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Our Gang was the first installment produced in the long-running shorts
series... to confuse things it was the third film released. Hal Road
and director Fed Newmeyer shot the 2-reeler around Los Angeles in the
late Spring of 1922 and previewed it in several theaters around town.
Based on his belief in the concept rather than the lukewarm public
reception, Roach green-lighted the series but scrapped most or all of
the original footage and brought Robert McGowan in to rework it,
officially releasing Our Gang on Nov. 5, 1922 (One Terrible Day was the
first film to be released, followed by Fire Fighters). Sadly, Our Gang
is considered a lost film. But since film historians tend to rely on
production dates Our Gang, can be called the first film and that makes
it significant. After all, how many film series can claim to have
survive through the advent of sound across 21 years, innumerable cast
changes, 2 distributors, a studio change, through 221 installments
(including a feature--- not to mention that thing in the 90's)? No
doubt about it: Our Gang (or The Little Rascals, if you prefer) had
Most modern audiences have never seen any of the 88 silents (the transition to sound began with crude synchronized sound effects during the 1928 season, but complete conversion to talkies wouldn't occur until the following year).
Significant events: 1922: series begins as a 2-reeler (roughly 22 minutes) and distributed through the Pathe Exchange, a pioneering French film company with offices in New York City (it ironically, financed and distributed Roach's primary competitor Mack Sennett). 1922-1926: Although boasting many likable kids (Johnny Downs, "Farina" Hoskins, Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon, etc.). Mickey Daniels becomes the un-official star of the series. His departure in 1926 leaves a series void that wouldn't be filled until the arrival of Jackie Cooper in 1929's Boxing Gloves. 1927: Roach ends his association with the rapidly disintegrating Pathe Exchange (with The Smile Wins, short #66) and signs a distribution and financing deal with MGM. Technology note: MGM, despite being the stellar studio in the world, takes a long wait-and-see attitude regarding talkies (primarily due to the huge expense that parent Loew's Inc. faces in converting it's vast theater chain to sound. This stretches out 'Our Gang's part-talkie period, allowing uncoverted studios to run silent versions). 1928: Barnum & Ringling (#74) is released with synchronized sound effects. 1929: Small Talk (#89; released as a 3-reeler) is the first all-talking Our Gang short. 1929-31: Jackie Cooper becomes a major star and departs for features after 15 Our Gang shorts (ending with Bargain Day, #106). 1932: George "Spanky" Mcfarland debuts in Free Eats (#112). Dickie Moore appears in 8 shorts beginning with Hook and Ladder (#116) and leaves for a successful feature career. 1934: Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas debuts in For Pete's Sake (#127) and would remain with the series until the end. 1935: Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer debuts in Beginner's Luck (#135) and, over time, becomes a headache (his antics would end his series tenure at MGM). 1936: Roach bombs with General Spanky, a 71-minute feature (technically Our Gang #150). 1938: Roach sells the Our Gang unit to MGM and exits shorts production completely in favor of feature films. These MGM-produced entries are generally dismal. 1943: Series production ends with the 221st production, Tale of a Dog (Our Gang shorts are released into 1944).
After reading the review in Leonard Maltin and Richard Bann's 1992 "Little Rascals" book of this very first "Our Gang" film, I can only hope someone will locate and restore the film, and ultimately put it on DVD. It sounds like "Our Gang" at its best and funniest (I wonder what that surviving fragment of "Our Gang" Maltin and Bann cited was like?). For that matter, it would be nice to see some of these early silents, period, since some of them were the "blueprints" for the more commonly seen (sound) episodes. I wonder what kind of "show" the kids and their pets put on to win the widow's much-needed business? Maybe a makeshift circus?....
Anna Mae Bilson did NOT play the widow in this film. She played "Mary Jane," the widow's daughter. This was filmed in 1922. In 1921, she played "Dolly," or as listed here at IMDb,"the girl" in Harold Lloyd's "Now Or Never." You don't play a 4-year old one year and a widow the next year. That makes no sense. I have seen both films (at least what has been found of "Our Gang") and it is without a doubt the same girl. Besides having blonde hair, Anna Mae Bilson bears no resemblance to Mary Kornman. Mary Kornman was NOT in this film. Only about half of this film has been discovered, and it would be great if the rest would turn up somewhere so we can view the complete film, as viewed in 1922.
