Mis-directed Movies With Our Gang And Joan Crawford Available At Last

The MGM Our Gangs (1938-1944) are not nearly as good as the Hal Roach talkie Our Gangs (1929-1938). In fact, Leonard Maltin calls the MGM shorts “unbearable” and nails the reason:

The MGM crew eventually turned the Our Gang comedies into ten-minute morality plays, stressing mother love, patriotism, pedestrian safety, and other American virtues in such a maudlin way that the studio’s Andy Hardy films seem anarchistic by comparison.

But at a quite bearable 67 cents per short, the entire MGM run on 5 DVD’s (total: $34.95) might just be worth considering.

The shorts will shortly be released through the WB Archive direct-sales program. The WB Archive exists to do precisely this sort of thing – make films with limited commercial potential available on DVD.

How limited is that potential? How many of the 305+ million Americans have been clamoring for the MGM Our Gangs?

Let’s take that a step further. How many want their very own copy of, for example, The Boob? Consider this thirty second clip from that Warner Archive title:

Now, in spite of that wildly entertaining clip, I’d still like to see this movie, a late silent (1926) about prohibition directed by Wild Bill Wellman.

Wellman’s own comments about the film don’t serve to make it much more tempting:

I had directed, or rather I misdirected, one picture at the Goldwyn Studios, the title of which escapes me, thank God. Oh, no, I just thought of it: The Boob. In it were George K. Arthur, Tony D’Algy, Charlie Murray, and a young star by the name of Lucille le Sueur, later to be known as Joan Crawford. The [studio] brass took one look at my first directional blooper and bounced me right out of the studio, and fate demoted me to an assistant director once again.

- A Short Time For Insanity, the autobiography of William Wellman

So, historically speaking, the film is important, in that it nearly destroyed Wellman’s career. Other facts of note: The Boob was considered a “lost film” for many years. Though the Archive doesn’t mention it, IMdB does: this is the movie that’s playing in the town where Buster Keaton encounters a hurricane in Steamboat Bill Jr., and the speakeasy set seen in The Boob was actually created for the silent 1925 Ben-Hur and was “re-dressed.”

That’s enough for me. I’m inviting friends over to see 1-2-3 Go! (1941), the MGM Our Gang about the formation of a safety society, and The Boob, the William Wellman movie that The Baltimore Sun called, upon its 1926 release, “… a piece of junk.”

Only because it was a family newspaper.

Our Gang (1938-1942) at the WB Archive.

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The Beau Hunks In Rehearsal

For many years, when blowing out birthday candles or on other occasions that gave me a free wish, I wished that someone, somewhere, would re-record all of the wonderful LeRoy Shield tunes heard as background music in the Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and Charley Chase Hal Roach Shorts. I don’t know which wish-making opportunity yielded the results: the incredibly wonderful recordings by The Beau Hunks Orchestra.

I still have birthdays, so I’ve switched over to the next impossible dream – seeing The Beau Hunks at a live performance.

I’ve talked to Piet Schreuders and Gert-Jan Blom about playing here in the U.S., and the financial implications of a tour are staggering. Not out of the question; just staggering.

Perhaps inspired by the concept behind stem cell research, Piet Schreuders informs me that there may be a solution that allows the sound and spirit of The Beau Hunks to travel. According to Piet, the formula is that the “…Beau Hunks ‘inject’ a few key members into existing local orchestras, bring their charts, rehearse for three days, and bingo, a good time is had by all. This opens up new possibilities — for instance, a performance on Roy Shield’s birthday in Waseca, Minnesota someday!”

Sounds great to me, as does the recent rehearsal above. According to Piet: “The Beau Hunks orchestra and the German Filmorchester Babelsberg recently combined to give a performance of Leroy Shield’s music and to accompany two silent Laurel & Hardy films. The performance was in Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany, on August 24, 2007. This clip shows a rehearsal of the tune “Let’s Face It” the day before, conducted by Scott Lawton. Beau Hunks leader Gert-Jan Blom watches from the front row.”

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