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|36 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mary Ann, Wheezer and "Beezer" (a short-lived in-universe brother of
Wheezer's who didn't make it to the talkies) have lost their mother to
the great beyond. As a result, Mary Ann has to take care of her two
little brothers, and many slapstick events ensue. In the meantime,
Father has to comfort the kids, who desperately want their Mama back.
It's a sweet enough setup, but it gets short shrift for an inexplicably inserted gag about Wheezer and Beezer turning on a fire hydrant hose and spraying random citizens in the usual Hal Roach slapstick setup. This has nothing to do with anything and feels like it was added to pad time. Finally, the kids' aunt arrives -- it turns out Mama has a twin sister. The Aunt looks so much like Mama that she suggests to Dad that they deceive the kids into thinking Mama has come back!
I can't help thinking how weird an idea that is, and how it would never play today. I can't even imagine it playing THEN. Up until this point, Wheezer and Beezer have managed to convince you that they miss their Mama even when their stomachs bloat out to balloon-like proportions. For that, I recommend it, but I wish it hadn't fallen apart with the fire hydrant gag.
The Gang, having turned their dogs into car engines that chase cats up
trees, gets a talking-to from the head of the Be Kind to Animals
Society (played by future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper!). She seems to
have the magic touch, for Harry, Joe and Farina immediately decide to
become animal rights activists to the extreme. Joe even castigates Mary
and Jean for trying to kill a flea!
Wheezer, meanwhile, is abusing animals right and left until Joe asks him how he'd like it if he were small and the tortured chickens were huge. This leads Wheezer to dream of his being on trial, where animals are the judges. The prosecuting attorney monkey leads the jury through Wheezer's transgressions, and the ultimate verdict is for him to be devoured by the jury! When he wakes up, he immediately shares the gang's activist fervor and starts releasing animals left and right, leading to the usual silent film shenanigans.
A fun short, the dream sequence alone is worth the price of admission, though the use of real (and rather disinterested-looking) animals hampers the effect a bit, though the scene where the chickens try to "devour" Wheezer is rather visceral for a silent comedy! Two other problems: the kids seem to rely on goofy double-takes a little too often, and the bit where the cartoon flea "adopts" Joe wears out its welcome over the course of the short. (I've seen enough of Joe Cobb's left knee to last a lifetime.). But the wackiness of the animals running riot over the city is an appropriate climax to the short.
Farina and Pete are riding a freight train to California, the former
hoping for fame and fortune, the latter just trying to survive riding
thousands of miles on a poorly tied hammock. They stop at "Sara Cuse,"
and meet the gang. Farina puts on an impromptu one-man-band show, which
impresses the Gang. He tells him of his plan to go where the streets
are paved with gold, and the Gang decide to tag along.
Riding the freight train (this time without hammocks) the Gang are attacked by bees in a very convoluted way. They fall off the freight train, and a storm sends them into a nearby ramshackle house. The rest of the short is just a series of haunted house gags, most of which fly pretty fast in an attempt to make you forget how illogical they are. (Why is there a phonograph with "The Ravings of John McCollough" on it? Why does Pete start it up? Who's providing the electricity to make it work in the first place?)
The kids are pretty talented, but it can't hide the fact that the short is just two half-thought-out ideas slammed together without any concerns for story. I wish they'd just kept up with Farina's quest for California glory... maybe they could have found California wasn't the dream land they expected. It would have at least made more sense. Still, the gags are fairly well-executed if completely insane, though they pull the "character has sheet fall on him and other character thinks he's a ghost" idea a little too often.
Perhaps if Columbia and Jules White had used this form of cost-cutting
instead of using old footage all the time (though this short does have
a small amount of reused footage) the Stooges might have aged
gracefully instead of doing embarrassing remakes of previous shorts.
The whole short takes place on one set, a police station. While the slapping and physical gags remain, there's a new emphasis on verbal humor that makes it funnier. Moe's conversation with the mayor, Larry's complaint that a female co-worker "forgot something," and the questioning of Phil Arnold add to a steady stream of gags. On top of it is a running gag about the phone sounding inexplicably like a fire alarm and driving Moe into further stages of madness. It's never remarked upon but it escalates the humor value of the short.
There are some slow spots. Shemp's battle with a monkey is sluggish and adds nothing. And the short ends in a ridiculous shootout with Murray Alper shooting a gun with approximately 90 rounds, making the finale rote and repetitive. But the rest of the short is a clever way to exploit Columbia's shrinking budgets. When you can't get production values, up the writing game.
