#453) Pups Is Pups (1930)
OR “Rascals Flat”
Directed by Robert McGowan
Written by H.M. Walker
Class of 2004
The Plot: “Pups Is Pups” is one of Hal Roach’s original “Our Gang” shorts (aka “The Little Rascals”). This two-reeler is about the gang getting into some mischief when they bring their menagerie of pets to a high society dog show. They’re all here: Jackie, Chubby, Farina, Wheezer…wait, who the hell are these kids? This isn’t my gang at all! None of this is o-tay by me!
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “one neat, entertaining package”, and an essay by Hal Roach expert Randy Skretvedt pleads a strong case for the film’s NFR status.
But Does It Really?: An “Our Gang” short should absolutely be on the National Film Registry, but this one? While “Pups Is Pups” overall is harmless fun, it has none of the child actors most commonly associated with “Our Gang”. Where’s Alfalfa or Spanky or Buckwheat? These characters would star in the series’ later shorts (c. 1936-1939), so the inclusion of an earlier short with a cast unknown to a casual viewer and with no obvious significance to the series is a bit perplexing. “Our Gang” is worthy of preservation, but the choice of “Pups Is Pups” is a missed opportunity.
Everybody Gets One: Director Robert McGowan was a firefighter in his native Denver before moving to Los Angeles and taking a job as a director at Hal Roach’s newly opened studios. McGowan helmed a majority of the “Our Gang” shorts for the series’ first 11 years. Nicknamed “Uncle Bob” by the cast, McGowan worked well with the children, encouraging them to improvise for more natural performances.
Wow, That’s Dated: On the one hand, the “Our Gang” shorts were surprisingly progressive in their casting of racially diverse children, with no attention being brought to these children playing together. On the other hand, cast-members Allen Hoskins and Allen Tong are portraying, respectfully, the African-American and Asian-American stereotypes of the day.
Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Pups is Pups”, but the 1936 short “Bored of Education” would win the series its only Oscar for Short Subjects (One-Reel).
- The story goes that Hal Roach first conceived the “Our Gang” series after watching a group of kids playing across the street from the studio. After realizing he had been watching them for 15 minutes, he theorized that natural, unpolished kids would make a good series of shorts. The series, originally called “Hal Roach’s Rascals”, premiered in 1922 with the short “Our Gang”. Theater exhibitors started calling the shorts “the Our Gangs”, leading to the change in name (for the films’ more famous name change, see “Legacy” below).
- “Pups Is Pups” was the 100th “Our Gang” short, and the 12th since the series transitioned from silent to sound.
- The most well known of this group of child actors is Jackie Cooper, one of the series’ leads from 1929 to 1931. Shortly before leaving “Our Gang”, Cooper starred in the film “Skippy“, and at nine years old is still the youngest actor to receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination. As an adult, Jackie Cooper was a successful television director with the occasional acting gig, most memorably as Perry White in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies.
- One of the puppies in this short is the gang’s iconic Pete the Pup. The Pete in this short is the son of the original dog, who died prior to this short’s production. While the first Pete had a large circle drawn around his right eye, his son had the same design over his left eye.
- “Pups Is Pups” has joined the shortlist of NFR entries in which one of my notes simply reads “What is happening?” Obviously I shouldn’t be overanalyzing a comedy short with a bunch of kids, but I was thrown by the lack of recognizable “Little Rascals” hallmarks.
- Hal Roach continued with “Our Gang” until 1938 when he sold the series to its distributor MGM. After the series ended in 1944, MGM sold the original shorts back to Roach, but retained the “Our Gang” name. Roach packaged the shorts for television under their new name – “The Little Rascals” – and a new generation discovered “Our Gang”.
- There have been many attempts at “Little Rascals” revivals over the years, including an animated series in the ’80s! But the most memorable (at least to my generation) is the 1994 big-screen adaptation. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, the film included cameos from the likes of Mel Brooks, Whoopi Goldberg and…Donald Trump? Talk about the decline of western civilization.
- In anticipation of the 1994 film version, several “Our Gang” shorts were released on video with special introductions by Leonard Maltin. A decade later, Maltin, now a member of the National Film Preservation Board, successfully lobbied to get an “Our Gang” short on the Registry.
- And now a moment of silence for the “Little Rascals” parody clips I couldn’t shoehorn into the main body of this post. From Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat impression to Spanky and Our Gang to Moe Szyslak killing the original Alfalfa.