Short Subject units existed primarily to 1) train and assess contract talent and 2) to provide low cost theatrical filler for major studios' theater chains.
Errh, except in the case of Our Gang. Incredibly, Hal Roach shuttered shorts production in 1938, officially stating they were no longer economically viable (for the real reason read his IMDb bio). The one exception was Our Gang, which the bean counters at Roach's (soon to be former) distributor saw as having some life left in it.
Unfortunately, the series which was so well crafted and nurtured at Roach's boutique studio unraveled quickly at Metro. At Roach it was treated as their signature product, under the aegis of Louis B. Mayer it became just another assignment. I've seen every one of the MGM Our Gang one reelers and 90% of them don't hold a plug buffalo nickel compared to the earlier Hal Roach shorts. MGM for all it's strengths, couldn't grasp comedy and Our Gang had some unique challenges that the studio didn't handle very well--- as the kids aged they were invariably replaced with less talented (Bobby Blake), even obnoxious (Janet Burston) substitutes. Unfunny moral lessons quickly replaced gags. Although MGM was able to ride the 20+ year run of the series for 5 years after buying it from Roach but, aside from a handful of exceptions, these final 52 shorts were awful. Mighty Lak a Goat happens to rate as one of these rarities--- it's actually watchable. The plot's simple: The gang gets splashed by mud from a passing car and Froggy uses some cleaning fluid to clean them off--- but it has an unexpected side-effect, it makes the kids reek. They become outcasts at school and there's a nicely done gag in a movie theater where the actors in a serial react to their funk. For a modern audience, there's an added surprise of seeing a young Ava Gardner in a brief shot as a the theater cashier. She was married to Mickey Rooney at the time and Mickey's dad, Joe Yule, Sr. appears in the theater audience.
MGM Our Gang's probably should be rated differently than the Roach shorts--- the first 4 they made rival their predecessors but things quickly sank. Mighty Lak a Goat would be no better than a mediocre Roach entry, but judged against it's MGM peers (especially against the later most dreadful ones), it's extremely good. 6/10. It's unfortunate that these MGM entries are what most people today connect with Our Gang; try to see the 1932-37 Roach productions and compare for yourself!
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