6/10
All the world's a stage in which the Little Rascals play their part
3 October 2017
This is the seventh Little Rascals sound film, 20 minutes long. Shakespeare does not actually feature in the film, which is entirely devoted to a school play of QUO VADIS staged at the school attended by the Little Rascals. (The fact that Wheezer is only four years old and could not yet be at school is conveniently set aside, and there he is declaiming the lines of an ancient Roman.) Pete the Dog is of course in attendance, and howls at an appropriate moment. The chief Rascals in the action of this film are Chubby, who plays the Emperor Nero, Farina who plays a sorcerer 'from darkest Africa', and Mary Ann, who plays a Christian girl who is going to be thrown to the lions. For those who do not know, QUO VADIS was at this time an extremely famous book. It is a novel written by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz (pronounced 'Syen-kyay-vitch'), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for writing it. It is set in Rome at the time of Nero, and is a very powerful and dramatic work. Sienkiewicz was a brilliant author, and is still a literary hero to Poles today, who all have to read him in school (though not this novel, instead they read his many Polish historical novels). QUO VADIS was what we call 'a runaway international best-seller' which sold millions of copies. One reason for its success was its description of the early Christians, who were being persecuted by Nero, since until the 1970s, Christianity was still very important to everyone in the 'mass market'. If it were published today, few people would buy it, I expect, despite its being very good. No one cares about early Christians anymore, at least not in films. QUO VADIS was made into a famous Hollywood epic film in 1951 with Peter Ustinov playing Nero. I remember asking Peter, whom my wife and I knew very well, what it was like playing Nero. He said he had to remember to keep squinting up his eyes, because Nero was notoriously near-sighted. He felt ambivalent about giving the thumbs-down to the gladiators in the Colisseum, since although it made him feel powerful, it also made him feel guilty at the same time. The costumes worn by the kids in the school play are extremely lavish, well above the budget of any actual school play. Everything imaginable that could go wrong with the production does go wrong. Comic situations abound, and not only the Rascals but all the parents and adults attending the performance throw custard pieces in each other's face, so that a very congenial total chaos results.
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