This is a highly unconventional Our Gang comedy, an off-the-wall novelty item unlike anything else the kids ever did. That's not the same as saying it's a laugh riot, for they made plenty of other shorts that are funnier or more appealing, but it nonetheless holds a special place in the series' history, and once you've experienced Seeing the World you're not likely to forget it.
The premise of this short is that the gang's teacher Jimmy Finlayson affectionately known as "Old Buzz-Fuzz" has won a popularity contest and therefore wins a trip to Europe. The kids come to the dock to see him off, but then slip on-board the ship, stow away, and join their beloved instructor on his cross-continent tour. What follows is basically a travelogue with jokes: Finlayson guides his little charges through the ruins of Pompeii, St. Peter's in Rome, over the canals of Venice by gondola, past Buckingham Palace and through Trafalgar Square in London. They wind up in Paris for glimpses of Napoleon's Tomb, Notre Dame, and ultimately the Eiffel Tower. All of these places (and more) are covered in the whirlwind trip, all in the course of an eighteen minute two- reeler! Along the way the kids engage in some mild rough-housing but are generally well-behaved and respectful, occasionally making inadvertent jokes about what they're seeing. In Venice, for example, little Farina observes: "Man wants a bath in this town all he gotta do is fall out the window."
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Seeing the World is that, in reality, the kids never went to Europe at all! Leonard Maltin reports in his definitive book on the Our Gang series that only star comic Jimmy Finlayson and director Robert McGowan made the trip along with a small crew. They brought along the kid's outfits, however, and hired suitable local children to wear them and appear with Finn in long shots. When the filmmakers returned to Culver City with their footage they shot close-ups with the real gang on mock-up sets in the studio. (And I'll bet the kids were steamed they didn't get to go!) Even if this information hadn't been revealed in the Maltin book a sharp-eyed viewer would probably suspect something of the sort. Finlayson is recognizable in the location shots, but it's noticeable in the "landmark" scenes that the kids are always shown from a distance, often with their backs to the camera. During an extended sequence in a Venetian gondola it's clear that although the shots of Finn are real, the interspersed shots involving Farina, Joe, Jackie, and the others were filmed using fairly sophisticated process work.
Considering the elaborate trickery involved it's impressive that Seeing the World works as well as it does. The experience is rather like watching someone's home movie travel footage irreverently narrated with wisecracks. Also of interest: Stan Laurel contributes a funny cameo as a passerby in the London sequence. (In later years Stan didn't recall appearing in this film and asserted that he'd never been in an Our Gang comedy, but inasmuch as he doesn't interact with the children during his brief scene it's possible the bit was filmed for another project.) Finlayson gives his characteristic broad performance as the schoolmaster, perhaps just a tad more restrained than usual.
All in all, this two-reeler is an eccentric little treat for Our Gang fans, though it's a far cry from their best efforts. The travelogue aspect will be a plus for travel-oriented viewers who enjoy that sort of thing, while buffs interested in cinematic trickery will want to watch for the clever editing job.
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