By 1933, Laurel and Hardy were cultural icons of such magnitude that they could be referenced successfully in just a few seconds. They remained, for the time being, Hal Roach team players and so they offered the occasional cameo to help out the larger Roach community.
Here they are in a “Little Rascals” shor film about a boy who is understandably traumatised by his friends’ accounts of what is involved in having your picture taken. Stan and Ollie appear very near the beginning as housewives are being flattered into acceptance of a promotional child photography offer. A mother being hassled at the doorstep has her offspring praised to the skies as remarkable photographic subjects and her offspring turn out to be our heroes – fighting over a giant bottle. And then they’re gone.
The remainder of the film focuses (ha ha) on poor Spanky (George McFarland), who misunderstands the implications of being “shot” in the context of having your picture taken. Accompanied by his sneery dad (Emerson Treacy) and terrifying ditzy ma (Gay Seabrook), he arrives at the studio to be grimaced at by the snooty but eventually sympathetic photographer (Franklin Pangborn). Efforts to make Spanky smile are of no avail until his parents start to hurt themselves and each other – at which point beaming hilarity can be finally captured on film. Unfortunately, his pals have been playing in the dark room, and a bunch of work has been ruined.
The best thing about this film is Spanky himself and the film is quite adept at showing the world in all its cruelty based on the limited and distorted information that small children receive about it. That said, Spanky is quite a violent child, and his parents do little to discipline him. However annoying the photographer might be – he doesn’t deserve the prolonged grief he experiences.
Fun fact – little “Stymie” always wears a hat that was given to him by Stan Laurel.
Laurel and Hardy, along with Little Rascals and a number of other Hal Roach short film concepts, transitioned easily to television viewing and in so doing delivered the standard format of 22 minute episodic comedy that has ruled the small screen ever since the 1950s.
I’ve some thoughts about other Laurel and Hardy movies.