I've never been so annoyed with an episode in my life. So as long as
Captain Picard gets stabbed in a stupid, pointless fight and supports
his shallow friends, he'll become a Captain instead of a lowly
lieutenant. Because that incident CLEARLY defines who he is as a
person, and he'll never do anything bold and ambitious after that.
You know, Back to the Future had George McFly's entire future success predicated on whether he punched a guy or not, and at least that movie was funny. This episode never posits that there might have been better ways to go about the incident that DIDN'T cause you to lose a vital organ in the process. That there might have been a smart way to avoid a fight. It's all black and white, like the dreaded Star Trek V movie that says that every man's personality is based on his singular "pain."
This strikes me as an episode that screams "Picard is TOO like Kirk! Look! He's reckless and wild and stuff and that made him great!" No, it's JUDGMENT that makes the character, and perhaps exercising skilled judgment at an early age might have made him an even better captain. But this episode (and Q's sanctimonious attitude only makes it worse) states that lacking good judgment equals having the ability to take chances. Why would you take a chance on that fight if it was essentially meaningless from the start? Is Captain Picard about taking risks on trivial matters just to show that he's a bold adventurer?
This is a facile episode that's unworthy of the series as a whole. It adds to the Hollywood trend of glamorizing youthful recklessness as a rite of passage. Congratulations if you're among that minority to survive recklessness into a massively successful adulthood. The rest of you well you may be incapacitated, miserable or dead, but at least you're not MEDIOCRE, are you?
Apart from the unlikely setup of 13-year-old Spanky believing Froggy's
story of an actual Big Bad Wolf, this is one of the funnier MGM shorts.
Spanky, Mickey et al set to sabotage Darla's father's remarriage,
because it will result in a stepmother and we all know what they're
like from fairy tales. The final scene involving adults and "laughing
gas" makes the short, in addition to the ultimate payoff. We can be
glad that MGM forewent the usual preachy moral lesson this time.
As stated, this is Darla's last appearance in the Our Gang series. She'd outgrown the role about five shorts ago (but then again, so had Spanky) and towered over everyone else. Without Alfalfa, Butch or Waldo, no one knew what to do with her anyway, leading to her inexplicable presence in "Robot Wrecks". At least here she sets the plot in motion.
With Mickey, Janet and a bland older sister as part of the family,
you'd think Mickey's parents would invent birth control early, but it's
not the case: a fourth child is due, and thanks to an almanac, Mickey
learns that "every fourth child is born Chinese." Fearful of such a
circumstance, Mickey stops being an irritating little brat and asks the
Gang to help him to stop it.
After talking to a nurse and a stork, Spanky decides to introduce Mickey to Lee Wong, a friend of his whose dad runs a laundry (did Chinese people do anything else?) Surprisingly, the rest of the short is a pretty good plea for tolerance for the time period. Lee turns out to be a swell guy, whose family makes all-American meals, so Mickey is satisfied. Unfortunately, his next sibling is neither Chinese nor male nor singular, so Mickey decides to do the family a big favor and run away.
Clumsy in the MGM way, but it can't be faulted for its ultimate message, even if it's still grounded in stereotypes. (Every fourth word in the last half of the film is "Confucius.") One weird shot, though, is even after the Gang has clearly established that they're not getting "bird's nests" for lunch, Mickey is still making worried faces until he sees his OWN plate. Maybe he thought he alone would be poisoned. Who could blame him?
These shows have their moments, but all in all, it's true; they're
mostly stale and uninspired. Guest stars and "exotic" locales try to
give the proceedings a shot in the arm, but most of the time the guest
stars look pained and uncomfortable (you're almost embarrassed for
Maurice Chevalier getting caught up in Ricky and Lucy's increasingly
realistic and unpleasant fighting). Episode by episode:
Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana: A novelty in that it "flashes back" to Lucy and Ricky's first meeting, it's also not terribly funny and often quite dull. Lucy and Ann Sothern have some good chemistry but the material isn't there. It also contradicts some of the "canon" of the "I Love Lucy" series, but that's not really all that new. Worth watching once for curiosity value; just don't expect a lot of laughs.
The Celebrity Next Door: Easily the best of the lot, and coincidentally, the last in which Lucy would wear her trademark hairdo. Thus, it still FEELS like a Lucy episode. Tallulah Bankhead gives as good as she gets and practically steals the episode. The final "play" is amusing as well. And remember, folks, "When Miss Bankhead is bored, Miss Bankhead will let you know."
