Sunday, February 28, 2010


Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy

Before I get into this post I want to thank all my faithful readers for their patience. Since this is still a labor of love and a work-in-progress without a deadline (otherwise known as a book without a publisher - at least as of yet) I have not been able to update this blog as much as I would like. Real life concerns (like paying gigs with deadlines) must always take precedence.

Despite this, you guys have been champs, consistently reading my entries as I post them. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to either follow my blog using Google Blogger (just go to the "Followers" section on the side-bar to follow - or click here for a more in-depth explanation) or add it to your RSS reader or other feed reader. You can also follow it at and the "Scared Silly by Paul Castiglia" group page on Facebook. By choosing any of these methods, you can be sure to never miss a post.

Today I wanted to address an often-asked question: will the book version of "Scared Silly" be exactly like the blog, and if so, why should I bother buying the book?

That's a good question. The answer is "no - the book will not be exactly like the blog."

First off, there are some things you can do in a blog that you just can't do in a book, just like there are some things you can do in a book that you just can't do in a movie. With the blog, I can embed videos and also link to additional information, sites and articles. I can also provide direct links to where you can buy related DVD's and books.

I envision the book in a certain way. Now mind you, whatever publisher gets on board may have other ideas that differ from what I have in mind, but you can be certain that at least some of the following additional content will be in the book.

FORMAT: I envision one of two formats. One would be a large-format, color and black & white coffee table book (something along the lines of the John McCabe/Al Kilgore/Richard W. Bann "Laurel & Hardy" coffee table book) and the other a black & white paperback (similar to the book "Poverty Row Horrors" by Tom Weaver).

Laurel & Hardy Compiled by Al Kilgore, Filmography by Richard W Bann

ART DESIGN: I'm hoping to have a general motif of tint-back imagery related to "Old Dark Houses" - candlesticks, cobwebs with spiders, antiques, bookshelves, suits of armor, etc. Also, for each film review, in addition to having a star rating I intend to include icons that correspond to the horror-comedy trappings featured in each film. For example, if a film features spooky servants, a hidden passage and a gorilla you'll be able to tell before you even read the review just by seeing the icons (and there will be a handy legend explaining each icon at the beginning of the book).

IMAGES: I hope to provide additional images in the book, from movie posters to lobby cars, candid shots to publicity stills, film stills, peripherals and more.

EDITORIAL CONTENT ABOUT BEHIND THE SCENES TALENT: I've held back from giving too much information on the writers and directors of the films in my blog posts. However, the writers and directors are often a big part of these films, and so I hope to provide some additional insight into their careers as well.

FOREWORD BY DANIEL ROEBUCK: Yes, the great character actor Daniel Roebuck has agreed to write the foreword to the book, and you'll only be able to read it there!

Another difference between the book and the blog is that I'm not presenting the reviews in any specific order on the blog, however, in the book I will be presenting the the reviews divided up into chapters including a chapter each on terror templates (the plays and books that inspired the form), silent horror-comedies, Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang/Little Rascals, Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, East Side Kids/Bowery Boys, various comedy teams, solo stars, horror-comedy entries in "series" films (like the Blondie, Mexican Spitfire, Henry Aldrich and Francis the Talking Mule series), African-American horror-comedies, horror stars spoofing themselves, 1960-1966: the waning days of the traditional horror-comedies, an overview of the years following 1966, and an appendix that could feature additional articles and information.

So that's the deal - thanks again for hanging in there with me - let's continue having fun on the journey together. Please remember to vote for this blog for a Rondo Award (just click on the aqua green banner above)... and speaking of gorillas, please enjoy this clip of The Ritz Brothers facing off against our favorite boogeyman here at "Scared Silly," Bela Lugosi:

Speaking of gorillas,

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Well, hopefully you won't call the truant police on me for not delivering fresh reviews in a timely fashion! Yes, my schedule continues to be a bear... make that a werewolf, atomic radiation sized.

Speaking of bears, I can't "bear" to leave you without some entertainment while you wait for my next entry. This trailer spoof has been floating around the internet for months. Perhaps you haven't seen it yet. It's a "prequel" to "Ghostbusters" (yes, the 1984 mega-hit with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd) utilizing clips from classic horror-comedies. Take a look:

...and now take an even closer look, as in a frame-by-frame breakdown where the creator of the trailer reveals his sources and why he chose them, and how the clips are connected to "Ghostbusters":

Hey, maybe someone will try to recreate the opening to the 1975 TV show "Ghost Busters" (which I actually prefer) using classic horror-comedy clips?

