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I was utterly fascinated by this flick when I was a kid, probably in 1949 when I was 6 years old. I waited all my life to see it again and just happen to find a CD of it for one dollar at Wal-Mart. Well, let's be honest here, it's not all that great. If I were a film maker I would do a remake. A gorilla chasing kids in dark hall ways is pretty scary stuff. The one scene that stayed in my little mind, all these long years, was where all the kids were standing on the stairway holding candles. Of course that was what was used in the trailer. And as I remember the quality of the film was far, far greater than the CD that one can buy.
I first saw this Hal Roach classic in '76, on local TV, one-half of an
after-school double-feature. I don't recall the other movie but it was
another "Curly." Enough to say I've been hooked ever since. And when I
discovered a DVD copy in the dollar bin at Wal-Mart, I scooped it right
up, giddy with serendipity.
Someone has murdered the reclusive Doc Robbin, a late night explosion destroying his laboratory. Dan, the local Mister Fix-it, is arrested and Curly and his gang set out to prove the elderly pensioner's innocence.
The cast is very excellent for the level of talent demanded: The little "gang-sters" are superb (little Ardda will steal your heart); the very lovely Virginia Grey plays the damsel in miss-tress, and George Zucco plays the heavy.
Think of "Our Gang" with candles in a haunted house, add color, and you pretty much have it.
My regrets to those who find overt racism in everything they see. i myself saw nary an example, overt or otherwise.
This comic mystery was one of at least a couple of late 1940s efforts
by Hal Roach to recapture the atmosphere and success of the "Our Gang"
comedies of the past. It had most of the elements, but it never really
comes together, and it does not come close to the original.
The setup has a gang of children, resembling the original group in a number of respects, getting involved in a murder mystery. Almost the entire movie takes place either in the courtroom or in the abandoned laboratory of an unstable doctor. These settings, and a far-fetched but interesting story idea involving atomic power, provide enough material for what could have been a good movie.
Though a couple of them show some talent, the child actors are clearly a cut below the members of the original gang, and they never work together with the same camaraderie or chemistry. It could simply be the case that by trying to put them too overtly into the same mold, they did not get the chance to be themselves. Except for George Zucco and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Grey, the adult actors are mostly just adequate as well.
On the plus side, the settings work most of the time. On the minus side, it has a surprising number of dated details and/or stereotypes that you cannot help noticing.
A fair amount of the action does work all right as light entertainment. It's the kind of format and plot setup that sometimes produces some very good movies when they are in the hands of a top-quality cast and crew. In this case, the results are at least watchable most of the time, and are occasionally enjoyable, but not enough so to make it of any general interest.
A really scary movie involving people and a gorilla popping in and out of secret passages, booby-trapped chairs, in an old haunted house. As a young child this was terrifying to me. Now, adults might consider this camp.
Okay, aside from the "I'm shocked...shocked to find a 1940's film
featuring stereotypical characters!", here are a couple of notes for
Roach fans who might not have stumbled across this picture.
First, it seems that all the money went into the Cinecolor process. The film has one of the dreariest casts of any 40's B programmer. George Zucco, Grant Mitchell and Virginia Grey are the only name actors in the picture. Whitford Kane, who plays Fix-it Dan, had a wonderful role the prior year in Fox's THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (as the publisher of Mrs. Muir's sea novel). The prosecutor is Wilton Graff, never a particularly humorous actor. The rest of the cast is non-entities and the kids act more like they came out of the MGM-George Sidney unit than a Hal Roach comedy.
Also curious is the musical score. The immensely talented Heinz Roemheld is credited as musical director. However, rather than creating one of his own wonderful works (including those fabulous chase cues with pizzicato violins as in FULLER BRUSH MAN or JACK AND THE BEANSTALK), he basically adapted music from TOPPER TAKES A TRIP and TOPPER RETURNS. These were terrific scores, and the TOPPER RETURNS material is particularly appropriate for this film. Of course, there is some original Roemheld music but it's basically a patchwork score.
The script is fair, the gags are contrived and not particularly funny, but the scenes with the Gorilla are genuinely scary.
As for Dis and Dat, I always winced at the moment in Africa SCREAMS where native Bill Walker turned white at the sight of the big Ape. Now I discover it was done the previous year in WHO KILLED DOC ROBIN! Fun for 48 minutes but don't mortgage the house buying a copy or print.
I don't know if there are any original 35mm Cinecolor prints out there. Most of the prints extant (including mine) are 16mm Thunderbird reduction prints. Cinecolor was a dubious process to begin with and anything other than first generation prints are usually pretty dingy.
I had to see this film after reading a review here by some goof ball
who went on and on about Hal Roach being racist! Firstly, Hal Roach
stuck black kids in his films as friends and equals to white kids,
beginning with the silent days! Were some of the scenes stereotypes?
Yes, but back then everyone got a good does of stereotyping --
Italians, Jews, immigrants, blacks -- everyone got their fair share and
no one seemed to mind, so which era was better? Aren't we tired of
people just seeing everything by race and inserting there agenda into
the mix? This is a curio piece from long ago. It's actually a cute
little puff piece. The other reviewer said something about two black
characters being named Did & Dat, but neglected to say that there was
also a white character named Fixit. Jeeze. Get off the high horse. It's
Anyway the film is funny and keeps moving and tries to some extent to be a throw back to the Our Gang series that Roach was so successful at only by 1948, it wasn't gonna happen. Plus Roach Studios were already waning and soon would get into TV production, virtually abandoning theatrical films.
