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Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Ziegfeld Girl was an enjoyable mix of drama and music
Having previously watched this film in the early part of this century, I have to admit right away that when I just saw this again right now that I forgot much of what happened in it other than Judy Garland's numbers and her story as well as Lana Turner's. Both of them give fine performances about rising to fame in the Ziegfeld Follies while Hedy Lamarr was okay with what she did here though her story isn't given as much attention which was just as well. Top-billed Jimmy Stewart was also good as Ms. Turner's on-and-off boyfriend who ends up doing something illegal in order to be in the same social strata as her. Oh, and I loved that number Charles Winninger and Al Shean did near the end in which they did a song complete with funny jokes. Mr. Shean, by the way, was a relative of the Marx Brothers. So on that note, I highly recommend Ziegfeld Girl. P.S. The reason I reviewed this just now was because since I've been commenting on the Our Gang series-and individual films outside of that featuring at least one player from there-in chronological order, this was next on the list as Jackie Cooper here played Ms. Turner's brother and Judy's boyfriend. He did okay with what he had here. Oh, and Stewart joined the military after completing this. When he returned to Hollywood five years later, his next film would be my all-time favorite, It's a Wonderful Life...
We Must Have Music (1942)
We Must Have Music was an interesting promotional short for M-G-M especially when viewing some of the cut scenes from their movies
This was basically a promotional short for the M-G-M musicals but there are some treats like Judy Garland's cut title number from Ziegfeld Girl, Rise Stevens' rendition of "America the Beautiful" cut from The Chocolate Soldier, Herbert Stothart conducting the score from said film, and Busby Berkeley choreographing the "Hoedown" number in Babes on Broadway. There's also scenes of the various studio musicals and, to really fill time just as I'm filling for number of lines in this review, pages of the studio movie titles along with the stars and the conductors with a check attached to each name of those latter occupation at the bottom of the papers. So on that note, We Must Have Music is worth a look for you're so inclined. It's an extra on the Ziegfeld Girl DVD.
Wedding Worries (1941)
Wedding Worries marked the final Our Gang short for Darla Hood
This M-G-M comedy short, Wedding Worries, is the two hundred third entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred fifteenth talkie. Darla's widowed father is getting married again and Darla is thrilled. The rest of the gang seem to be as well...until Froggy mentions a certain fairy tale story about how mean stepmothers are which convinces the gang to sabotage the wedding by any means necessary. Okay, there are quite some funny scenes like the "laughing gas" sequence and I also liked Froggy mixing various fairy tale wolves as one particular one but, as Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann pointed out in their Our Gang filmography book, this short doesn't make much sense especially since Darla isn't at all unhappy during the whole thing. And the ending, while amusing, isn't really something kids would consider enjoying watching since their counterparts on screen are the target of the irate adults! In summary, Wedding Worries is worth a look and nothing more. P.S. This was Darla Hood's last OG short. She would go on to a singing and voice-over career the rest of her life. One of her post-Rascal highlights was being a guest on "The Jack Benny Program" during the early sixties when she sang and played herself in the show's Our Gang parody. Her career came full circle in 1979 when she-and Stymie Beard-participated doing voices in "The Little Rascals' Christmas Special" with Ms. Hood voicing the mother of Spanky and Porky. But she died on June 13, 1979 at 47 of hepatitis, months before the special aired. This marked the first time I read of the death of an Our Gang member when I saw the item on the back of a section of a New Orleans paper. The second time was when I read of Stymie's in Newsweek two years later...
Helping Hands (1941)
Helping Hands was the first time an Our Gang comedy addressed the coming war
This M-G-M comedy short, Helping Hands, is the two hundred second entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred fourteenth talkie. Inspired by a letter from his older brother who's in service, Spanky decides to form his own military outfit complete with drills and marching. An officer sees this and convinces the gang to really support the war effort by doing scrap drives and other activities associated with the patriotic movement of the time. With the U.S. preparing to fight World War II, M-G-M used Our Gang to add to the propaganda they-and other studios-were intent to spread to their audiences all over the country. I actually laughed at one bit where the one kid-after saying "Who goes there?"-pops Spanky with his pop gun, which uses just a cork for ammunition, before Spank explains only strangers should get that treatment. Darla was also, once again, entertaining singing her number. In summary, Helping Hands is not a great Our Gang comedy but it's an interesting artifact concerning what the world was about to go through during the time it was made.