Remember, whatever you do... please don't forget to vote for "Scared Silly" in the Rondo Awards! Thanks! :)

Monday, February 22, 2010


Rondo Hatton

Greetings, classic horror-comedy fans! I'm pleased to announce that the "Scared Silly" blog has been nominated for a 2010 Rondo award.

The Rondo Awards are named after Rondo Hatton (you can learn more abour Rondo here) and are awards given to those who in some way are keeping the love for and appreciation of classic horror alive. You can learn more details about the awards here.

"Scared Silly" has been nominated in the "best blog" category, and it is my hope that if you like this blog, you will vote for it.

Of course, "Scared Silly" isn't the only reason to vote. There are so many great nominees in so many categories, including several friends of "Scared Silly."

On the comic book front, my pals Thomas Hall and Daniel Bradford have been nominated for their comic book "Robot 13," which is a must for fans of the Frankenstein monster and the mythological monsters of Ray Harryhausen. Read about their nomination here.

Other friends who have been nominated (in various categories including best blog) include "Zombo's Closet of Horror," "Monsterama" and "Frankensteinia."

I should mention that Pierre Fournier of "Frankensteinia" also got a special nomination for "Best Event" due to his wonderful "Boris Karloff Blogathon," which "Scared Silly" took part in.

So you can vote for as few or as many categories as you like. I encourage you to take a good look at the ballot, and once you make your choices, email your votes to and be sure to include your name (the awards has a one vote per person rule) by Midnight, April 3rd, 2010.

Meanwhile, here's a nice montage of Rondo Hatton movie posters:

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Gus Schilling Richard Lane

NOTE: Due to my inability to obtain images from “Pardon My Terror,” the images used in this review come from various Schilling & Lane shorts, but not from the film that is being reviewed.

RATING: *** out of ****

PLOT: Gus (Schilling) and Dick (Lane) run the “Wide Awake Detective Agency.” A beautiful woman (Christine McIntyre) hires the pair to find her missing millionaire grandfather (Vernon Dent). At the family home, the daffy detectives run into one unnerving situation after another as they deal with a spooky butler, a femme fatale who serves explosive cocktails, figures lurking in the shadows and more. Can Gus and Dick locate the millionaire before being scared out of their wits?

REVIEW: When it comes to classic comedy duos, there are levels of recognition. Just about everyone knows Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis. When you move on from the general public to bona fide movie buffs, you’ll find some folks who also know Wheeler & Woolsey, Olsen & Johnson and maybe Clark & McCullough. However, to find people who know the teams of Schilling & Lane and Vernon & Quillan, you usually have to find film scholars, or at least those who take their movie-loving hobby beyond the obsession a mere “movie buff” would.

Both Schilling & Lane and Vernon & Quillan were teams created by Columbia Studios for their shorts department. Columbia of course was the home of the mega-popular Three Stooges, but the shorts unit produced many other series featuring all sorts of comic talents. For some reason (speculation is that the studio wanted to duplicate the Stooges’ success, but given how the majority of Columbia’s prefab teams were duos and not trios, I think perhaps they were also hoping they’d capture lightning in a bottle like competitor Hal Roach Studios did when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy evolved from solo performers into a team), the unit kept trying to come up with their own daffy duos. This led to all sorts of odd combinations, often pairing such legendary talents as Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Shemp Howard with partners who either weren’t as talented or just didn’t mesh well together. The one instance at Columbia where a prominent solo star was teamed with another talent and it worked was when Hugh Herbert and Dudley Dickerson co-starred in some prime horror-comedy shorts. They weren’t billed as a team in the credits, but the shorts played out as if they were a team.

When Columbia paired Schilling and Lane, both had been around and found successful, steady work but neither was a headliner. Gus Schilling’s background was burlesque and the stage, and prior to his shorts with Lane he was a character actor in entries in the Mexican Spitfire and Dr. Kildare film series, appeared in Olsen & Johnson’s “Hellzapoppin’” with Hugh Herbert, and again with Herbert, Edgar Kennedy and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer in “There’s One Born Every Minute.” His roles weren’t limited to B-movie comedies, however – Schilling also appeared in the high profile Orson Welles films “Citizen Kane” and “Magnificent Ambersons” (Schilling would continue to co-star in films featuring Welles throughout his career). Richard Lane started in the circus and moved to vaudeville. His pre-Schilling & Lane roles also included “Hellzapoppin’” and its follow-up “Crazy House,” series entries in the Mr. Moto, Charlie Chan and Boston Blackie mysteries (where he had the recurring role of Inspector Farraday), a feature each with Jack Benny (“The Horn Blows at Midnight”) and Danny Kaye (“Wonder Man”), three features with Abbott & Costello (“Ride ‘em Cowboy,” “It Ain’t Hay” and “Here Come the Co-Eds”) and a pair with Laurel & Hardy (“A-Haunting We Will Go” and “The Bullfighters”).