Lucy Hunts Uranium: A bit predictable, but the location shooting and the "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" hijinks at the end are good for some smiles. Fred MacMurray is fairly likable in his star turn, though Lucy and Ricky (the characters) are starting to get a little too cavalier with how they treat celebrities! Would you leave Fred MacMurray in the desert to die?
Lucy Wins a Race Horse: Not a terrible episode, this still predicts the more tired humor of "The Lucy Show". Lucy and Ethel pushing a horse upstairs is worth a few laughs. Ricky, however, is just starting to look hollow-eyed, gray and tired.
Lucy Goes to Sun Valley: The tension between Lucy and Desi is becoming palpable, but not quite pronounced. There's not really much interesting in this episode; its major set piece seems to be each character interrupting Fernando Lamas as he's taking a shower.
Lucy Goes to Mexico: A truly irritating episode; Lucy and Ricky's aforementioned bickering now seems to have a nasty edge to it. The hijinks just seem strained here whereas they were effortless in the European ILL episodes. However, Lucy's turn as a toreador at the end is kind of amusing, albeit very "Lucy Show" in the writing.
Lucy Makes Room for Danny: I never really liked Danny Thomas much; the kids almost save this episode by generally being more likable than the main characters. Gale Gordon does have a funny role at the end as the judge who calls Fred "a miserable tightwad." All in all, though, the original ILL "Courtroom" show is funnier.
Lucy Goes to Alaska: Red Skelton DOES come off well in this episode, charming and guileless. I'm not that fond of his routine with Lucy in the middle, as it goes on too long. But the sleeping scene is okay, and the final scene with Red flying the airplane has a little suspense to it.
Lucy Wants a Career: Simply put, this is an hour long "Lucy Show" with special guest star Desi Arnaz. Lucy is a dim bulb through most of it, doing stale slapstick and irritating the hell out of Paul Douglas (whoever he is, he's not exactly a charmer). The original "I Love Lucy" charm is just about gone.
Lucy's Summer Vacation: A dull episode whose idea of a comedic set piece is Lucy and Ida Lupino plugging up holes in a boat with chewing gum. Almost instantly forgettable.
Milton Berle Hides Out at the Ricardos: My God, Desi looks horrible in this episode. Hollow-eyed, listless, gray and tense, until the moment when Ricky becomes inexplicably psychotic and punches out Milton Berle, thinking Uncle Miltie is Lucy's paramour. Then there's the final scenes on the crane, with Lucy's stunt double painfully obvious, as she looks nothing like Lucy. Perhaps the worst of all the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hours...
The Ricardos Go To Japan: ...to be followed by one of the best. Sure, it may be as authentic to Japan as an American-made sushi roll, but Bob Cummings is fairly funny, and Lucy and Viv recapture their original chemistry all over again. A fun episode, worth rewatching.
Lucy Meets the Moustache: However, in this last episode, Lucy and Desi are back to their usual distance and it shows. Ernie Kovacs is not a natural to this kind of comedy, though Edie Adams does all right. This isn't grade A but it's not a total waste of time, either. Even though it's all been done, at least you can see it being done with the original cast one last time, and that's not so bad.
Overall: Worth seeing once. Not going to stand alongside the original half hour. "The Celebrity Next Door" is a keeper, with "The Ricardos Go To Japan" being a runner-up. Everything else... see it for the historic value, then let it alone.
Thurston Hall plays a hypochondriac who becomes annoyed when his doctor
suggests to his wife adopting children. To discourage such an idea, he
invites Our Gang to lunch while his wife is out. It's then when the
craziness breaks out, culminating in Alfalfa's twin brothers swallowing
the candy "pills" the doctor had been prescribing for him.
The adults carry the short, stiff as they are in the MGM fashion, and the kids do pretty well. Alfalfa's age and Mickey's bad acting aren't noticeable in the farcical shenanigans, as the actors spend most of their time running back and forth. Froggy also gets a proper introduction as one of the gang just as Alfalfa is leaving.
All in all, it's ten minutes of fun and ranks as one of the better MGM shorts. Not a bad way for Alfalfa to bow out.
I don't think this is as bad as later MGM shorts. The kids still have
their personality and seem very natural. The problem with this short is
there doesn't seem to be anything IN it. Alfalfa and Spanky have
revenge on practical-joking Butch by putting an explosive candle in his
cake (which doesn't make THAT much of an explosion). That's it. A plot
like this could take two minutes, but this takes ten, and pads out its
running time by having Alfalfa (again) warble off-key for two minutes.
I did find some amusement in Tommy Bond's Durante impression, and Buckwheat's prank. So the short is not bad, not good, just not... anything. A basic time-killer.
You could do worse with your time, and you could do better.
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