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Our Gang

 

 

WASHEE IRONEE

MGM Hal Roach, 1934.  Directed by James Parrott.  Camera:  Francis Corby.  With Sam Adams, Wally Albright, Ernie Alexander, Gertrude Astor, Sam Baker, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Scotty Beckett, Tommy Bond, Symona Boniface, Alvin Buckelew, John "Uh huh" Collum, Lester Dorr, Billy Gilbert, Julia Griffith, William Irving, Dickie Jones, Tony Kales, Leonard Kibrick, Hal Law, Jr., George "Spanky" McFarland, Tommy McFarland, Natalie Moorhead, James C. Morton, James Parrott, Tiny Sandford, Gene Reynolds, Jackie Lynn Taylor, Willie Mae Taylor, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Jerry Tucker, Elinor Vanderveer, Jackie White, Yen Wong.

Waldo's high-society mother is having a bridge luncheon for the Maids of Olympia, of which she hopes to be president.  She expects Waldo to "enthrall" the gathering of ladies with a violin recital, and sends him off to practice.  But Waldo's eye is caught by the gang playing football outside, and he joins them instead.  When a soaring kickoff comes his way, he catches the ball and runs for a touchdown, landing in a mud puddle just past the goal posts.  He's covered with mud from head to toe, but delighted to be part of the game and the gang, and anxious to make up for a lifetime of behaving.  Just then, his mother calls, and Waldo and the rest of the gridiron behemoths sneak into his basement to do a quick and dirty cleaning job.  After elaborate procedures, the clothes emerge from the dryer—shrunk beyond recognition.  Faced with no alternative, Waldo dons a lamp shade as a kind of skirt and makes his entrance at the party.  His mother promptly faints, and simultaneously, the gang barges in.  Mother's pet monkey starts teasing Pete, and a melee quickly ensues.  When Waldo's mother phones for the police, the gang makes a hasty retreat.

Washee Ironee, with its unusual pig-Latin title, was the only Our Gang two-reeler directed by James Parrott, the brother of Charley Chase and one of the most talented comedy creators on the Hal Roach staff, working often with Chase and Laurel & Hardy.  He brought a keen flair for slapstick and sight gags to Washee Ironee, with delightful results.

The film is loaded with gags, one after another; during the football game, Pete accidentally swallows referee Spanky's whistle, prompting a variety of solutions; soap bubbles from the washing machine float up the dumb waiter into Mother's salon, bursting in unlikely places; one bubble causes the butler to sneeze (the whopping explosion dubbed by expert Billy Gilbert); and of course there is the final melee, with vases, cream puffs, and the monkey himself flying around the room.

Best of all is a terrific running gag that provides the film's closing laugh.  Early on, when the kids try to figure out how to wash Waldo's clothes, Spanky boards his goat-drawn "ambulance" and, cupping a drinking glass over his mouth, imitates the sound of a siren.  Hearing this, traffic cop Tiny Sandford efficiently stops all traffic at a busy intersection to let the vehicle through—only to find a midget-sized homemade buggy weaving between the cars.  Flustered, he tries to get traffic moving again.  Spanky pulls up in front of a Chinese laundry (just as director Parrott passes by in a cameo) and gets his young friend there to return with him.  Again the "siren" is heard, and again the cop halts cars in their screeching tracks only to find Spanky meandering through the traffic; this time he takes out his anger on the drivers and brusquely tells them to get moving.

At the end of the film, with the society party a shambles, Waldo's distraught mother picks up the phone and wails, "Murder!  Police!"  A squad of officers hops onto a paddy wagon Keystone Cops-style and speeds off down the road, siren blaring.  Traffic cop Sandford hears it coming but pauses and smiles, pleased he's wise to the "gag" by now.  The camera cuts to the patrol wagon's view of impending disaster as it races toward the busy intersection; a car zips by and a pedestrian jumps out of the way.  Then we see the reaction of people on the sidewalk covering their eyes while a fantastic series of unchecked crashing sounds is heard.  After a moment, the crowd rushes over to see what's happened, with the camera cutting to a long shot of a monumental pile-up of disabled cars and bewildered drivers, reaching high into the sky, with Sandford teetering atop the pyramid-like heap.  Just then, Spanky and the gang pass by in their ambulance; the grim-visaged Sandford shakes his fist at the young troublemaker, and Spanky graciously answers the gesture with Mae West's tag line, "II'll come up and see ya some time."  *Fade-out.  This is one of the most elaborate sight gags ever devised for an Our Gang comedy—and Parrott (who'd directed Laurel & Hardy's classic Two Tars, with its freakish auto parade) knew how to pull it off.

At the same time, the kids almost take a back seat to the gags, with the exception of Spanky, who is featured throughout the film.  Wally Albright is pretty much in the position of straight man, except for his climactic entrance wearing the lamp shade.  His character here is a standard one in Our Gang films harking back to Saturday Morning in the early 1920s.  In fact, the establishing scene that opens Washee Ironee is borrowed from Saturday Morning.  Waldo tries to kiss his mother, but she backs away, saying, "No, no, you'll disarrange me.  I'll kiss you later."

Mater, as Waldo calls her, is played by Ellinor Van Der Veer, an unsung lady of comedy who probably never had a bigger part than this one.  For ten years the stately Miss Van Der Veer was on the receiving end of pies and other indignities in Hal Roach comedies; her reward was a role with considerable dialogue in this film, executed quite nicely.  Parrott took the believable role of the mother and brought it one step nearer to caricature with a funny scene in the early goings.  As Waldo practices his violin in the solarium, she remarks from the next room, "Waldo, your B-flat in the obligator pianissimo needs more staccato."  Even the butler winces at this.

Another statuesque actress, Gertrude Astor, is seen briefly at the party, where her bare back is pelted with a cream puff, prompting her to spin around and be splattered with another wad of cream directly in the face.  Symona Boniface, placed on this earth to intercept flying pies in Three Stooges films, participates in the gooey indignities, too.  All of these supporting characters contribute to the success of Washee Ironee, including the perennial cop Tiny Sandford, given a featured spot with the running gag that closes out this very funny two-reeler.

Billie Thomas makes his third Our Gang appearance in Washee Ironee, but not yet as Buckwheat, who's played here by a girl, Willie Mae Taylor.  Who'd have guessed that the modest-looking Billie thomas would wind up working in most every succeeding Our Gang comedy until the series' dissolution a decade later!  He's given one good gag in Washee Ironee.  Seated in the bleachers, the youngster is shown watching the game through binoculars made with a pair of soda pop bottles fastened together.

The Little Rascals
The Life and Times of Our Gang
by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann
Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York, 1992