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Our Gang In: "Bored Of Education" (1936) Wonder

Hard to believe, but the "Little Rascals" won an Academy Award for this short, one of just two awarded to legendary film producer Hal Roach.

Our Gang In: "Bored Of Education" (1936) Wonder
Balthasar, Apr 22, 2018
    • Balthasar
      So the story goes: On a warm day in 1921, producer Hal Roach was sitting in his office at the movie studio that bore his name in Culver City, California. He had just endured an ordeal common to film producers and directors of that day - having to sit through an audition of a child actor that was overly made-up and over-rehearsed. As he gazed out of his office window afterward, shaking off the experience, his attention was drawn by something going on below.

      A group of kids had retrieved sticks from the lumberyard across the street, and an argument had developed because the smallest of them had ended up with the largest stick, and the others were trying to convince him to give it to the largest child. Roach became fascinated by this exchange, and finding himself in the rare position of being an unnoticed observer, became absorbed and amused by the antics of the children as they bickered. When he finally looked up and realized how much time had passed, he had found the seed of the idea that led to the "Our Gang" comedies.

      Under the supervision of Charley Chase, work began on the first two-reel shorts in the new "kids-and-pets" series, to be called Hal Roach's Rascals, later that year. Roach tested it at several theaters around Hollywood. The attendees were very receptive, and the press clamored for "lots more of those 'Our Gang' comedies." The colloquial usage of the term Our Gang led to its becoming the series' second (yet more popular) official title, with the title cards reading "Our Gang Comedies: Hal Roach presents His Rascals in..." The series was officially called both Our Gang and Hal Roach's Rascals until 1932, when Our Gang became the sole title of the series.

      After years of gradual cast changes, the troupe standardized in 1936 with the move to one-reel shorts. Most casual fans of Our Gang are particularly familiar with the 1936–1939 incarnation of the cast: Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, and Porky, with recurring characters such as neighborhood bullies Butch and Woim and the bookworm Waldo. Tommy Bond, an off-and-on member of the gang since 1932, returned to the series as Butch beginning with the 1937 short Glove Taps. Sidney Kibrick, the younger brother of Leonard Kibrick, played Butch's crony, Woim. Glove Taps also featured the first appearance of Darwood Kaye as the bespectacled, foppish Waldo. In later shorts, both Butch and Waldo were portrayed as Alfalfa's rivals in his pursuit of Darla's affections. Other popular elements in these mid-to-late-1930s shorts include the "He-Man Woman Haters Club" from Hearts Are Thumps and Mail and Female (both 1937), the Laurel and Hardy-ish interaction between Alfalfa and Spanky, and the comic tag-along team of Porky and Buckwheat.

      But in the late thirties profits on short films began to decline owing to the growing popularity of double features, and Roach could no longer afford to continue producing Our Gang. MGM, however, which was by then distributing the series, did not want the series discontinued and agreed to take over production. On May 31, 1938, Roach sold MGM the Our Gang unit, including the rights to the name and the contracts for the actors and writers, for $25,000 (equal to $434,634 today). The final Roach-produced short in the Our Gang series, Hide and Shriek, was his final short-subject production. Overall, the Our Gang films produced by MGM were not as well-received as the Roach-produced shorts had been, largely due to MGM's inexperience with the brand of slapstick comedy that Our Gang was famous for and to MGM's insistence on keeping Alfalfa, Spanky and Buckwheat in the series as they became teens. The MGM entries are considered by many film historians, and the Our Gang children themselves, to be lesser films than the Roach entries. The children's performances were criticized as stilted and stiff, and adult situations often drove the action, with each film often incorporating a moral, a civics lesson, or a patriotic theme. The series was given a permanent setting in the fictitious town of Greenpoint, and the mayhem caused by the Our Gang kids was toned down significantly.
      Exhibitors noticed the drop in quality, and often complained that the series was slipping. When six of the 13 shorts released between 1942 and 1943 sustained losses rather than turning profits, MGM discontinued Our Gang, releasing the final short, Dancing Romeo, on April 29, 1944.

      Roach began in 1943 licensing revivals of his sound-era productions for theatrical and home-movie distribution. Roach's films were also early arrivals on television. His Laurel and Hardy comedies were a smashing success in television syndication, as were the Our Gang comedies originally produced from 1927-1938, for which in 1949 Roach had bought back the rights from MGM and re-branded for television as "The Little Rascals". He thus became one of the first significant film producers to venture into television.

      In 1984, 92-year-old Roach was presented with an honorary Academy Award. Former Our Gang members Jackie Cooper and George "Spanky" McFarland made the presentation to a flattered Roach, with McFarland thanking the producer for hiring him 53 years prior. Hal Roach died in 1992 at the age of 100. In his eighty years in the motion picture business, he won just two Oscars (not counting the honorary one): the first for the 1932 Laurel and Hardy comedy short, The Music Box, and the other for the 1936 Our Gang short
      Bored of Education.
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