Accosting the neighborhood with his sales
rigmarole, a door-to-door solicitor convinces the Treacys that they should
have their child's picture taken by portrait photographer Otto Phocus.
But Spank is apprehensive about the project, especially when he hears Phocus
discussing one picture session when "I had to shoot that boy nine times,"
and some retouching work where "I cut an inch off a boy's nose."
Meanwhile, some other kids roaming around
the studio expose Phocus's raw negatives to light and break his lens.
This, plus Spanky's belligerence, makes the session a catastrophe.
Spanky's most frequent response to the hapless photographer's please for
cooperation is a crackling punch on the nose. Finally, as a
diversion Phocus has Spanky's pop pretend to take his picture with one
camera while Phocus secretly does the actual work from another.
Through his bird-brained wife's interference, Pop gets tangled up in the
camera, sending Spanky into gales of laughter. Phocus takes his
shots, convinced he has a set of masterpieces. Once in the
darkroom, however, he sees that nothing has turned out, because of the
boys' earlier tampering. The provoked family can't stand any more,
and turns to leave. "Oh please," begs the sobbing photographer,
"please give me just one more bust!" Prepared to oblige for once,
Spanky walks back over to deliver a final sock on the snoot.
A beautiful essay in frustration, with its
story roots in
Harry Langdon's Smile Please, and
Charley Chase's The Family Group, Wild Poses eclipses
both, and emerges as an entirely enjoyable short, one that has many
unusual things going for it.
First, it throws the figurative spotlight on
a delightful comedian, Franklin Pangborn, as the photographer—a
rare showcase for an adult performer in this series. Second, it
recasts Emerson Treacy and Gay Seabrook as Spanky's parents after their
initial appearance in Bedtime Worries. Third, it features
Laurel & Hardy in a brief gag appearance.
Pangborn's pussycat face and pansy screen
personality had already taken hold with most movie audiences, through
frequent appearances in short subjects and feature films, with
W.C. Fields in the 1940's (he's brilliant as the persevering J.
Pinkerton Snoopington in
Bank Dick). Wearing a ridiculous smock and beret, the pompous,
mannerly Pangborn milks his scenes in Wild Poses for everything
they're worth, and finds a worthy opponent in uncooperative Spanky.
When he demonstrates how he wants the grouchy youngster to smile for his
photo, Pangborn contorts his face into a prissy, cherubic pose, and a
frowning Spanky calls out gruffly, "Hey, Pop, do you see what I see?"
As for Treacy and Seabrook, their
personalities seemed to blend quite nicely with Spanky's. This was
obviously part of a scheme to make them running characters in the
Our Gang comedies. Curiously, Wild Poses was their last
appearance. Perhaps it had something to do with Bob McGowan
leaving the series after this film and Gus Meins taking over.
Whatever the reason, their characterizations counterpoint each other
Spanky and his pop have a basic affinity
that overcomes minor squabbles and, usually, Spanky's unbelieving looks
sympathize with his poor father in moaning over his wife's imbecility.
When Pangborn inadvertently squirts Treacy with water during a sitting,
Mom explains why to an inquiring Spanky: "Don't be dumb, dear.
That's the way they take water-colored pictures." Spanky stares up
at her and shakes his head in wonderment at her brain power.
One aspect of the plot that is particularly
well handled is Spanky's fear of the portrait camera, which he thinks
looks like a cannon. Having heard the photographer speak of
"shooting" one boy nine times, and "retouching," which Stymie explains
as touching and then touching again, his nervousness is quite
understandable. There is then a marvelous sequence of Pangborn
rolling eh massive camera along the floor toward his "victim." The
picture cuts from a first-person shot of Spanky seeing the ominous black
monster coming nearer and nearer, to the camera's eye view dollying in
toward the frightened boy. In a short that takes an adult's eye
view for most of the proceedings, this is a delightful bit of youthful
Laurel & Hardy's gag appearance is of course a highlight. Once
in discussing the casual walk-ons he and his stars often made in each
other's films, Mr. Roach naturally got around to Wild Poses.
Laurel & Hardy cameo, it turns out, was Roach's idea. He
simply asked if they'd help him follow through on a gag idea he had, and
they were happy to do it.
Having played their own children a few years
earlier in Brats,
Laurel & Hardy were well suited for this fleeting sequence shown
fighting over a milk bottle as the photo salesman comes calling.
Indeed, the giant chair and wall used in the scene were remnants from
the massive set and props constructed for Brats.
In a single, medium-long shot lasting some
twenty seconds, we see Laurel characteristically grin into the camera
while scratching his head, and Hardy, too, looks into the lens as he
waves with his pudgy fingers, both as if to say, "Look, it's us!"
The Boys' appearance on screen is heralded by incidental music scoring
(which incorporates "The Ku-Ku Song") out of their recently released
The Devil's Brother.
Everyone was satisfied with the results,
Roach recalls, and McGowan left the sequence in. What prompted the
idea? "Well, after all, ours was a comedy studio," Hal Roach
explains, "and we always did those walk-ons just for fun."
One more inside joke—just as in Brats,
where The Boys use a gag photo of
Jean Harlow, in Wild Poses the portrait hanging on the studio
wall over Pangborn's right shoulder in the early scenes is a still photo
of Hal Roach.
Curiously, as pointed up in Stan Laurel's
1963 letter quoted in the notes for Seeing the World, Laurel did
not recall working in any
Our Gang film. Hal Roach has said that there was never any
rivalry among the units around the lot, and that Laurel, like
Charley Chase, would frequently pass on gag ideas to Bob McGowan for
use with the gang. Perhaps the brief time spent shooting the
vignette during a most prolific and troubled period in Laurel's career
contributed to the vagaries of his memory in this instance. Aside
from the cross-fertilization of gag ideas, we know from the kids
Laurel & Hardy, like the other Roach stars, would visit the gang
during downtime on the sets. The question naturally arises, what
Stan Laurel think of
Our Gang? He had ample opportunity to appraise their product,
since he often viewed their rushes each day as well as his own.
Stan's biographer, John McCabe, says, "Stan thought
Our Gang was 'cute'—his word, and a word he meant. He was not
a man to use a cute word like 'cute' unless he meant it. He
thought Spanky was 'cute,' Darla was 'cute,' and said so warmly.
He enjoyed the kids very much.
Sidelight: One of Hollywood's
greatest directors, George Stevens, had worked for Hal roach in the
1920s and early 1930s as a staff director and photographer. With a
whole host of other Roach alumni, he was currently engaged at RKO on a
series that copied Roach's teenaged version of
Our Gang, The Boy Friends. It wouldn't be long before
Stevens would graduate to features, with Hal Roach loaning him
Spanky McFarland for one of his earliest works, Kentucky Kernals.
A September 5, 1933, press release carried this news of Stevens' son,
later the director of the
American Film Institute: "Georgie Stevens, Jr., 16 months old,
makes his screen debut in Wild Poses, an
Our Gang comedy. The youngster, according to director Bob
McGowan, gives promise of becoming a real 'Gangster' in a few years, and
is being groomed for stellar honors." Young Stevens' scenes,
however, were inexplicably cut from the finished product, and do not
appear in Wild Poses. When we disclosed this information in
a letter to George Stevens, Jr., at the
AFI in 1971, he wrote back, "I can't tell you how distressed I am to
know that someone has finally unearthed documentation of my abbreviated
career as an actor. I can only plead, since this took place in
1933, one year after my birth, that I was well below the age of consent
at the time."