The Schilling & Lane team was one of what I like to refer to as the “on-call” or “on-demand” Columbia acts. This meant that the studio called upon the duo whenever they needed to fill a spot in the production schedule. In other words, their series was not “regularly scheduled” – the shorts just happened as they happened – thus the fact that their eleven shorts were spread out over four years. The best of the Columbia “on-call” stars realized that without the benefit of a steady stream of product, audiences wouldn’t have time to get to know their personalities in a progressive fashion. Both Vernon & Quillan and Schilling & Lane were wise enough to maintain broad archetypes that could adapt to any of the situations the scripts required. Lane maintained a sharp, take-charge con-man veneer, while Schilling had the jittery, nervous scaredy cat down pat.

After a year and three shorts, Schilling and Lane were faced with the most “on-demand” assignment of their careers: they were called into action unexpectedly to fill in for the Three Stooges in a script that had been written for the trio but couldn’t go into production because Curly Howard had a stroke. The show had to go on – Columbia didn’t want to waste a script or a slot on the production schedule so they merely shot the short with Schilling and Lane, Schilling was assigned Curly’s dialogue and actions as well as some of Larry's part while Lane was also pressed into double-duty performing both Moe’s and Larry’s parts!

One drawback to the adherence of the original script is that it compromises Richard Lane’s character slightly. In the other shorts, Lane could be pushy toward and occasionally agitated with Gus, but in this short, the script requires Lane to knock Gus around like Moe would Curly and Larry. This works fine in the Stooges world because of the relationship of those characters and the mechanics of the world they inhabit, but it is a bit more jarring in the frantic yet more carefree world usually seen in the Schilling and Lane shorts. It is a tribute to the professionalism of Dick and Gus that their basic personalities could survive this adjustment and they are still likeable despite the lumps Gus takes.

The short opens on an eerie note. We see the millionaire at his desk as a pair of hands emerge from the shadows to strangle him! The millionaire’s grand-daughter Alice enters the room and screams at the sight of her grandfather slumped over his desk. Her screams bring help, but by that time her grandfather has mysteriously disappeared.

This leads into a classic gag that would be reprised by the Stooges when they redid the short as “Who Done It.” We cut to the exterior of the “Wide-Awake Detective Agency.” Inside are Gus and Dick – each wears a pair of fake eyeballs (they almost look like ping-pong balls inserted into their eye sockets) that make them look like they’re awake even though they are snoring away! They are awoken by a “dooting” noise emitted from a monitor on their desk, leading to a great verbal gag (see “BEST DIALOGUE EXCHANGES” below).

The laughs continue in this office setting. Hearing what they think is a customer approaching, Gus and Dick spring into action as if they are busy, with Dick picking up a phone to pretend he’s on the line with another client. “Our fee is five thousand dollars,” he proclaims. Hopes of a new customer are dashed when the boys realize it is simply their landlord Mr. Dugan looking for the rent. Dick pulls out a gun and tells Dugan, “See this gun – we’re gonna’ let you have it! Dugan almost faints but then they tell him they’re letting him keep their guns as collateral. The landlord is dismissive of the guns: “Why these guns won’t even go off!” He throws them to the ground and they do go off, sending bullets flying and ricocheting everywhere! A janitor standing just outside the front door pops his head in, frightened by the racket while the bucket of water he holds suddenly springs multiple leaks – there are holes all over it and the water goes everywhere.

The millionaire’s granddaughter then arrives to bring us back to the plot. She explains her dilemma as she hires Gus and Dick (offering them a substantial reward) and clues them in to the ominous nature of the assignment by asking if they have insurance. When jittery Gus shows doubts about the potentially frightening assignment, Alice exclaims “You’re not afraid, are you?” They have good reason to be afraid as a trio of schemers is soon also revealed to be in the house (the connection these folks have to the millionaire and his granddaughter or the reason why they’re in the same house is never explained). The femme fatale of the group shakes a pill container and exclaims “Two little pills… two little drinks… two ex-detectives!” One of the others tries to show her up – with an electric chair he’s rigged!

Gus Schilling Didk Lane

Gus and Dick show up at the estate and are immediately put ill-at-ease by one of the schemers. “I suppose you’ll want to search for clues,” he says. “Would you rather start where the ghostly white figures were seen or where we found the pool of blood?” When Alice tells Gus and Dick to be careful, the man adds “It’s very hard to get blood stains out of the rugs!”