I've actually seen this film (or at least all that currently exists of
it). It's pretty funny. After a few amusing bits involving a boy trying
to win over Mary Jane's love through chivalry and Ernie (Sunshine
Sammy) Morrison's efforts to find clothes while his mother washes what
appears to be his only wardrobe, we get into the storyline about Mary
Jane's mother's store being threatened by a crooked businessman.
There is a good deal of funny stuff in the film. A really clever gag involves the kids putting dental cream on the dog's mouths and yelling "Mad dog" to cause people to faint and land in a wheelchair so Sammy could wheel them into Mary Jane's mother's store (not to be confused with Mary Kornman). However, the 12 minutes that survives of the film does not leave you missing what's left. It tells a good story on its own so we could be thankful for what remains. Judging from this, Our Gang was off to a great start.
Although there was no Freckles officially, many people called Mickey Daniels Freckles also Joe Cobb was called Fatty unofficially. This added to confusion of the actual characters. A number of individuals claimed to have been certain characters that did not exist such as smelly, fatso etc.
An earlier comment by suzyq19651 asked who Robert Blake played as a member of Our Gang. Robert Blake did not appear in the group of shorts commonly referred to as The Little Rascals, with such as Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Porky and Darla. Blake appeared later on after Hal Roach sold his franchise to MGM. MGM recast the series with a group of younger children, although Spanky did appear in some of these as an older and much larger fellow. Blake was a member of this later group and played the character of Mickey Gubitosi, which was his actual birth name. This was in keeping with the Our Gang format in which most characters used their real names, though usually with a nickname such as Spanky or Butch. Froggy was also a part of this later group, which as a group simply did not measure up to prior ones.
I find it somewhat odd that no one has seen the old silent versions of "Our Gang," and that it is supposed to be lost except for fragments. In the 1960's there was a series for children called "The Mischief Makers." This was a syndicated series featuring the silent "Our Gang" movies with an added sound track of Wurlitzer organ music and child commentators who were a boy and a girl, "Bobby and Bonnie." I used to see it as a child on L.A.'s Channel 9 in about the years 1964-65. There is currently on U-Tube a clip of the animated opening and closing of the program produced by Gene Deitch in 1960. Now I have heard that some silent comedies that were put on TV as similar series in the '60's had mostly clips that were used and that the dastardly editors of the time would destroy the rest of the silent film. I hope this is not the case with Our Gang/The Mischief Makers. But I do remember the series and the characters well.
I'd just like to comment that THERE NEVER WAS A FRECKLES ON OUR GANG!!! I have the book and it states clearly that there was never a Freckles. But other than that I loved the Little Rascals and I own 21 volumes of their movies. I also have some of the rare old silent Little Rascals and they are the best! Kudos to Hal Roach and the rest of the gang for bringing entertainment to my home!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This one here is a 20-minute short film from over 90 years ago and it features some of the kids who became part of the legendary group of very young children and entertained audiences for years. In the spirit of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, this is a still a silent black-and-white film. This one is about a widow who faces trouble when another vendor moves in next door and seems to take her clients away from her. The gang steps in to help the poor woman. As I said earlier, this one runs for 20 minutes, but I only found copies of 12-13 minutes, the rest is apparently lost. So guys, everybody who reads this, check your attics, maybe it's still somewhere out there. As for this film, not a worthy beginning to the franchise. Most of the later films are funnier. But animals were included here already too en masse, a common depiction in these Gang short films.
This Hal Roach comedy short, Our Gang, is the first of what would be a popular series from The Lot of Fun. The series title was originally called Hal Roach's Rascals but after the trade press and motion picture exhibitors saw the preview of this, they asked for "lots more of those Our Gang comedies". So it would be also known as "Our Gang Comedies". In this one, leading lady Mary Jane (Anna Mae Bilson) is the object of desire for two boys, one of whom is a rich kid with curls played by John Hatton. This was their only Our Gang appearance. Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison seems to be more of the lead here as his character gets involved in most of the gags concerning many animals, mostly involving Dinah the Mule. Mickey Daniels and Jackie Condon have small parts here. The second plot involves Mary Jane and her mother whose store is not doing well and may lose to a next-door rival who'd love to get rid of them. If you're familiar with many of the Rascals' subsequent films, you know that rival won't last long and he doesn't! Long thought lost, the version I saw on YouTube seemed to have some scenes missing but it was mostly enjoyable for what it was. Robert Francis McGowan was the right director for this particular series as his rapport with children was playful during the most of the series' run. All in all, whatever I saw of Our Gang was a good start for the eventual classic series.
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