Robot Wrecks (1941)
Despite another lesson being taught, Robot Wrecks was a pretty funny Our Gang comedy
This M-G-M comedy short, Robot Wrecks, is the two hundred first entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred thirteenth talkie. After the gang watch a robot demonstrate doing work at a store display, they decide to make their own to do the same thing. It doesn't work, however, and Slicker cons them by selling them some "invisible rays". The robot does do what it's ordered to do but only because Boxcar is in it, unbeknownst to the gang. Okay, while this was another "let's-teach-the-kids-a-lesson" ep of OG, I found much of it pretty funny like when Spanky raises his voice when the robot doesn't reply right away to his question or when the camera is undercranked when the robot goes "haywire". Also, Billy Bletcher not only reprises his role as Froggy's father, he also does the masculine voice of the mother as well! So on that note, Robot Wrecks is at the least worth a look.
1-2-3 Go! (1941)
1-2-3 Go! is an educational Our Gang short that's not completely without humor
This M-G-M educational short, 1-2-3 Go!, is the two hundredth entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred twelfth talkie. Yes, I said educational, as this one seemed nothing more than a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the benefits of looking both ways before crossing the street. See, Mickey-in trying to catch the baseball-gets hit by a car while running in the street and gets his legs broken as a result. When Spanky and the rest of the gang see him and other kids who were hurt the same way in the hospital, Spanky forms the 1-2-3 Go Safety Society as we see both kids-one of whom is Giovanna Gubitosi, or Jean Blake, Mickey's sister-and adults practice crossing the street by saying those numbers before doing so. Okay, to paraphrase Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann-authors of the Our Gang filmography book, before M-G-M took over the series, these would never have been mistaken for classroom films and Our Gang's only connection with the mayor, who supports their cause here, would only a few years before have been a baseball accidentally breaking his window! Whatever funny stuff there is in this one is courtesy of Froggy especially at the end when he attempts to speak to a national audience on radio but when he uses his unique voice, the microphones blow out! So he uses a more normal voice for the remaining intact one before...oh, just watch 1-2-3 Go! (though I don't really recommend it) if you want to find out!
Come Back, Miss Pipps (1941)
Come Back, Miss Pipps was a nice dramatic Our Gang short
This M-G-M short, Come Back, Miss Pipps, is the one hundred ninety-ninth entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred eleventh talkie. Notice I didn't put the word "comedy" between the studio name and "short". That's because there didn't seem much attempt at humor this time. Anyway, class ends early since it's Mickey's birthday and the title character decides to spend the rest of the day celebrating it with his classmates. But school board chairman Mr. Pratt thinks she's wasting her time and recommends to the rest of the members she be fired which is granted. The gang won't tolerate it so they stage a play in front of the board, with the help of the kindly janitor who keeps Miss Pipps from attending, showing how mean Mr. Pratt really is. Now while I said there wasn't much attempt at humor, that doesn't mean this wasn't entertaining. In fact, the adults-Sara Haden as the title character, Christen Rub as the janitor, and Clarence Wilson as Mr. Pratt are fine in their typecast roles since Ms. Haden played the kindly aunt in the Andy Hardy series, Mr. Rub was the voice of Geppetto in Walt Disney's Pinocchio, and Mr. Wilson was previously in OG as the mean man in Shrimps for a Day, Little Sinner, and Clown Princes. Actually, I have to point out the irony that I previously saw Ms. Haden as the mean truant officer in Shirley Temple's Captain January which also featured then-OG member Jerry Tucker as her likewise nephew! Anyway, I highly liked Come Back, Miss Pipps especially the wonderful surprise ending concerning Mr. Pratt. So that's a recommendation. P.S. This was Clarence Wilson's final film appearance as he died on October 5, 1941, before the short's release. Oh, and one of the players was Billy Bletcher as Froggy's father. He previously was in OG shorts The First Round-Up as Wally Albright's father, Teacher's Beau, and Divot Diggers. And the little girl who tells her father about mean Mr. Pratt is Giovanna Gubitosi-or Jean Blake, Robert Blake's sister.
