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Our Gang  




Hal Roach, 1925.  Directed by Robert F. McGowan.  Camera:  Alvin V. Knetchel.  With Mickey Daniels, Jackie Condon, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Joe Cobb, Johnny Downs, Eugene Jackson.

The Gang has been western-ized; they plan to run away from home and spend their time shooting Indians.  Parents' warnings to the contrary, they decide to meet that night and run away "to some foreign country."  Traveling at night proves to be pretty eerie, and when it rains the kids seek refuge at a nearby house, which just happens to be the inventor's model for a gimmicked-up "magnetic house" about to be sold to an amusement park entrepreneur.  The Gang is scared witless by all the frightening contraptions, but when their parents arrive to "rescue" them, the adults get caught in the gimmickry just as much as the kids.

Shootin' Injuns keeps moving, but does not rank as one of the more coherent Our Gang outings.  What's more, the "spook stuff" is prolonged from the kids' initial nighttime rendezvous through the lengthy haunted-house sequence.  While there is some fine material here, it's just too much of a good thing.

The "crazy house" is perhaps the most impressive of many such mansions seen in Our Gang comedies over the years.  This one has more going on, in a more bizarre fashion, than any other that comes to mind.  Paintings are suddenly imbued with life, chairs collapse, stairways turn into sliding chutes, a corps of skeletons resurges, the floor moves, the walls are full of sliding panels, bodies pop out of closets, et.

There is also some striking trick photography, credited to Alvin V. Knetchel.  In one sequence, an array of skeletons appears, emanating one at a time from the body of an initial figure.  Then, all spread out along the top of a staircase, the slide down the banister, reconverging into one bony being at the bottom of the stairs.  This impressive scene is a matter of carefully timed and executed multiple exposures, much like Buster Keaton's nine-man minstrel show (all nine participants being himself) in The Playhouse (1922).

Another memorable shot involves Farina, who in running away from a skeleton pauses in midflight and remains motionless while he seemingly leaps out of his skin and continues, putting two Farinas on screen at the same time.

This camera work serves as a fascinating ancestor to more sophisticated examples like Gene Kelly's alter-ego dance in Cover Girl (1944) or Norman McLaren's classic ballet film Pas de Deux (1967).  It all goes to show that there's nothing on film that hasn't been tried before.

Unfortunately, one is hard pressed to find the same enthusiasm for Shootin' Injuns as a whole.  The opening sequences in the Gang's secret underground hideout (which "Pancho Farina" can't find through its camouflage of hay) are fun, and nicely express the idea of kids' romantic fantasies about the Wild West, gleaned mostly from dime novels.  But the rest of the film gets into more standard scare-comedy that is anything but original or unique to Our Gang.

The Little Rascals
by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann
Crown Trade Paperbacks, New York 1992