Gus and Dick come up with a plan: they’ll split up to search for clues, but if one of them is in danger he is to yell “it’s getting warm in here!” The pair then go off their own ways. Gus senses eyes peering at him from behind a painting. He can’t seem to muster up the volume to say “it’s warm in here” – he’s so paralyzed by fear he can only mutter it so he just runs out of the room. This leads to a classic gag where both Gus and Dick knock on hallway walls (answering each other’s knocks) on opposite corners until they meet at the center and then run from each other in fear.

The next bit involves Gus’ encounter with the femme fatale. He runs into a room to find the seductive beauty waiting for him. “I dreamed of a dark handsome man to come and save me,” she purrs. “Well what’s keepin’ him?” Gus answers. As he tries to squirm away, the woman aggressively collars Gus by the neck so hard that it cracks. “What are you, a lady wrestler?!” asks Gus.” Once again Gus is blurting out how “warm” it’s getting – especially with the deadly diva running her fingers through his hair. When she offers him a drink, Gus is skeptical. Falling off the couch, he learns just how right his instincts are as his drink spills onto the floor and bursts into flames!

Gus beats feet, running through the hall hysterically yelling, “Dick! Dick! It’s awful warm in here! A dame just tried to poison me – we gotta’ get outta’ here!” Dick says nothing doing, not with all the reward money at stake.

They resume their search for clues together, with Gus looking through books in a bookcase. As he rearranges each book, a fist flies through from the other side and socks Gus in the nose. “What’s all the racket, lamebrain?” asks Dick in what may be the most obvious “Moe-line” in the script. Gus makes Dick look through the books to prove that he’ll get hit, too… but Dick drops a book – and when he bends down to pick it up, the fist flies out and socks Gus again!

Dick is tired of Gus’ claims of getting hit and starts whapping Gus in different parts of his face saying, “how did it hit you – like this?” This is a prime example of something that would have worked well with Moe and the Stooges, but works less well here. Ultimately, Dick does get whacked by the fist from the bookcase and finally believes.

The butler shows Gus and Dick to their rooms with the classic “Walk this way, please” routine seen in countless old comedy films and later reprised by Mel Brooks in “Young Frankenstein.” The routine is simple: the person saying “walk this way” has a funny way of walking – either their arms are in a weird position or they step in an awkward fashion or some variation thereof. The characters following the person usually give one another a look as if to say, “it’s screwy, but why not?” and proceed to follow that person, mimicking their walk along the way.

Meanwhile, a pair of hands reaches out and grabs Alice, pulling her into the shadows.

We cut back to Dick and Gus in their sleeping quarters. The spooky butler continues to unnerve the pair with inappropriate comments: “I trust you will be comfortable… but I doubt it! After all, this was the master’s room and if the master was murdered I am sure his spirit is somewhere about!” This is performed with all the grand flourish and melodrama of say Vincent Price – delivered for maximum spooky effect. Gus and especially Dick register fear in wonderfully funny ways during this speech – making full use of their mastery of facial expressions and body language. The butler delivers “pleasant dreams” as a punch line.

When Gus & Dick realize they are locked in the bedroom, they start checking for other ways out. Gus opens a closet door and inside is the body of McIntyre’s grandfather. When he calls Dick over the body is gone, but when he opens it a third time the corpse reappears – another time-honored horror-comedy gag.

This leads to a barrage of chaos. Gus and Dick run to the window hoping it can provide a way out. When they pull the shade they see the menacing butler there. They then run through the door and get tangled up in chairs and paintings. Gus then barricades himself in a room and when Dick tries to get into the room Gus clonks him over the head with a flower pot.

The pair then stumble across McIntyre tied to a chair and before long her grandfather comes into the room, alive and well and explaining that he was just “playing dead” to expose the hired help who they suspect are planning to break into the family safe.

Gus and Dick dispatch to the home’s library where they do indeed find the villains trying to break into that safe. A chase ensues with the burliest of the bad guys (Dick Wessel) trying to choke Dick. He is only stopped after about 20 blows to the head with sledgehammer from Gus (as in the Stooges shorts, the sound effect is the sound of a bell and not realistic). The femme fatale then enters with a gun but Jarvis the butler subdues her (yes folks, he was a red herring)!

Gus and Dick get the reward money and as they walk down the hall proclaiming they are “sitting pretty,” they decide to take a load off, sitting in the electrical rigged chair for the short’s “shocking” finale!