But watch it for what it is -- fun for the who family and a curio.
This movie has camp galore. As a child, I had no idea of the stereotypes that were used. I had no connection to the gorilla taking the black kid's clothes. None of it dawned on me that it was something racist. I loved this movie, because even as a child, the movie was awful and I loved it that it was awesomely bad. The terrible film grade, the horrible acting, the atrocious haircuts, the poor grammatical decisions, the ridiculous story line, the inane alibis, the stupor-inducing firing-chamber hunt...It made me laugh. It was 1948 when it was made, for crying out loud. Get over it that it was racist; so was America at that time, like it or not. Move forward. Enjoy it for what it is: a campy, corny kids' movie that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The only original thing about this awful film was Hal Roach's decision
to embark on an all-color production schedule during 1947-48, of which
this represented the final death twitch before he abandoned film
production for good and moved successfully into TV during the fifties.
Feeling much longer than its mere 55 minute running time, it's basically two seen-it-all-before half-hour comedies one after the other; the first an unfunny courtroom sequence with the kids endlessly disrupting the proceedings, and the second half the kids crashing about a big spooky house at night like one of the less cerebral 'Scooby Doo' episodes, to the accompaniment of a noisy, over-emphatic score cobbled together from earlier Roach production, and concluding with a 'surprise' revelation at the end about whose eyes it was peering through the portrait in the hall.
It's all far less interesting than it sounds. The presence of Virginia Grey and George Zucco in the cast raises expectations, but both of them are wasted; while Grant Mitchell in his final screen appearance plays that hoary old cliché, an avuncular old judge straining to keep control while personally finding the chaotic proceedings hilarious. He certainly finds things far funnier than we do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As the trial for the murder of Hugo "Doc" Robbin, who was supposedly
killed in an explosion, gets underway with his secretary Ann Loring
being charged with the crime, a group of children burst into the
courtroom claiming to have critical information for the trial. They are
initially rejected but eventually succeed in telling their story. They
claim that Robbin & their inventor friend Dan "Fix-It" Cameron had an
argument over Cameron's atomic firing chamber being funded by Robbin
for military use. Cameron refused to let Robbin get the device. The
police arrest Cameron. The children decide to return to the house to
find the device & clear Cameron's name. While there, they encounter
various spooky incidents & are attacked by a giant gorilla.
After watching this rather infantile & extremely silly haunted house comedy intended for children, I came to the conclusion that the kids' films of the 1940s were absolutely terrible in their approach to entertaining the audience.
Who Killed Doc Robbin was made in 1948 & had all the hallmarks of being one of those Our Gang shorts made between 1922 & 1944 sort of an early variation of The Little Rascals. Both the Our Gang shorts & this feature were made by Hal Roach Studios, which had great success with Our Gang.
Who Killed Doc Robbin is just plain bad. The humour is infantile & silly & with the two Black kids in the cast being used as the butt of some stupid gags, quite racist. The story is full of stupid things that won't happen in the real world a group of kids bursting into a courtroom in order to derail a murder trial so that they can clear the defendant in real life, the kids would be ejected from court or questioned by the police before allowed to give their testimony. Even Judge Judy, the queen of daytime court shows, wouldn't simply let this kind of thing happen. The haunted house format is used for some cliché gags with skeletons in upright coffins, 'dead' bodies in closets, the old 'sinister eyes peering through a painting' chestnut that never fails to make me laugh & the stupid idea of having the villain George Zucco in a gorilla suit. The film is ridiculous & should be relegated to the dust bin of obscurity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A few years after the M-G-M-produced-only series of Our Gang shorts was cancelled, OG creator Hal Roach had decided to revive the "kid adventure comedies" by producing a couple of features-or "streamliners" as these were usually a little less than an hour-featuring a new set of tykes. This is the second of them as I have yet to find the first one, Curley. To get the approval from his former distributor, Roach had to give up the right to purchase back the name "Our Gang" which he had originally reserved in the 1938 agreement when he sold the series to them. To help him, he got both his son, Hal Roach Jr., and former series director, Robert F. McGowan, to produce. McGowan also provided the story. To perhaps make the pictures more appealing, they both were made in color but it's not Technicolor but Cinecolor, a more inferior process though since the print I watched was washed out, it had to have looked better than that! Anyway, among the kids cast was Renee Beard-Stymie's younger brother-who portrayed Dis while someone else played his sibling, Dat. The settings are a courtroom and a haunted house. For a while, it looked like this would follow the plot of previous OG short, Little Miss Pinkerton, and have an actual murder but that turns out to not be the case. If you've seen most of the Little Rascals shorts like I have, you'll probably notice many gags and lines and chuckle with glee as I did. Oh, and there's at least one supporting player I recognized from a previous series short-Paul Hurst, previously a frustrated bus conductor in Going' Fishing, here playing a policeman who has to deal with the kids visiting a kindly man named "Fix-it" Dan in jail. So on that note, if you love the Our Gang/Little Rascals, you'll probably get some joy watching Who Killed Doc Robbin as I did. P.S. I noticed part of the score from Laurel & Hardy's Way Out West though Marvin Hatley wasn't credited here. Also, this would be "Uncle Bob" McGowan's last involvement in film as he'd retire afterwards. When there was a reunion of the silent Our Gang on television several years later, however, he turned up on the program in question-"You Asked for It"-along with teacher Fern Carter, and frequent series cinematographer Art Lloyd. I'll mention how that went when I review that program soon...
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