This 1925 Our Gang comedy has gained notoriety because 1) It has been lost for some 60 years and unseen by the public until a recent internet posting 2) Reviewers of 1925 praised it to the skies and 3) Our Gang creator and producer Hal Roach has said that this was his personal favorite of the series. Was it all that great? I finally saw it last night and well......
The film begins with Allen "Farina" Hoskins, the series Black star, being warned by his mother to "stay in your own back yard, and no harm will come to you." Good advice. The White Gang kids treat Farina with vicious cruelty in this film. Jackie Condon and Johnny Downs beat and kick the then 5 year old Farina. Mickey cheats Farina out of an ice cream cone, and Joe Cobb squirts water at him with a trick camera. All of this sends Farina home crying and leaving him with no one to play with but this chickens in his back yard. However, the film lightens up about midway with some gags involving dogs with dental cream passing as mad dogs and Mexican jumping beans. Does Farina have a happy ending or does he continue to be lonely and abused? You'll see if you're lucky enough to find this film.
The obvious problem of the film is that the Gang's treatment of Farina is so heart wrenching that it is painful to watch, especially considering his age at the time and that this film was made at a time when such mistreatment of blacks was typical (Farina himself was once banned from a hotel with his fellow gangster because of his race some 3 years after this film). This pattern would repeat itself in such gang films as One Wild Ride (1925), The Glorious 4th (1927, when Joe and the Gang throw lit firecrackers at Farina and his sister), The infamous Spook Spoofing (1928), and this film's partial remake The Smile Wins (1928). Fortunately, these films were the exceptions to the rule that made Farina a full fledged friend with the gang in most of their films.
It is perhaps due to the fact that Farina is an amazingly convincing actor at the age of 5 in this film that made Hal Roach love it and the bits with the jumping beans and the mad dogs offer some comic relief. The ending, which I will not describe here, is quite clever and creative, and the horrific treatment of Farina is not presented in a manner that is without sympathy for the boy. But if you get a chance to see this, do so if you dare.
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