Archive for August 30th, 2012

“Wheezer” Hutchins, the scene-stealing star of Our Gang’s “Dogs is Dogs”

by Sam Juliano

If a film professor in a college class entitled “Introduction to the Cinema” posed a question to his or her charges along the lines of “Give a comprehensive definition of screen comedy” one of a number of those in the know might play the game of sub-genre, coming up with a multitude of such illustrious phrases as “satire,” “screwball,” “slapstick,” “spoof or parody,” “comedy of manners,” “romantic comedy,” “black comedy.” or “gross out comedy.”  More than any other single genre, the comedy is most often prone to overlap, and few films throughout the hundred-year run of the cinema are completely devoid of comic relief.  The Our Gang comedy shorts that ran from 1922 to the mid 40’s fall into none of the aforementioned categories, yet by practically all baromters of measurement they have been enjoyed and appreciated as films that brought extensive laughter and a respite from Depression and war era hardships.  The term ‘humanist comedy’ may not be automatically recognizable to either the student or the layman, in fact it’s esentially the domain of the character-driven series that ingeniously, but with seemingly little effort, combined laughter and tears to enhance each element with a life-affirming focus on the laudable concept of humor curing all ills.  The Our Gang comedies were noted for their pathos, broken families, economic deprivation and gloomy prospects for advancement.  The humor, often of a precocious, mischievious variety was invariably imbued with an aching quality that managed to envision the  conviction that “I laughed so hard that I cried.”  To be sure there is a fair dose of sentiment in this equation which is more prevalent in some of the shorts than others, but it’s applied in a manner that generates endearment instead of saccharine overload.  The Our Gang kids are naturals who through their resilience and street-wise ingenuity are often able to eclipse their elders in overcoming some of the social ills and impovishment that maligned the population in the years the shorts were made.  (more…)

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