proffitt, Tommy McFarland, Gloria Brown, Priscilla Lyon, John Collum, Snooky Valentine, Billy Winderlout, Gus Leonard, William Wagner, James C. Morton, Joe Bordeaux, Charley Lloyd, Ernie Alexander, Bobby Dunn, Art Rowlands, Fred Holmes, Sam Lufkin, Lester Dorr, Jack "Tiny" Lipson, Jack Hill, Bunny Bronson, Toby Dolan, Joe Mathey.

Their toy store having been destroyed by Petie the Pup in For Pete's Sake, William Wagner and his "son" reemerge in the sidewalk diner business.  This time, the two clearly drawn meanies are doing their best (their worst) to crowd competition off the block.  The "competition takes the form of a tiny portable lemonade stand run by Scotty Beckett and his grandpa, Gus.  Chasing their stand off the corner, bratty Leonard Kibrick snarls, "Get that thing out of here," at which the outsized Spanky retorts, "Don't rush me, Big Boy."  Now with their dander up, the gang comes to Grandpa's aid.  They stage a makeshift parade and succeed in gathering a crowd of potential customers in front of the stand's new location.  Somehow, Alfalfa's off-key rendition of "Little Brown Jug" holds everyone's attention, building to a rousing, crowd-pleasing confrontation with the miserly father and son, highlighted by a scalp-massaging apparatus stuck down Leonard's trousers, forcing him to bounce around on his rear end in time with "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

A frequent theme throughout Gus Meins-directed Rascals shorts is one of irreverence for pretentious people, and few illustrate the concept of upsetting stuffed shirts as well as this film.  Fast-paced, slick, and funny, The Lucky Corner typifies Our Gang at its best:  a simple but solid story augmented by comedy that's warm and gentle, witty and visual, and timeless in its appeal.  Spanky and Alfalfa divide a lot of the laughs, but Buckwheat also wins his share, and with practically no dialogue.  His expressive yet deadpan reactions let one know exactly what he's thinking, even if he can't manage to say it.  The production staff rigged up some action gags for him, too, and throughout the short (punctuated by a slide whistle in the background) we see him scooting down the sidewalks on cakes of ice, whipping around a barber pole, and zipping through a crowd beneath their legs.

When ol' Gus gets run off his corner, Buckwheat's dad, a bootblack, is more than happy to share space with the little lemonade stand, assuring Gus, "Yes, there's room enough for the both of us."  Thus it's another alliance of underdogs:  blacks, Grandpa, and a bunch of cheerful and helpful kids, all battling "big" business and a crotchety, conceited miser who seems to have the law on his side.

Later, when Gus discovers he's out of sugar for his lemonade mix, Buckwheat's dad offers help again.  He sends Buckwheat upstairs with a bowl to bring back the necessary sugar.  That he climbs up on the stool and fills the bowl with starch instead of sugar is funny enough, but there's an inside joke that makes the gag doubly amusing.  If you watch enough Hal Roach comedies, you begin to wonder about the products with labels showing they're from companies in Elmira, New York.  The name crops up with amazing regularity.  In this particular scene, the bags of sugar and starch both come from "3 Star Mfg. Co.," in where else but Elmira, New York.  Why this devotion to Elmira, New York?  It just happened to be Hal Roach's hometown.

The unbeatable Roach stock company makes a hearty contribution to The Lucky Corner, as well.  With all the sour lemonade, many of them get a chance to demonstrate a specialty for spit-takes (a time-honored comedy standby wherein a shock of some kind caused the actor to spit out and spray whatever he's drinking).  One Roach regular, Lester Dorr, apparently answered two calls for this film, since he shows up in various scenes wearing different suits of clothes!  Maybe the continuity girl was out getting a lemonade.

Another potential source of confusion:  The Lucky Corner was released one full year after it was completed; it must have puzzled audiences to see Scotty Beckett back in the gang after he'd left for feature roles.

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