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Archive for January 4th, 2011

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) starts a 24 hour marathon tonight  featuring the Our Gang shorts from producer/director Hal Roach

 If you’re not familiar with the Our Gang films (or The Little Rascals, as they were also known), they were a series of shortcomedy  films produced from 1922 up until the late 30’s that featured children as the stars of the storylines.  The children acted in a very naturalistic manner and the stories often had the kids, who were poor, at odds with authority figures and the wealthy.  For the time, there was surprising evidence of racial and gender equality in these films, with girls and young black child actors performing in  starring roles.  There was a level of stereotyping that may not be politically correct today but , at the time, this equality was new and ground-breaking in films.

For those of you who do know them, simply reciting the names of some of the gang are enough to raise some memories.  There was Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Chubby, Stymie, Buckwheat ( parodied in a huge way later by Eddie Murphy on SNL), Farina, and Dickie among the many children who appeared in the cast over the years. Not to mention Petey, the white dog with the black ring around his eye. 

I mention this not because of any special love for these films, although I saw and enjoyed most of them over and over again as kid.  I mention it because Hal Roach was a fellow native of this area, born and raised in Elmira, going to the same high school as me.   While known for the Our Gang films, Roach is perhaps better known for his Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy films.  It is legendarily said that Roach’s path in life was greatly influenced by hearing Mark Twain speak at his school when he was a young boy.  Twain spent the better part of twenty summers here in Elmira, writing some of his best loved works from his study overlooking the city, and is buried in the same cemetery here as Roach, who died in 1992 at the age of 100.  I often wonder if those same Eastside Elmira streets above which Twain lived are represented in these Our Gang films.

So, if you get a chance, take a peek tonight or tomorrow at some true Americana.  The Our Gang films represent a unique time in our history and are entertaining,  to boot.

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