Hal Roach was the legendary producer of the Little Rascals aka Our Gang Comedies in the 1930s. Roach lived to be a century old & was still involved with filmmaking near the end of his life. In his great old age he was helping to pioneer "colorization" of black & white movies, though one trusts that that was his only act of evil.
Hal Roach attempted to recapture something of the Our Gang comedies with Curley & His Gang (1947) & immediate sequel Who Killed Doc Robbin? (1948), starring an array of children who were all but look-alikes for the original Little Rascals, but this time in full color.
In place of Spanky we have Curley (Larry Olsen); instead of cowlicked & freckled Alfalfa we have freckly Speck (Dale Bending); in lieu of wee Darla we get Betty (Eilene Janssen) & in lieu of Stymie or Buckwheat we have the questionably named brothers Dis & Dat (Rene Beard & Donald King; Beard was the real-life baby brother of Stymie, i.e., Matthew Beard). And instead of the usual black & white we get Cinecolor, quite a splurge for a comedy cheapy of the decade.
George Zucco is the mysterious & disreputable doctor & apparent murder victim. Whitford Kane is "Fix-it Dan," the odd duck geezer who warmly baits kids into his laboratory & ends up wrongly arrested as the primary suspect in the Doc Robbin murder.
The kids & their dog interrupt the murder trial with plenty of slapstick, for they know Fix-it Dan is innocent. The first act of the film is a spoof on courtroom dramas. The remainder of the film is a Cat & the Canary or Old Dark House spoof, with the children, their adult friends, & the bad guys wandering around in a spooky run-down mansion.
There's the painting with the eyes cut out with someone behind the wall watching them. There's the easy-chair that pops backward & deposits its victims behind the wall. There's spooky noises that turn out to be a man in a gorilla suit with protracted gorilla action.
Stupid beyond belief, the low point is when a chimpanzee puts on one of the black kid's clothes, & nobody can tell them apart, a mighty piece of racism from a time when ignorant whites commonly believed black folks were more closely related to chimps than humans.
Eventually the kids prove Fix-it Dan is totally innocent though the authorities might still want to check how he's always baiting children into his residence & lets them play around the atomic bomb he built.
Bad though it is, I nevertheless laughed out loud a few times at some of the sillier schtick, & thought Speck's "screaming" squeaks were cute. So I guess it's successful at being funny. If I were six or eight years old I might completely fall for it, & probably get scared, not realizing the spooky house is merely for laughs.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl