A Few Cute Moments but the Story Just Doesn't Work
General Spanky (1936)
** (out of 4)
By 1936 Hal Roach was attempting to shut down his short productions and making Our Gang, Charley Chase and Patsy Kelly (among others) join the feature ranks. This film attempted to put the kids on the map of features but it's also clear that it was a pet project for the top-billed George "Spanky" McFarland. In the film, a Southern gentleman (Phillips Holmes) takes in Spanky and his "slave" friend Buckwheat. Soon the children are in the fields playing war as the Civil War is breaking out and the kids end up getting mixed up with real Yankee soldiers. GENERAL SPANKY is a rather controversial movie today because of its subject matter and the way it shows slavery to be something blacks needed and wanted. I'm really not sure what the mindset was in 1936 but it's clear Hollywood really hadn't changed their ways and wouldn't for nearly another two decades so that's important to remember when watching this thing. As far as the controversy, I would never blame anyone for being offended at the idea that blacks enjoyed being slaves and we're constantly going around with smiles on their faces. What's even more disturbing in this film is some early stuff where Buckwheat loses his master and cries about it before walking around a boat hoping someone will become his new master. There are countless stereotype jokes aimed at blacks but I think the idea of a black child needing a master is probably what's not going to sit well with many. What didn't sit well with me was the poor screenplay, which really doesn't try to do anything and I do find it easy to see why Roach and his features didn't work well for anyone. I think the biggest problem is the screenplay never seems to be too worried about being funny. I thought it did a good job at showing the South just before the Civil War but the majority of the jokes just fall flat. Check out the long-winded scene where Spanky is being fed fried chicken while Buckwheat is under the table and wanting a few pieces. Spanky sends them down but the dog gets them instead of Buckwheat. This entire sequence has zero laughs because the scene is told so poorly and the timing is off so bad. Another scene that doesn't work is when the kids are playing war not knowing that the real soldiers are coming down on them. The stuff with the gunpowder I'm sure was meant to be funny but it wasn't. It's a shame the screenplay is such a mess because the performances are actually pretty good. McFarland is as cute as ever and fits his role just fine as does Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer. GENERAL SPANKY, rightfully or wrongly, will probably always be looked down upon for its subject matter but even if you can get past that you're left with a pretty bland comedy that feels overlong even at just 71-minutes.
2 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this