Tuesday I watched part of the last night of TCM's Hal Roach tribute. First up was Laurel and Hardy's Sons Of The Desert with Stan's and Ollie's teamwork at its zenith. I would now put up that one upthere with Duck Soup as my favorite comedy of all time. Then I saw a real curio for the first time, General Spanky.
The film actually starts out focusing on Buckwheat (Yes, some of the other kids are in this movie, if way down in the cast list.) He's a slave on a riverboat who gets separated from his master and hooks up with Spanky who here is an orphan shoe shine boy. They make friends with a young plantation owner who goes off to fight for the Confederacy when war breaks out and with some other kids, including Alfalfa, organizes a homemade "defense force" to protect the women and children while the men are fighting.
Spanky is expsoed as not really having the acting range to carry the kind of comedy-drama this wants to be and outside of a couple of bits, like Alfalfa's one song, most of the kids' antics aren't that funny. Then there is the whole tenor of this being a sentimental view of the Civil War South. The great majority of these old movies that show contented black slaves laughing and grinning on the plantation don't bother me but this one is a little disturbing in that they are actually called "slaves" several times, a word I don't usually notice in these pictures. That word especially sounds nasty when used to refer to little Buckwheat. It's a bit grim at one point when, separated from his owner, he walks around asking other white men if they will be his Master. He, Farina, Stymie and the other black Our Gang members may have been equal to their white pals in the shorts but this time things were clearly different.
It's no wonder this movie didn't do weel at the box office. There was far too little of everything that made Our Gang successful and nothing but dull Southern soap opera replacing it.