"With vacation over, thousands of smiling, happy
children return to school"—but the gang
is neither happy nor smiling. All they want to do is find a way to
skip the first day of class—especially since they're going to have a new
teacher, who's sure to be an old crab. Spanky hatches an idea and rigs
a phony toothache for Alfalfa, blowing up a balloon inside his cheek to make
it look real. Meanwhile, the pretty new teacher, Miss Lawrence,
overhears their scheme and decides to teach them a lesson. When
Alfalfa refrains from singing "Good Morning" in class, Miss Lawrence
innocently asks what's wrong, and told about his toothache, gives the
groaning faker permission to go home, and encourages Spanky to accompany
him. Just as they leave, a Good Humor delivery man comes along with
ice cream bars for the entire class, a little surprise engineered by the
teacher. Now Spanky has to find a way to get himself and Alfalfa back
into class; he pops the balloon inside Alfalfa's cheek and tries to
pull it out, but it snaps back into Alfalfa's throat. Trying to cough
it up, he gulps it back down instead. Clutching his throat with a
pained expression, he realizes "I swallowed it." "Aw, that's nothin',"
Spanky assures his pal. "I swallowed lots of things when I was a kid.
Come on." So fully "cured," at least to Spanky's satisfaction, Alfalfa
is led back into class, where Spanky accounts for his recovery: "Funny
thing, Teacher, he's all well now." Miss Lawrence insists that he must
sing before getting his treat, so Alfalfa launches into "Believe Me, If All
Those Endearing Young Charms," with the balloon stopper providing a
whistling sound every time he inhales! He manages to get through the
song, however, and Spanky and Alfalfa finally get their share of the ice
cream from this kind—and clever—new teacher.
Bored of Education was almost never made.
When the previous season's cycle of
Our Gang comedies had concluded with
there was speculation that the celebrated series might be suspended, despite
With movie theaters literally dropping their
shorts in favor of the double feature, Hal Roach had resigned himself to
producing a new brand of ambitious, top-grade feature-length films.
Our Gang was nearly a casualty in this purge, as the
Laurel & Hardy and
Charley Chase shorts had been.
Our Gang, though, was a favorite with MGM, and Louis B. Mayer convinced
Hal Roach to continue making the lucrative comedies by agreeing to accept
the shorter episodes and agreeing to distribute the
Our Gang feature test, General Spanky. Luckily, the series'
farewell was postponed.
The new season of shorter length
Our Gang pictures was announced to the trades with this offbeat press
release: "Certainly this year, in addition to this new feature
production enterprise, there will be 12 single-reel Hal Roach
Our Gang comedies. The public just wouldn't stand for a
Our Gang. Might as well abolish baseball!
"Of course Spanky will continue to star in
Our Gang comedies now being made by as spry a troupe of youngsters as
ever gathered under the Klieg lights. You'll find Alfalfa there, too,
as he's got all those things that make folks chuckle and a weirder voice
"It is to be emphasized the
Our Gang comedies are in 1-reel each now and
definitely a bright spot on any program."
Somehow, remarkably, this initial gang
single-reeler won the series its only Academy Award, as the best short
subject of 1936. One can only wonder how such a comparatively
lackluster entry managed to win when so many more deserving
Our Gang films had been bypassed
through the years. Perhaps it was because
Our Gang hadn't yet won an Academy
Award, and the series appeared to be nearing an end. Or possibly the
studio lobbied hard for recognition that year. Whatever, the award
seems to have been a product of whim and timing, rather than strictly a
consideration of merit. While a pleasant short, Bored of Education
is hardly an outstanding one.
Most surprised of all was the film's director,
young Gordon Douglas. Although he had been with the Roach studio for
several years, working in the casting office, the prop room, as assistant
cutter, as assistant director, and as part-time actor (in some earlier
Our Gang and Boy Friends
shorts), his name had appeared as director only twice before, on
undistinguished Irvin S. Cobb shorts in roach's All Star series.
This was his first important assignment, and, significantly, it was the
Our Gang short in the new one-reel
(ten-minute) format, after years of comedies twice that length. When
his maiden effort in the series won an Academy Award, Douglas was elated.
