Norman Chaney

Helping Grandma (1931, Robert F. McGowan)

Helping Grandma gives the impression directing Our Gang shorts for so long, McGowan lost (or never developed) any ability to direct adults. The way he holds shots on the kids, making sure they get their gags done, makes sense… even if it lacks any artistry. But in Grandma, he inexplicably holds shots on Margaret Mann. She’s not doing gags, just poorly delivering dialogue. It’s completely unnecessary.

The story concerns the gang helping Mann at the grocery store. The short actually does distinguish itself in a few ways. First is the racism. The older kids don’t treat Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins any different, but the younger ones do. Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins is constantly abusing Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard and Grandma makes high minded “watermelon” jokes at Beard’s expense.

Second, there’s an anti-corporate sentiment about chain stores. It’s sort of interesting… though it’s eventually invalidated.

Grandma could be worse. But not by much.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan; written by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Richard C. Currier; produced by McGowan and Hal Roach; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins (Wheezer), Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard (Stymie), Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Mary Ann Jackson (Mary Ann), Norman ‘Chubby’ Chaney (Chubby), Jackie Cooper (Jackie), Shirley Jean Rickert (Shirley), Clifton Young (Bonedust), Dorothy DeBorba (Dorothy), Donald Haines (Speck), Oscar Apfel (Mr. Pennypacker) and Margaret Mann (Mrs. Margaret Mack).


Boxing Gloves (1929, Robert A. McGowan)

It’s hard not to like Boxing Gloves’s central sequence—a boxing match between Norman ‘Chubby’ Chaney and Joe Cobb—it’s two little fat kids in enormous boxing gloves duking it out. It’s also the sequence where McGowan shows the most directorial zeal. Unfortunately, it’s the place where the short’s particular sound situation (it’s a silent converted to sound and most of the bout is eerily silent) is most damaging.

Overall, the short’s reasonably amusing. It’s my first Our Gang as an adult and there’s a definite appeal to it. More, actually, before the big boxing match, as H.M. Walker’s dialogue sounds more like adult dialogue—and situations—given to deadpan kids.

The treatment of Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins is interesting. He’s black and race is a nonissue; to say it’s uncommon for films of the era is beyond understatement. He easily gives the Gloves’s best performance, balancing charm and self-awareness.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert A. McGowan; screenplay by H.M. Walker, based on a story by McGowan and Hal Roach; director of photography, F.E. Hershey and Art Lloyd; edited by Richard C. Currier; music by Marvin Hatley; produced by Roach; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Norman ‘Chubby’ Chaney (Chubby), Joe Cobb (Joe), Jean Darling (Jean), Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins (Wheezer), Mary Ann Jackson (Mary Ann), Harry Spear (Harry) and Jackie Cooper (Jackie).


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