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Our Gang  




Pathé, 1926.  Directed by Robert McGowan.  Camera:  Art Lloyd.  With Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Lassie Lou Ahern, Harry Bowen, Allan Cavan, Charley Chase, Oliver Hardy, Johnny Downs, James Finlayson, Alex Finlayson, George B. French, Charlie Hall, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Jannie Hoskins, Ham Kinsey, Mildred Kornman, Elmer "Scooter" Lowry, Sam Lufkin, Jerry Mandy, Martha Sleeper, Jay R. Smith, Lyle Tayo, Charlie Young, Clifton (Bobbie) "Bone-dust" Young.

Professor Clements' Trained Flea and Insect Circus is in town, and when Farina goes to examine the sidewalk show with his dog Magnolia, the Professor's star flea, Garfield, decides to go AWOL and live with the pooch for awhile.  When the entrepreneur discovers that his star is gone, he offers the gang a dollar if they can find Garfield.  In the confusion that follows, the entire Flea Circus is tipped over, and Garfield invites his cronies to "come on up" and join him on Magnolia's back.  Meanwhile, Mary's older sister is getting married, and the gang is in attendance; the little kids, Farina and Scooter, also show up, however, and Magnolia is with them.  As the dog wanders around the home where the ceremony is about to begin, she drops fleas hither and yon, first sending the musicians into itching spasms and eventually infecting the entire room.  When Farina drops a whole jar of additional fleas, the situation becomes impossible, and the party is violently disrupted, with everyone running outside for relief.  The fleas continue to wreak their havoc, however, even on a nearby status of a discus thrower that goes into convulsions and runs off its pedestal when the insects get to him!

Thundering Fleas is pure and delightful sight-gag comedy, expertly served by the Hal Roach team for maximum effect.

Garfield, the star flea, is an animated cartoon character, combined with some live-action movement to provide at least a minimal illusion of reality—although "minimal" is certainly the only goal of this farfetched comedy.

The real highlights of Thundering Fleas are the appearances of members of the Hal Roach comedy troupe in featured roles.  First, we see Oliver Hardy as a cop who becomes Magnolia's first transfer-victim, going into amusing contortions as his body is covered with fleas.  He eventually rips off his pants, causing considerable embarrassment when Farina runs off with the trousers and unwittingly leaves the policeman stranded.  His solution to the problem, in true silent comedy style, is to paint his bright white long johns black and simulate pants legs!

The next cameo features Charley Chase, somewhat hidden behind a giant walrus mustache, as a wedding guest.  When he feels an itch under his nose, his mustache twitches from side to side with hilarious results, before he plucks the intruder out of his hair and relaxes.  Not for long, however—since another small army of fleas is assembling under his shirtfront.   Chase's "guest appearance" was apparently filmed during a spare moment from his own shooting schedule on the Roach lot, since he appears alone on-screen as a cutaway from the party.

Then there is James Finlayson, sans mustache (Charley Chase must have worn it) as the justice of the peace.  His performance is conventional until the actual moment of truth, when he asks the groom the Big Question and the fellow, covered with fleas, jerks his head from side to side as if to say "No!"  Then Fin gives him his famous fisheye look and repeats the question; when the same result occurs, his reaction is even funnier, until the preacher gets bitten himself and becomes a victim of itching.

Pert Martha Sleeper is also seen to good advantage in her brief scenes as the bride, who is among the last to suffer from fleadom.

Although the gang is on hand throughout the proceedings, they really take a back seat to these "guest stars" and sight gags.  As if to compensate, McGowan opens the film with a junior version of the wedding, allowing us to spend time with the kids before moving on to the grown-up wedding.

Some viewers might find it odd that the wedding is never resolved in this film and the "story" never comes to a close.  But Thundering Fleas is more concerned with gags than with plot, and it scores as a completely satisfying comedy because the laughs never let up.

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