"I figured if at twenty-two I could get an Oscar, I had this town made," he
But reviewed today, the film Bored of
Education doesn't stand up to earlier
Our Gang efforts or to Douglas's
later films in the series. The young filmmaker was still learning his
own lessons, in a sense, when he made Bored of Education. Each
successive film showed a firmer grasp of timing within each scene, and
overall pacing within the ten-minute format. In addition, Douglas got
to know the kids much better and elicited more convincing performances from
Bored of Education suffers most in
comparison with Teacher's Pet, the superb 1930 two-reeler from which
it was derived. The warmth, sincerity and poignancy of Teacher's
Pet are not to be found in this more streamlined edition. Miss
Lawrence's gesture in handing the two would-be truants their ice-cream
sticks at the end of Alfalfa's song can hardly compare with the
reconciliation between Miss Crabtree and a weeping
Jackie Cooper in Teacher's Pet, but even without the comparison,
one feels no real resolution in the ending of Bored of Education.
The kids haven't really learned much of a lesson, since they got away with
their scheme and didn't suffer for it, and it doesn't appear that they've
drawn any closer to Miss Lawrence because of the incident. One fully
expects them to try something else another day—and, of course, they do.
Within one year, Gordon Douglas nailed down the
Our Gangs and directed a series of slick, entertaining films that were
near-perfect in construction and pacing. He has gone on to become a
successful director of feature films, with Come Fill the Cup,
Them!, Young at Heart, Tony Rome, and Harlow among
his credits. bust after all these years he still harbors special
feelings about the Hal roach studio. "It was a marvelous family.
Everybody was there to make the picture as good, and as fast as
possible...and as funny. Nobody was there to hurt anybody else.
I've never run into as many nice people in one spot as at Hal Roach."
Just as it was Douglas's directorial debut with
Our Gang, Bored of Education
marked Rosina Lawrence's debut as
Our Gang's schoolteacher, in the first serious attempt to revive the
role popularized by
June Marlowe six years earlier. Hal Roach was grooming Rosina
Lawrence for big things, casting her opposite
Charley Chase in Neighborhood House,
Laurel & Hardy in
Jack Haley in Pick a Star. The young actress had looks and
talent (she sang and danced well, having learned to dance as a child to
combat a spinal paralysis), but somehow she never quite made the splash the
studio expected. Roach publicist Dick Hurley believes it was because
she wouldn't go out and "push," as other movie protégés found they had to.
Rosina was dating Johnny Downs at the time this
film was made, but within a few years she left show business behind.
She married a judge and raised three children of her own. After her
husband died, she met John McCabe, Laurel & Hardy's biographer. In
1987 the lady who worked with Stan and Babe married the scholar who
chronicled their lives.
Production footnotes: From script
to screen, Bored of Education underwent surprisingly few alterations.
By this time, each short was scripted fairly tightly, and Spanky McFarland
recalls that the only improvisation during on-the-set rehearsals involved
motions and rhythms, and occasionally dialogue, in order to make it sound
natural for whoever had to deliver the lines. Usually the directors
would encourage the kids to iron out awkward dialogue that didn't sound
right to them, or seemed somehow unnatural. "Well, how would you
say it?" they might ask. The technique fostered spontaneity; and the
charming rough edges only enhanced the films' believability.
In Bored of Education, the camera setups
and pan shots, the cuts, actions, reactions, attitudes, and dialogue were
all executed essentially as set forth in the eight-page shooting script.
However, one running gag was excised; it involved Spanky's repeated
characterization of the new teacher as an old owl, calling for Buckwheat "takems"
(as the script labeled such exaggerated reactions) each time Spanky mimed an
owl's look and imitated the "Hoo! Hoo!" sound it makes. In turn, each
time the script would also call for a cut to an amused Rosina, "as she takes
it big," too. In the release print, the only trace of this gag is a
single scene in class with Spanky drawing an owl on a slate ("the new
teacher") and showing his handiwork to Alfalfa, thereby eliciting an
exchange of approving nods between the two Rascals.