In 1922, Hal Roach created a new series of comedy short films starring a group of young kids who, although they were officially named Hal Roach’s Rascals, quickly became popularly known by the title of one of their earliest films, Our Gang (1922). Roach soon learned that he had tapped a gold mine, and produced far more than 100 Our Gang films from 1922 through 1938, when the rights to the series were sold to Our Gang distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The series featured a number of talented and popular child performers who inevitably grew too old to remain participants in the series and were replaced by other children. Fans of the Our Gang series grew to love Mickey, Jackie, Joe, Farina, Mary, Wheezer and others, and later grew attached to Spanky, Alfalfa, Porky, Buckwheat, Darla and Butch in the golden era.
In Dogs of War! (1923) the gang defend the tomato patch from neighborhood invaders.
After seeing a real horse race for themselves, the gang in Derby Day (1923) puts on their own neighborhood race, with just about anything that runs on four legs.
The Sun Down Limited (1924) finds the train-smitten gang building their own railroad, only to have it derailed by a jealous competitor.
In Official Officers (1925) the gang sets up a game of stickball in the trash-strewn city streets, as a result they are holding up street traffic. A cranky cop chases the gang out of the streets and arrests them. A supervisor replaces the cop with another, friendlier cop, and the new cop appoints the gang junior officers for the neighborhood. The gang dresses up in uniforms and drives a paddy wagon of their own making, then take to the streets to maintain law and order. Under the new policeman’s and the gang’s regime, the streets are cleaned up and peace resides. That is until the cranky cop comes back to the neighborhood, now fired from the force, only to be arrested by the gang. To escape the man clubs the friendly officer and the chase is on. The gang tracks him down and subdues him for arrest once again.
Mary, Queen of Tots (1925) is a fantasy story of the rich but lonely Mary, stuck in her room by a strict governess, playing with four dolls bought for her by the kindly gardener. The dolls become living players (Joe, Mickey, Farina and Jackie) in Mary’s sleepy fantasy, creating havoc as they explore her room. But the governess discovers the dolls, tosses them into a garbage can outside and leaves to run errands. Mary awakes to discover the dolls are gone and goes looking for them, discovering the real gang boys playing outside. Convinced the boys are her dolls come to life, Mary brings the boys into her large house to play. Boys will be boys, and they commence to tear the place up, playing as they normally would. The situation develops to allow Mary to get back at her mean governess. The film is notable for featuring a number of well-done special effects shots.
The Fourth Alarm! (1926), in which Joe has to feed his baby sister her medicine every fifteen minutes. The local fire chief has adopted the neighborhood kids and does what he can to take care of them. When a fire catches in the kitchen of a neighborhood home, the gang sees this and jumps into action, grabbing an extinguisher and putting out the fire before the firemen arrive. Impressed by their quick thinking and resourcefulness, the chief makes the gang honorary firemen. Not only do the young firegang do their best to excute their duty, Joe still manages to give his sister her medicine. When a big fire breaks out near a cache of explosives, the gang pitches in to help put out the fire. Even Pal, the dog, pitches-in in the end.
In Olympic Games (1927) the gang hones their athletic skills for competition, until Wheezer and his razzberry-blowing dog, Minnie, disrupt the practice. A number of unfortunate neighborhood kids, even Farina, catches the blame. The games start and several of the gang encounter a number of problems, which devolves into an egg and vegetable-throwing fight with neighborhood boys.
Spook Spoofing (1928) is a surprisingly cruel film in which the gang (especially Joe) takes advantage of the superstitious and gullible Farina. After a series of pranks, Farina lets the Joe know that he has a protective ‘Mumbo-Jumbo’ charm that he’ll use if the pranks don’t stop. When the undertaker’s son measures Farina for a coffin, Farina’s superstitions about ghosts and death come out. Joe sees an opportunity and gets one of the gang to pick a fight with Farina, instructing him to play dead if rubbed by Farina’s charm. Well, the charm does get used and the boy does play dead, but gullible Farina doesn’t know this. The gang covers the ‘dead’ boy with a sheet and puts him in a wagon, and instruct Farina to bury the boy in the graveyard or be haunted forever. On top of that the gang plants the story of the graveyard witch into Farina’s head. Eventually, however, the pranksters get their just deserts in a funny denouement. Knowing the plot makes the title of the film inexcusable today, but it is another example of the pervasive and commonly-accepted attitudes and character cliches African-Americans endured in the silent era. Yet, despite that, we get a good chance to see Allan Hoskins’ skill as a comic actor and why Farina was one of the best-loved characters in Our Gang history.
These retrospective collections show that Farina endured more pain and humiliation than any other member of Our Gang, between nearly being run over, squirts of water in the face, bothering bees, smashed feet, puffs of powder, boots in the bottom, doorknobs in the forehead, etc. Also of note is that the silent era films were largely shot outdoors, even when sound film production began, while the later Our Gang films of the mid to late 1930s where mainly shot indoors on soundstages. — Carl Bennett
Alpha Home Entertainment, ALP5312D, UPC 0-89218-53129-2.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame and windowboxed 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
Release date: 24 April 2007.
Country of origin: USA
This budget-priced Alpha release has collected together eight Our Gang films that are commonly available elsewhere on DVD.
Derby Day (1923) has been transferred full-frame from a 16mm reduction print.
The Sun Down Limited (1924) has also been transferred full-frame from a 16mm reduction print of a rerelease version.