7Stooges, are you still around? I know StoogesRascals fan is still here. What do you two think of the MGM shorts? Everyone else is welcome to opine, too.
Be prepared, lots to say here!
Well, I think that the main issue was that MGM didn't see the true value in 'Our Gang.' They saw some value - it was a popular, established name that could make the studio money. Gradually, MGM also began using that name as a way to shove public service announcements, patriotic messages, and mini Busby Berkely-style musicals down the throats of audiences.
The Our Gang kids are no longer the fun-loving mischief makers from the '20s and '30s. Now, they're mini-Andy Hardy's and would-be Shirley Temples, always trying to be good little American citizens who chastise other kids for doing the wrong thing. In DON'T LIE, for instance, Spanky scolds Buckwheat for lying. What is he, Buckwheat's mother? Buckwheat himself became little more than a one-note racial stereotype, getting the occasional "feets, do yo' stuff" style lines here and there. And if the kids did goof up, why, there would always be an overly-serious adult on hand to lecture them (and the audience) on good behavior.
Audiences were presented with instructional films on traffic safety, lessons on telling the truth, and Wartime information, such as the importance of rationing. Every third or fourth short seemed to be an MGM musical - especially after the War hit. Froggy's uncle (Walter Wills) would be on hand to coax the Gang into putting on over-the-top stage productions for the troops. The principal gangsters were usually overshadowed by a group of unnatural song-and-dance kids trained by choreographer Bud Murray.
I felt that the first season or so of MGM shorts was fine, for the most part. When Roach sold the Gang to Metro, he sent director Gordon Douglas and writer Hal Law and Anthony Mack (Robert McGowan's nephew) with them. Douglas was sadly let go after only the third short, ALADDIN'S LANTERN. He was replaced by George Sidney, who did a fine job - certainly for someone in his early 20s. His younger age may have given him a better rapport with the kids.
Sidney was replaced the following year by Edward Cahn, who was responsible for bringing Robert Blake into the cast. Cahn would later be succeeded by Herbert Glazer, Sam Baerwitz (who had previously directed Curly in ROAST-BEEF AND MOVIES), and others. By that point, finding a suitable director for 'Our Gang' became less about someone who worked well with kids and more about "who on the lot isn't busy?" None of these people were particularly experience in director kids - or comedy.
Hal Law and Anthony Mack were surprisingly kept with the series until the very end. While one could easily blame the quality of the scripts on them, keep in mind that they didn't have the final say - MGM did. Or rather, shorts division heads Jack Chertok and Richard Goldstone had the final say. One can assume that Chertok and Goldstone took the MGM formula and sort of forced Law and Mack to abide by it. I recently spoke with Anthony Mack's daughter, and she told me that her dad, unsurprisingly, really didn't like working at MGM. Towards the end of the series' run, one gets a sense that Law and Mack are crying, "we don't care anymore!" A perfect example is the last scene in FAMILY TROUBLES. Being that this was still technically a comedy series, it made sense to try to end each short on a joke. Here's what we got this time - Froggy:
All's well that ends well, I say.Byron Shores:
Froggy, Shakespeare said that.Froggy:
He did? Shucks!
There's no joke here.
The 'Our Gang' kids themselves (both the ones from the Roach and the ones MGM added) didn't seem to be enjoying themselves, for the most part. Some possible examples are Darla Hood and Janet Burston whenever they got a chance to sing, and Tommy "Butch" Bond. Being a freelance actor who worked at just about every major studio in Hollywood, Tommy seemed pretty accustomed to the 'studio system' and giving directors exactly what they wanted. He comes off as one of the stronger forces during this period.
Performances come off as unnatural, dialogue is often shouted, and musical numbers seem like the last thing any of these kids one to do (again, with the possible exception of Darla and Janet). As I said, the new directors chosen for the series may not have been the best fit for getting good performances from kids that weren't really trained in the professional sense.
MGM also had a habit of keeping the 'Our Gang' kids on past their prime, and failing to give them new costumes! You'll see Alfalfa and Buckwheat near puberty, and literally bursting out of their clothes.
In my opinion, The best MGMs are - in chronological order:
THE LITTLE RANGER
THE BIG PREMIERE
COME BACK, MISS PIPPS
GOING TO PRESS
MIGHTY LAK A GOAT
The worst - again in chronological order -
TIME OUT FOR LESSONS
ALL ABOUT HASH
THE NEW PUPIL
GOOD BAD BOYS
YE OLDE MINSTRELS
DOIN' THEIR BIT
Most of the post-Spankys.