When we were young, our family lived in a rural area without cable. There were two channels on our television set, and neither of them aired classic movies. Ever.
Not that we’re bitter about this.
Fortunately, our grandparents lived in a city with amenities: a public library with thousands of books; corner stores filled with junk food; and cable! Lovely, precious cable that featured old movies on Sunday.
In our grandparents’ living room, we learned about film from Hollywood’s early days. We discovered Abbot and Costello, Astaire and Rogers and, reluctantly, the Our Gang series.
The Our Gang shorts were our least favourite. We felt they wasted valuable airtime should have been devoted to More Important Movies. (Yes, at the age of 10 we felt Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein was more important than the Our Gang series.) We felt these kids were irrelevant and uninteresting.
The Our Gang series, also known as The Little Rascals, centered around the adventures of a group of poor, street-smart city children and their dog. Rumour has it producer Hal Roach first conceived the series as he watched a group of children play in a lumberyard across from his office. It occurred to him that a series of short films about kids being kids might appeal to the movie-going public.
He was right. Our Gang had a remarkably long run, from 1922 until 1944. It was also a ground-breaking series for its time because of its treatment of African-American children; they played and went to school with their caucasian friends. This was unheard of in other motion pictures.
During a recent sleepless night, we re-watched some of the Our Gang shorts. We wanted to see how they compared to our childhood memories, and we were astonished.
We love them.
We love that the kids seem so natural on screen. We love the scripts and the really funny lines. We love the series’ charm. (Of course, we try very hard to not think about what happened to some of these children when they became adults.)
Some episodes are funny, like the one where two boys go to outrageous lengths to set off firecrackers at school. Some are surprisingly moving, like the one about a boy adopted from an orphanage. They’re all entertaining because of those crazy kids. The kids are simply terrific.
If you haven’t seen the Our Gang series, we urge you to check it out. But be warned! These shorts are like potato chips; you can’t stop at just one.
Our Gang Series: starring 41 child actors. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by Robert. F. McGowan (original director). 1922-1944, B&W, approx. 10-20 mins. each.