The Schilling & Lane shorts are among the best hidden gems you’ll ever see. While “Pardon My Terror” was not conceived for the team and is their only horror-comedy, the duo shines. Despite some uncharacteristic touches more suitable to the Three Stooges, and an emphasis on black comedy over the more traditional visceral horror-comedy touches (the tone here is more like “Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff” with its merry mix-up of corpses than the haunted house antics of Bud & Lou’s “Hold That Ghost”) the professionalism, creativity and enthusiasm of Gus and Dick puts this short over big-time. The team is more than deserving of a revival, and “Pardon My Terror” is certainly a fine place to start if you’re just discovering them.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Naturally, “Pardon My Terror” is loaded with classic supporting actors from Columbia’s crew of stock players. I’ll concentrate on what amounts to cameos from two of the most prominent of Columbia's contractees.

First off is Emil Sitka playing Dugan the landlord. Sitka appeared in countless shorts at Columbia with The Three Stooges and many of the studio's other featured stars, playing every conceivable character from authority figures to clerks to waiters to friendly uncles and scientists and more. In feature films he appeared in several entries in the Blondie and Bowery Boys series as well as in dramas like “The Blackboard Jungle.” When the Stooges graduated to features in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Emil was on-board making major contributions, especially in “The Three Stooges in Orbit” which featured a major horror-comedy element. Perhaps the best testament to Sitka’s talent and versatility was the fact that after Larry Fine died, Moe considered making Sitka the third Stooge.

Also on hand is Dudley Dickerson as the janitor. A major talent, you can read more about Dudley in my review of Our Gang/The Little Rascals’ “Spooky Hooky” which you can read here.


LANE (responding to the beeping monitor): That’s the secret code – take it down. What did it say?”

GUS: Doot-doot-doot-doot!”

GUS (upon entering the estate): “Where’s the corpus delicatessen?”

GUS: I gotta’ go back to the office – I forgot something.

DICK: What’d you forget?

GUS: I forgot to stay there!

DICK: You go ahead and I’ll follow you.

GUS: Oh no!

DICK: Okay we’ll do it your way then – you’ll go ahead and I’ll follow you!

BEST GAGS: Most of the gags at the detective agency office are standouts including the fake eyeballs and the guns as collateral. At the estate, Gus’s encounter with the femme fatale as well as Dick and Gus knocking on opposite ends of the wall and the mysterious fist punching through the bookshelf are highlights.

FURTHER READING: Ted Okuda and Edward Watz wrote an indispensible book called “The Columbia Comedy Shorts” that you can order here:

On the internet, there are several excellent articles on Schilling & Lane. One of the best comes from “In the Balcony.” You can read the article here, and you should be visiting that site anyway – it is an oasis for classic movie fans. You’ll also want to check out Pete Kelly’s Blog here and Thrilling Days of Yesteryear here. The Three Stooges fan site features a quote from director Ed Bernds about the script - read it here. Last but not least, you may want to visit The Columbia Shorts Department – Greg Hilbrich’s excellent site dedicated to the fun and frolics of this studio that gave the world The Three Stooges and so much more.

WATCH THE FILM: Enjoy this clip from the short!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010



Hello Scared Silly fans - my busy schedule continues, so while you patiently wait for my next review, here's another fantastic public domain Flip the Frog cartoon to whet your appetite for the horror-comedy classics to come... enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Vincent Price

One of my all time favorite films is the Vincent Price classic “The Abominable Dr. Phibes.” I won’t be reviewing it for the “Scared Silly” project because it really isn’t a horror-comedy – it’s more of a horror film with some comedic aspects - dark, black comedy (juxtaposed against some wonderfully colorful art direction). And even if it was a full-fledged horror-comedy it was made in 1971, a full five years after my cut-off date of 1966 (which I’ve designated as the year of the last traditional horror-comedy, Don Knotts’ “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken”). “Phibes” really is a one-of-a-kind not to be missed film, however – check out its trailer:

The reason I’m talking about “Dr. Phibes” on Valentine’s Day is because the “Phibes” movie poster based its wonderful “Love means never having to say you’re ugly” tagline on the tagline of one of the biggest hits of the prior year, “Love Story” starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw.

Ryan O'Neal Ali McGraw

That melodramatic weeper’s tagline “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” became a mantra for many men who were sorry they had to sit through the whole treacly affair, but too afraid to admit as much to their wives and girlfriends! Years later, a shopping mall offered free La-Z Boy recliners to any man who could actually sit through the whole “Love Story” - multiple times in a row - without falling asleep or bailing out completely, as detailed in this news report:

I’ve always found it hard to warm up to love stories about dullard and/or self-centered humans – and there seem to be so many. When love stories show up in comedies, action or horror films, they just seem more real to me (even if the trappings are pure fantasy) because the mettle required to truly sacrifice yourself for your loved one just seems more sincere when you have to face a horrible monster, dangerous villain or even a guy in a bad gorilla suit to do so.

Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy

Here’s one of the all-time great examples of unrequited love. It comes from a sublime classic among horror films, “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Again, this isn’t a horror-comedy, but it is a horror film with ample doses of comedy thrown in (along with fantasy, sci-fi, romance, tragedy and all sorts of underlying meanings and themes). And it is required viewing.

There’s an offshoot of the “horror-comedy” film genre that I like to call the “supernatural romantic comedy.” These are films involving one or more partners in a love story who are either ghosts, witches or some sort of supernatural creature. They aren’t always “horror-comedies” because they tend to be on the light breezy side without any of the requisite creepy trappings although sometimes they do have scenes where those supernatural powers are being used to frighten an antagonist deserving of come-uppance. Some examples of films in the “supernatural romantic comedy” genre include “I Married a Witch” and the “Topper” movie series.

One of the all-time best “supernatural romantic comedies” also happens to be one of the best Abbott & Costello movies ever made as well. It’s a movie a lot of people remember - just check out the message boards at – at least once a month a visitor stops by to ask “what was that film where Costello was a ghost trapped in a wishing well?” Gordon Lightfoot even referenced it in a song – at least I think he did, as he sings “just like an old time movie ‘bout a ghost from a wishing well,” and I still haven’t found another film that fits that description (believe me, I’ve tried).

So to all my “Scared Silly” readers, here’s wishing you a very happy Valentine’s Day. And if you want to watch a good supernatural love story, skip “Ghost” this year and watch Abbott & Costello’s “The Time of Their Lives” instead. Lou Costello actually makes a believable and quite likeable romantic hero, and both he and partner Bud Abbott deliver some top-notch dramatic performances (and of course comedic bits as well). My experience has been that it’s the one Abbott & Costello film that people who don’t usually like Abbott & Costello actually enjoy. So what are you waiting for? Go enjoy it already!

(P.S.: It's a good one for President's Day, too)!

Friday, February 12, 2010


Moe Larry Curly Wolf Man

NOTE: In light of the fact that the big-budget remake of “The Wolf Man” starring Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins is being released to theaters today, I thought it appropriate to review a horror-comedy featuring a werewolf. And since I’ve already reviewed “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (featuring the Wolf Man) the next most prominent entry is this Three Stooges short.

RATING: ** & ¾ out of ****

PLOT: The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard) are hotel bellhops who deliver a large crate to a hotel room. The crate contains “Lupe the Wolf Man,” the latest addition to Leander’s Carnival, which is run by hotel occupants Mr. and Mrs. Leander (Vernon Dent and Christine McIntyre). While Mrs. Leander is initially shocked at the sight of the creature (Duke York), Mr. Leander assures her that he is harmless except when he hears music. Dent asks the Stooges to tidy up the hotel room while he and McIntyre step out. Naturally, Curly turns on the radio to make the task more bearable, and the fun begins. Will the Stooges be able to get themselves out of their latest hairy predicament?

REVIEW: While Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, The East Side Kids/Bowery Boys and Our Gang/Little Rascals all made numerous horror-comedies, no comedy team made more than the Three Stooges who top in at somewhere between 20 and 25 entries depending upon your definition of horror-comedy. Strangely, the success of the team in this genre seems to go against the conventional wisdom of head Stooge Moe Howard himself, who once said that the key to the Stooges was to put them in situations where they would be out of place… which was nearly every situation! Think about it – the Stooges would easily wreck havoc doing any sort of job imaginable, being a part of the military, or put into any situation where they had to deal with high society types or authority figures.

The horror-comedies of the Three Stooges go against the grain of their usual films because there is just as much (if not more) havoc being wrecked upon the Stooges by ghosts and monsters (both real and phony) as the Stooges enact upon each other and those who cross their paths.

Like many Stooges shorts, there isn’t much plot to “Idle Roomers” – it’s a case of cause (set-up) and effect (mayhem) which proved to be a tried-and-true formula for the team. As such, it’s a bit critic proof. First off, you either like the Stooges or you don’t (I happen to love them). Many critics of the team find their violent brand of slapstick hard to take, but for me, the addition of the ridiculous sound effects and the fact that the violence was taken to such exaggerated extremes puts them in another category. To me they are more like a live-action cartoon and so they are surreal, just as any cartoon character that suddenly came to life for real would be considered surreal. In fact, to me the Stooges are the reverse of the cat-and-mouse cartoon team Tom & Jerry. The sight of Tom the cat getting whacked over the head by a two-by-four was almost always accompanied by a realistic sound effect whereas Curly could get whacked on the noggin and you’d hear the sound of a bell, just like the “test your strength and ring the bell” challenges at a carnival.

