Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Aladdin's Lantern (1938)
Okay Entry from the MGM Era
In 1938, producer Hal Roach sold the rights to his Our Gang series to former distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Sadly, the series did not improve under the supervision of MGM. But the Gang's first year or so at the studio brought some decent entries. ''Aladdin's Lantern,'' the third MGM release, was sadly the last by longtime Our Gang director Gordon Douglas. Douglas still manages to present enough charm in this short to keep it entertaining.
The premise is that Spanky and Alfalfa are putting together a show based on the story of ''Aladdin.'' But trouble arrives when star Darla quits.
This ten minute romp has a good share of fun moments. For instance, the kids' homemade gadgets, such as a rigged flying carpet, are quite enjoyable. But the real stars are Buckwheat and Porky, who constantly interrupt the show with their adorably unrehearsed rendition of "The Fountain in the Park." And no Our Gang show would be complete without a song by Alfalfa.
But the film does have its flaws. MGM's insistence on elaborate musical numbers is clearly present. Spanky, playing a greedy caliph, wishes for some dancers to entertain him. Enter a group of over-rehearsed tap dancing children. Unlike MGM, Roach hated the types of children that didn't behaved more like adults. Such a musical number would have never worked in a Roach comedy. Another flaw is the needlessly large set. Much of the film takes place in the cellar of a home. What kind of a cellar has such tall ceilings? Yet another one of MGM's attempts at prettying up the series.
Still, enough charm is present to make it ''almost'' feel like a Roach comedy.
Atoll K (1951)
Not Nearly as Bad as Some Have Claimed
ATOLL K was the final film Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made. Produced in France in 1950, it was the first film the team had made in about five years. Production on the film was chaotic, with language barriers (Laurel and Hardy were among the few on the set that spoke English), illnesses (Stan's being the worse), and a somewhat incompetent director (Léo Joannon spent three days filming a lake that he thought looked nice).
The basic premise is that the Boys have inherited a yacht and an island from Stan's late uncle. The duo journey to their island, but get caught in a storm along the way, eventually landing on an atoll. Joining them are stateless man Antione (Max Elloy), Italian immigrant Giovanni (Adriano Rimoldi), and Chérie (Suzy Delair), a nightclub singer running from her workaholic fiancé. Pretty soon, the rest of the world takes interest in the atoll, leading the castaways to form their own government - with no laws!
This film can be enjoyed if one gets beyond its obvious flaws:
1. Health-wise, neither Laurel nor Hardy was particularly well during most of production, and it shows. But one adjusts to their appearance after awhile. Besides, their performances are still top-notch.
2. The dubbing in the English-language print is atrocious. Tons of studio 'noise' can be heard in the background. Incidentally, the great Paul Frees did the English dubbing for Max Elloy's character.
3. The plot gets a bit dark during the film's second half, with the comedy taking second place to the story.
However, the first half of the film is quite enjoyable. Unlike some of their previous efforts for 20th Century Fox and MGM, Stan and Ollie are entirely in character here. And there is enough fresh material to keep one invested. And the second half does have some memorable bits sprinkled in.
Check the film out for yourself and form your own opinion. One word of advice: try to get the uncut 100 minute version of the film. The plot makes more sense in that print than in UTOPIA, the American edit.
A Chump at Oxford (1939)
Stan and Ollie at College
A CHUMP AT OXFORD was one of the last films Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made for their longtime producer Hal Roach. Originally shot and released as forty minute "Streamliner," an additional ten or so minutes was later added onto the beginning of the film, and other scenes were extended, turning the film into a standard feature.
The basic premise is that Stan and Ollie, after unwittingly stopping a bank robbery, are rewarded a scholarship at Oxford University. Once there, the duo find themselves the victim of a series of practical jokes from the other students (one of whom is future horror star Peter Cushing). Later, it is revealed that Stan was once Lord Paddington, the greatest scholar to attend Oxford. A bump on the head turned him into Stan, and another bump turns him back into Paddington. Now, poor Ollie has to act as Stan's valet.
This isn't one of their best films, but it's decent enough. The opening sequence (in the extended version, anyway) borrows heavily from the team's classic silent short FROM SOUP TO NUTS. This remade version isn't quite as good as its predecessor, but the inclusion of old favorite costars Jimmy Finlayson and Anita Garvin helps keep things interesting.
The film admittedly falls apart once Stan and Ollie wind up at Oxford. Immediately, they are frowned down on by the school's more intelligent students, who put the duo through a series of practical jokers. Seeing Laurel and Hardy depicted as dopey misfits in a more adult world isn't incredibly funny, and would sadly become more common for their characters in future films. One of the students' many pranks leads to a sequence in a maze that goes on much longer than needs to.