Ye Olde Minstrels (1941)
Ye Olde Minstrels is the first musical short in the Our Gang series to violate the premise of kids putting on a show
This M-G-M musical short, Ye Olde Minstrels, is the one hundred ninety-eighth entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred tenth talkie. Despite Spanky's reluctance to stage another musical show since the last one for Waldo's lemonade stand was a flop, he and the gang do want to raise money for the Red Cross. So Froggy enlists his uncle, Walter Wills, to stage a minstrel show. Okay, when there previously were revues in the OG series, it would either be a makeshift operation with all the amateurishness that would imply or, in the case of Our Gang Follies of 1938, the professionalism would be easily explained as a dream. Well, even with Froggy's uncle involved, this was too much professionalism for the series. Besides, having Froggy have a solo singing spot is a bit painful to watch and almost makes one miss Alfalfa who at least was usually funny when he sang off-key! Good thing Darla sounds better than ever singing "Auld Lang Syne" near the end. Oh, and Walter Wills isn't too bad warbling "Lazy Moon" though, of course, the blackface is out of the question in today's world. I was a little amused, however, when Buckwheat temporarily looked white during that sequence. So on that note, Ye Olde Minstrels is worth a look.
Baby Blues (1941)
Baby Blues is a nice Our Gang short that preaches tolerance but isn't funny, otherwise
This M-G-M comedy short, Baby Blues, is the one hundred ninety-seventh entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred ninth talkie. Mickey's mother is expecting and he's excited...until he reads an almanac that says "Every fourth child is born Chinese". After getting no answers from the zoo stork, Spanky takes his pal to see his Chinese friend Lee Wong (Edward Soo Hoo) whose family turns out to be not that different from us. I'll stop there and just say this is a far cry from the early silent short in the series, Lodge Night, when the gang had an organization called the Cluck Cluck Klams (no need to mention what that name spoofs) even with Sunshine Sammy and Farina as members! While it's nice to see the gang practicing tolerance here, there's hardly anything funny in the short, certainly nothing that made me laugh since neither trying to talk to the stork nor their assumptions of lunch consisting of rats' tails or birds' nests was what I'd call hilarious. So on that note, Baby Blues isn't recommended except for any OG completists out there. P.S. Since I always like to cite when a player from my favorite movie-It's a Wonderful Life-is in something else, here it's William Edmonds, Mr. Martini in that film, as Mickey's father. And Janet Burston here plays one of Mickey's sisters.
Fightin' Fools (1941)
Fightin' Fools is only a partly funny Our Gang short
This M-G-M comedy short, Fightin' Fools, is the one hundred ninety-sixth entry in the "Our Gang" series and the one hundred eighth talkie. After Tubby (Joe Strauch, Jr.) accidentally splashes most of the water out of the pond when diving in, the gang discover that their clothes were tied in knots by a rival group. So they start a war using various food as weapons. Other than what I described in the beginning, some undercranking, and some of the weapons, this wasn't a very funny short but it sure beats having yet another Our Gang short teach a lesson, that's for sure. So on that note, Fightin' Fools is worth a look. P.S. This was Leonard "Percy" Landy's last appearance in the series. He's one of the few from the gang still alive today. And this was the only appearance of Strauch in the series. He had long been Spanky's stand-in and was starting to also appear in Gene Autry westerns as Tadpole. Oh, and he was also a native of my birthtown of Chicago, Ill. He died on May 31, 1986.