So the Stooges and their robust brand of slapstick are not an issue for me. In fact, I would have given this short a full three stars but I’ve deducted a quarter star just due to the fact that the set-up isn’t quite as quick here as it is in other shorts. It takes too much time to get to the main event. In a short like this, you want the Stooges verses a werewolf antics to kick in at around the three minute mark, not eight and a half minutes in. In fact, if you’re watching this film cold for the first time without any notion of what is to come, you might think it’s going to be a typical Leon Errol/Hugh Herbert marital farce/comedy of errors. On the plus side, however the Stooges deliver some prime tomfoolery in the interim.

The Stooges are delightfully at full-tilt here from their very introduction. We first see them in full bellhop outfits sharing a bench in the lobby. And they’re sleeping! The desk clerk has to rouse them awake by pressing a button that collapses the bench they are sleeping on, sending them crashing to the floor. Of course, just the sight of the Three Stooges waking up and scrambling to get their bearings is hysterical. The manic pace is maintained as the trio vie for the attentions of lovely Christine McIntyre (making her first of many appearances with the Stooges here) – each wants to be the one to carry her bags. Larry takes the elevator, Moe beats him running up the stairs… but Curly is already in her room!

There’s a series of great sight gags concerning the carrying of bags. Curly carries a very large case on his back. Meanwhile, Larry is pulling the rug that Curly is walking on so that Curly never gets anywhere – he’s walking in place! Then comes a great bit where Curly puts the case down, shakes out and spits on his hands, and then reaches back to carry the bag again… but he’s really grabbing the female guest by her shoulders instead! As Curly walks into the room with the woman on his back, her husband spots him and begins throwing knives (!) at Curly with top precision! Curly beats feet and we soon learn why the man is such a good knife-thrower: he owns a carnival!

The next scene sets up the rest of the short. When the wife inquires about the large crate that’s just been delivered, the husband tells his wife “this will put us in the big time” – and then the camera closes in on a flyer for “Leander’s Carnival” featuring “Lupe – the Wolf Man.” It’s a very compact, well-written way to explain who the guests are without using obvious exposition. Mrs. Leander objects to the “horrible creature” but her husband says he’s perfectly harmless “except when he hears music – then he goes insane!”

Now I must mention here that this short really doesn’t have many horror-comedy trappings, but it does have its wolf man, or more precisely its handling of the wolf man. Circuses, freak shows and sideshow acts have always been known for having their “wolf people,” but when depicted in other movies, they tend not to be portrayed as monsters but rather as oddities. Clearly the team behind this Stooges short was trading on both the sensationalism of Lon Chaney Jr.’s “Wolf Man” beast from three years earlier as well as Matt Willis’s werewolf named Andreas in the Bela Lugosi starrer, “Return of the Vampire.” Depending upon your source, that film came out in either 1943 or 1944, but in either case the film was also done at the Stooges’ home studio Columbia, which might explain why Lupe and Andreas look like they could be cousins. And both certainly seem inspired (at least in part) by the look of Chaney Jr’s Wolf Man.

Moe Larry Curly Wolf Man

So now the roller coaster begins. As the Stooges set about cleaning the Leanders’ room, Curly is intrigued by the life-size crate. He keeps tapping and rapping on it… and his taps and raps are echoed by the wolf man inside (but Curly doesn’t know that)! Curly makes the mistake of turning on the radio while he’s sleeping and Lupe breaks out of his cage! The wolf man goes crazy and throws the radio into the next room, where it hits Moe in the back and knocks him over. Moe deposits the radio on Curly’s head. He adjusts the knobs to get all sorts of static sounds. With the radio still on his head so he can’t see, Curly approaches the wolf man and says “Hey Moe, get this thing off!” The wolf man obliges by hitting Curly square on top of the head, smashing the radio and sending Curly to the ground. The wolf man then sneaks out the open window, leaving Curly to suspect that it was Moe who hit him and went out the window. But when Moe and Larry walk through the door, Curly realizes it wasn’t Moe and all Three Stooges get scared and run through the door.

Meanwhile, the wolf man has gone into the next room where a pair of women are sleeping and scares them (in a typical “scare” sight gag, one of the girls’ ponytails stands straight up). This scene is a bit of a non-sequitur – it’s almost as if the filmmakers are worried they’ll run out of good Stooge gags before the short is over so they need more padding (silly filmmakers) – another reason this one just misses a full three stars. But soon enough the Stooges have entered this room and become part of the action again. When the girl screams at the wolf man standing behind Curly, he takes offense (“I resemble that remark!”).

