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
(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