When we were growing up in the pre-cable-television 1960s and early ’70s, there were just three major networks, the educational channel, and, at times, a UHF station available to us.
And in those days, we spent hours watching the output of the Hal Roach studios, in the form of Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy shorts.
We have no evidence to back us up, but we suspect that if you were to ask the average 20-year-old if he or she has ever seen a short from either of those series, the answer would be no.
Which is fair enough, of course. It’s the nature of pop culture to constantly renew itself (we have a theory about that—the Unsealed Sausage Casing Theory—which we will perhaps share with you at a future date). Though we’re unapologetic fans of both the Gang (later known, of course, as The Little Rascals) and Stan and Ollie, we are resolved, as the years pass, not to become cranky geezers bemoaning the fact these kids today have never heard of … well, you fill in the blank.
And let’s face it, it’s not as though these shorts were a part of our own popular culture. Though the Roach studios were a going concern from 1914 till 1960, these particular series date to the 1920s and ’30s, several decades before we showed up.
No, it’s all about exposure, and with the rise in the 1980s of cable television and VCRs and, later, of DVDs and the Internet, no 21st century kid could ever possibly be as bored and desperate for something to distract him as we were back in the 1960s, when, often as not, we turned to these shorts for lack of anything else to watch.
But we remain fond of them, and that’s why it pleases us so to inform you that Turner Classic Movies is paying tribute to Hal Roach and his studio this month. Tomorrow, TCM is celebrating in style with a 24-hour marathon of 53 Our Gang shorts that begins at 8 p.m. (L&H get the same treatment next week). They’ve snuck in one musical short—Gems Of M-G-M (1931), which airs at 3:15 a.m.—that seems to have no Our Gang connection, but it does feature Marion Harris and the Brox Sisters, both of whom can be heard on Cladrite Radio, so we expect it, too, is worth catching.
If, like us, you grew up watching the adventures of Spanky, Stymie, Alfalfa, Darla, and all the rest, you’ll require no further convincing to tune in for at least a few of these shorts. But if you’re younger and are only vaguely aware (if that) of these films, we strongly urge you to immerse yourself in them. Just imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon in 1966. You’re somehwere bewteen five and fifteen years old. It’s too hot (or cold) to go outside, and there’s nothing else worth watching on the three or four television channels you have available to you.
That’ll put you in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate these comic gems.
We’ve got the full line-up of shorts for you below the fold.
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