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Our Gang  




MGM Hal Roach, 1929.  Directed by Robert F. McGowan.  Camera:  Art Lloyd.  With Joe Cobb, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins, Jean Darling, Gordon Thorpe, Mary Ann Jackson, Harry Spear, Bret Black, Jay R. Smith, Lyle Tayo, Michael Mark, Tenen Holtz, Fred Holmes, Edith Fortier, Jack O'Brien.

Joe has two irritating problems:  a painful toothache and having to baby-sit with his brother Rupert, who sits up crying all day.  He enlists the aid of the gang, but it seems that every time Rupert finally dozes off, some nearby commotion wakes him up again.  When mother returns home, Joe is able to take his mind off Rupert for awhile and concentrate on the toothache instead.  He's got a dollar to have the tooth pulled by a local dentist, but Farina convinces him to save the money and let the gang do the work.  With one end of a string tied to the tooth and the other wrapped around the tail of canine Pete, the job is swiftly accomplished; but the dollar bill has fallen into the hands of baby brother Wheezer, who sells it to a sharp-eyed youngster for a penny.  The gang takes off after the conniving kid for a chase finale.

Noisy Noises takes come simple comic ideas and makes the most of them.  One could hardly ask for more satisfying results.  Rupert is the cryingest baby either side of the Rockies, but like most such infants, he has a sixth senses about when to cry so the effect will be most annoying.  Joe tries to rock him to sleep, and the child begins to nap when suddenly a man next door starts practicing his bass fiddle.  Snap—Rupert is up and bawling.  But when poor, beleaguered Joe rocks the cradle to vigorously that the wooden structure falls apart, Rupert seems downright amused, and even more so when the bumbling older brother trips over himself trying to transfer him to a baby carriage.  The ultimate irony comes when, near the end of the film, Rupert's carriage breaks loose  and rolls down a steep hill into the midst of traffic; cars swerve just in time to avoid crashing into the perambulator.  As frosting on the cake, a monkey somehow gets into the act and leaps into the runaway carriage next to Rupert who immediately clings to the animal.  And is this obstreperous crybaby shedding tears during such a frightening experience?  Of course not.  He's having the time of his life, while Joe is going crazy.

Entitling this short Noisy Noises was doubtless an advertising ploy aimed at sound-conscious exhibitors and the growing legion of box office customers who had been sampling some of the experimental part-talkies over the past year and were clamoring for more.  Hal Roach had not yet produced his first talking comedy but in a primitive attempt to blend sound with moving images, Roach was delivering music and sound effects tracks together with his picture negatives to MGM.  Though no such recorded tracks or discs for Noisy Noises can be located today, the original sound effects and discordant musical instruments (not requiring the same kind of precise synchronization that dialogue did) were probably quite convincing, even startling, for 1929 audiences in the unique position of straddling movies' silent and sound eras.

Some of the "noise" gags are quite funny, and most of them deal with music.  The bowing of a bass fiddle next door vibrates all the furniture in the room, while a tuba player's blasts send the curtains on his windows flapping in the air!  Best of all is a portly woman who comes for a voice lesson; her teacher, well prepared, has cotton in his ears to shield himself from her crackling coloratura.  "Sounds like murder," says Farina when he hears it.  The gang gets her out of the way by sending a mouse scurrying into the room; one look and the lady dives out the apartment window in fright.

One gag used in Noisy Noises has always retained a certain fascination, for it falls into the Silent Comedy Lexicon, a magna carta of established rules that prevail in comedy films and nowhere else on earth.  When the gang is trying to figure out a way to quiet the tuba player, a passing fruit vendor suggests that if they suck on lemons in front of him, his lips will pucker up and he'll be unable to play.  This gag (and its first cousin, where someone swallows a dose of alum with similar consequences) turns up in countless comedy films, including the Our Gang talkie Mike Fright.  Apparently following another non-sequitur comedy precept, the one that holds, "Seeing is believing," Roach gag-writers counted on young viewers simply accepting such nonsense—and of course, we did!

On the other hand, one gag sequence near the end of the film derives its humor from total audience identification.  After Farina ties one end of a string to Joe's tooth and the other to Pete's tail, he tells "Round Boy" to stand still as Pete runs after a ball.  Naturally, when Pete starts running, Joe can't stand the suspense and has to run after him to keep the rope slack; the idea of standing there and letting the tooth be yanked is too much to bear—as it probably would be for any of us.  The tooth is pulled only when Joe is distracted by something else—and then, of course, he doesn't even notice.

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