By far, the highlight is the entire Lord Paddington sequence. Stan Laurel is excellent in his role, and proves that he was a darn good actor.
Other supporting players include old favorites Charlie Hall and Wilfred Lucas, as well Forrester Harvey as Meredith, Lord Paddington's right hand man.
A Reboot, Not a Sequel
For the record, "The Little Rascals Save the Day" is not supposed to be a sequel to the 1994 film "The Little Rascals". But as with the 90's flick, it is intended to be a reboot of Hal Roach's original Little Rascals (originally known as "Our Gang") from the 1930's. And for the record, I did grow up with the 1994 movie, and still have a soft spot for it. However, once I discovered the old "Our Gang" about a decade ago, I didn't find the 90's reboot nearly as awesome as the original classics. Just my opinion.
Either way, the film is flawed. As with the 1994 movie, this one borrows heavily from the original series. The basic plot is based on the 1931 film "Helping Grandma," the kids' band (as well as its creative name) is picked up from 1934's "Mike Fright," a scene involving an explosive cake is taken from 1932's "Birthday Blues" (complete with the memorable "weep wow" sound effect). It wouldn't be a Rascals film without the Woodchucks high-sign. You get the idea. And hey, there's even a few inside jokes for fans of both the original series and the 90's flick. The kids attend "Robert McGowan Elementary School" (a reference to "Our Gang"'s first director), a marquee outside of a movie theater reads "Hal Roach Film Festival", and Bug Hall (90's Alfalfa) has a small cameo.
So what's wrong with this movie? Recreating the Little Rascals is a difficult task. Especially in the technology-driven twenty-first century. That being said, placing characters from the 1930's in a modern day setting was a mistake. Unless the idea was played for laughs (à la the Brady Bunch movies). The Rascals seem out of place here, with their homemade cars and musical instruments, and their choices of headgear. The kids building their own material made sense in the Depression era, when most people didn't have money, and generally had to find their own ways to entertain themselves.
Additionally, the overall film is missing the charm that made the original series (and to lesser extent, the 90's movie) so great. "Our Gang" relied on kids acting like... well, kids. The original gang had the sort of adventures kids would want to have, and adults wished they could have had when they were kids.
Another part of the original series' charm was that the majority of the young actors were portraying themselves. Therefore, the writing/directing almost always came off as natural (at least before the series jumped the shark/boned the fish in the 1940s).
But my biggest concern is more along the lines of how the characters were written. I wouldn't have minded the way the characters were depicted if the script was written to match the actors' personalities (again, referring to the natural acting that made the original series such a hit). However, the writers attempted to recreate some of the characters from the old "Our Gang". For the most part, America's favorite kids aren't exactly written the way they ought to have been. Spanky is a bit too chipper for my liking (though that may be due to young Jet Jurgensmeyer's performance). But at least he has a personality in this movie (he's even involved in an admittedly decent side story in which his friends decide to quit on him). Most of the rest of the kids are about as interesting as mud. It's a shame, considering the writers chose a nice array of memorable characters to recreate. I do wish they had spent more time studying the individual personalities of the kids rather than simply placing lookalikes in situations reminiscent of the Our Gang world.
And why is Waldo the villain (again)? In every adaptation that reuses Waldo, he is depicted as a bad guy. This wasn't the case in the original series, where Waldo may have rivaled Alfalfa for Darla, but never seemed to fully realize it. The original Waldo was more of a mutual friend to Alfalfa and co. And where are his trademark glasses in this movie?
Speaking of off recreations of characters, Kennedy the Cop (played in the original series by the brilliant Edgar Kennedy, and here by character actor Lex Medlin) is depicted as someone who hates kids (especially the Rascals) in this movie. The original Kennedy was a surrogate uncle to the kids, usually spending more time hanging around them than doing his job. Seeing him openly despise the Rascals is off- putting.
Other characters, like Butch and Woim (called "Worm" in this film), could have been written out easily.
As for the cast themselves? The kids are a mixed bag. Some are decent actors, others could have used better direction. And others are a bit too over the top.
And because this is an Alex Zamm family film, the usual array of cartoon-y humor is prevalent. But I'm sure his heart was in the right place. He clearly likes the original Rascals, and most likely grew up watching them in reruns on TV. And only someone who likes the original series would throw out names like "Mr. Kaye", "June", and "Edgar" (you have to be a fan of the original series to get those references). Heck, he even did a pretty decent recreation of the sort of neighborhood the original Rascals would often hang around in.
Not an awful movie, but it could have been better. Us purists may not love it, but I wouldn't be surprised if kids will (after all, it is a kids' movie). Though strangely, it seems as though us fans of the original series are more lenient towards this flick than fans of the 90's one. Whatever your preference of Rascals era, give it the movie a shot and form your own opinion.