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Our Gang  




MGM Hal Roach, 1936.  Directed by Gordon Douglas.  Camera:  Walter Lundin.  With George "Spanky" McFarland, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Eugene "Porky" Lee, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Darla Hood, Sidney Kibrick, Harold Switzer, Rex Downing, Bobs Watson, Robert Winkler, John Collum, Marvin Strin, Joe Cobb.

Despite an energetic come-on, the local kids are reluctant to invest a penny to see the gang's matinee of Romeo and Juliet, so ticket taker Alfalfa proposes an idea:  if they like the show, they can pay as they exit.  He tells Spanky that the risk is small since he's playing Romeo, but matinee-idol Alfalfa has been eating onions again (to improve his voice) and this repels leading lady Darla, who walks out after the first act.  Spanky stalls for time while Alfalfa finds a new Juliet; the show continues with Buckwheat as the new leading lady!  When Alfalfa climbs the ladder to "her" balcony, he starts to teeter precariously.  Spanky rings down the curtain, but Alfalfa and the ladder fall right through the drapery onto the stage, as the kids file out.  "Great idea, pay as they exit," Spanky grumbles.  "That's just what they did," Alfalfa replies triumphantly, pouring the pennies into Spanky's hands, and offering his pal an onion.

Pay As You Exit is a fast-moving short with some pleasingly inventive frills on the usual Our Gang putting-on-a-show formula.  A kid-lettered sign outside the barn proclaims the matinee of "Romyo and Juliet, by Spanky and Shakespeer."  Alfalfa's box office is actually an old car door, enabling him to roll up a window which reads "Sold Out" after the kids go inside.

As usual, the gang has made elaborate preparations for their performance in the barn-theater.  Porky sits at a phonograph and provides appropriate background music* for every scene.  Painted backdrops and period costumes set the mood for Shakespeare's love story.  Spanky and Alfalfa even fight a well-staged duel to the death (with Spanky spoiling his performance as a corpse by standing up to take a bow).  The only anachronism is the sudden appearance of Buckwheat as a Nubian slave, to announce, "Miss Juliet, your Pappy's comin'."

When Alfalfa proposes love to Juliet, she recoils and asks, "Have you been eating onions?"  The rest of their scene is played with the fair damsel holding her nose.  When she walks out in the middle of the show, Spanky tells Alfalfa, "I'll do my old act and stall 'em off."  Spanky's "old act" (presumably dating back to his days in vaudeville?) is a strong-man routine where the realism of his weight lifting is enhanced by having Porky drop cannonballs backstage in synchronization with Spanky's dropping weights to the floor (a momentary slip, dropping one of the lead balls when Spanky tosses away his handkerchief, goes unnoticed by the audience.)  The strongman is defrauded, however, when his stagehand cleans up after the act and blithely picks up the "hundred-pound weights" to cart them offstage.  Innocent Porky doesn't realize what he's done, and when Spanky says a sarcastic "Thanks a lot," Porky replies characteristically, "O-tay!"

Alfalfa's replacement leading lady is first revealed when he asks, "Juliet, where art thou?" and "she" replies, "Here I is!"  The jubilant crowd shouts, "It's Buckwheat" and gives him an ovation, which he happily acknowledges.  After Alfalfa's ladder falls away from the balcony one time, he asks Buckwheat to hold onto it, but the sudden whiff of onions makes him forget, and Alfalfa plunges to an unexpected finale.

Exactly when everyone had the opportunity to rush up and give Alfalfa their pennies is a point of time and logic the viewer is not supposed to consider.  When Alfalfa produces the ticket money, the major conflict of the plot is resolved, and one simply doesn't ask foolish questions...well, maybe just one.  Off in the wings, is Porky's devilish, knowing grin s the film fades to  its end title supposed to mean something special that's eluded us?  A warehouse in Nebraska has been reserved for letters of explication we expect to pour in.

A final note on Pay As You Exit involves the casting of Joe Cobb as one of the neighborhood kids.  Absent from the series since Fish Hooky in 1933, Joe towers over the other children and looks a little mature for the group.  In fact, his bulk smashed the front-row bench n half!  Joe would find more appropriate surroundings the following year in the gang's Reunion in Rhythm.

* Long-sought titles for familiar melodies include, in order, "In My Canoe, "Furioso," "He Peddles His Bristles to Women," and "Walking the Deck"—all stock themes from the Hal Roach music library.

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