If you grew up during the mid 1950’s – we’re talking baby boomers again – you probably enjoyed watching Our Gang aka The Little Rascals. Although originally created for the silent pictures, they evolved into the talkies, and MGM later syndicated the 220 segments for television. The popularity of Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla and the rest of the gang continued through another generation. We made telephones from string and tin cans and became part of the gang.
Interestingly, producer Hal Roach created quite a stir in several contexts with these films. When he chose his cast of characters, he included boys and girls, blacks and whites and treated them all as equals many years before diversity became the accepted mode. He encouraged his cast to improvise and act like real children unlike child actors today. Some of this occurred as a result of the cast being too young to read the scripts. The director’s practice was to explain the scene and encourage improvisation. It worked.
What I remember best was the way they created Rube Goldberg-type inventions from scrounged resources either from things discarded or those left unattended. They embodied the spirit of the depression – use what you have to create a new solution. They reinvented the wheel in many of their episodes. Who knows? Perhaps their inventions provided the inspiration for some of the technology we currently enjoy.
The plots were simple – after all they only had 20 minutes – and even their squabbles encompassed the slapstick comedy tradition. Some things may have been broken, but they were never destroyed. As popular as the movies and TV shows were then, today’s producers could not evoke the same feelings with remakes. Something – perhaps the spontaneity or genuine approach to life the original cast brought to their characters – was missing from the newer versions. Maybe it’s time to bring the originals to life again but then, today’s kids might not even find them interesting.