This leads into the classic mirror gag (a time-honored classic seen in the Marx Brothers’ movie “Duck Soup” as well as the “I Love Lucy” TV show) where Curly thinks he’s looking into a mirror while the Wolf Man is staring back at him through an open frame. As Curly runs his hands over his bald pate and makes various gestures and faces, the Wolf Man mimics him. “I need a shave but I don’t feel any whiskers,” exclaims Curly. When he rubs his own head he says, “Steel wool! That can’t be me – that mirror glass is dirty” and goes to wipe it off. When Curly’s fingers touch the wolf man’s paws, Curly knows it’s a real monster staring back at him!

Meanwhile, Larry is in the hallway and the wolf man sneaks up behind him, running his fingers through Larry’s hair. Larry runs off. Then the wolf man goes into the room where Moe & Curly are. Moe finds a trombone and asks Curly to play it, reasoning “maybe your music will tame him.” Expectedly the music just sends the wolf man into a rage. He throws the Trombone at Curly and it pins him to the wall, wrapping around his face. This is the last really good gag – yes, it appears the filmmakers have indeed used up all the good stuff as they may have feared – because the ending is a bit weak compared to the hijinks that precede it. Here it is: the Stooges get into an elevator. The wolf man tampers with the elevator so the Stooges don’t know what floor they’re on, then he sneaks onto the elevator with them. The wolf man grabs the throttle and sends the elevator out of control, going up and down until crashing through the ceiling and floating through the clouds. The End.

The supporting cast here is strong. Vernon Dent was a character actor in dramas and comedies from several studios (including some co-starring gigs with Clark & McCullough and W.C. Fields) and ultimately settled into a comfortable niche at Columbia playing both antagonists and put-upon victims of the Stooges and other Columbia comedians. Christine McIntyre makes her first appearance in a Stooges short here, an association that would last for many years to come. Duke York was mostly a stunt man and often played rough-and-tumble bit parts like thugs and cops. He also appeared with Olsen & Johnson and Abbott & Costello, and in other Stooges films (in fact, he was in both Abbott & Costello’s classic feature “Who Done It” and the Stooge’s unrelated short of the same name).

When all is said and done, “Idle Roomers” is one of the most entertaining horror-comedy shorts ever… at least for those receptive of the Stooges. The Stooges work overtime for laughs, and the majority of weak moments in the short occur when the Stooges are off-camera or not the center of attention. While hampered by those non-Stooge moments as well as its weak ending and lack of genuine horror-comedy atmosphere, it is still worth watching for the mastery of the Stooges and holds a special place in the horror-comedy pantheon as being one of the few films in the genre to feature a werewolf.


Esther Howard is one of the women sleeping in the adjoining hotel room. Classic comedy fans may recognize her as Aunt Sophie from Laurel & Hardy’s “The Big Noise” and film noir fans from “Murder My Sweet.” She also appeared in “Detour,” “Dick Tracy vs. Cue Ball,” a couple of “Falcon” entries and Bob Hope’s “My Favorite Blonde,” among others.


MOE: “Did you lock the door?”

CURLY: “Yeah, twice – once this way, and once that way!”

CURLY (after the girl screams at the sight of the wolf man standing him): “I resemble that remark!

MOE:” I’ve always said your face scares people – why don’t you throw it away!”

CURLY: “Hey lady – I ain’t that ugly – or am I?”


Curly walking in place, Curly picking up and carrying Christine McIntyre instead of the crate, and the mirror routine stand out in a film filled with slapstick and sight gags.


“Idle Roomers” can be found the “Three Stooges Collection Volume 4: 1943-1945” and you can buy it here:


There are several excellent books available on the Stooges. Among them are “The Three Stooges Scrapbook” by Jeff & Greg Lenburg and Joan Howard-Maurer, “The Complete Three Stooges” by Jon Solomon and “One Fine Stooge” by Steve Cox and Jim Terry. For a great overview of all Columbia short subject series, pick up “The Columbia Comedy Shorts” by Ted Okuda and Edward Watz.

On the internet you should definitely read the article “The Three Stooges Meet the Monsters” from the Monster Kids site which you can read here.

This is a short – there is no trailer, and the clips I’ve found on the internet are too expansive to share here without infringing on copyrights. Therefore, I urge you to buy or rent the Stooges collection containing “Idle Roomers” instead. Since it also includes 20 other Stooges shorts, including additional horror-comedies, it certainly will give you more bang for your buck than the new “Wolfman” movie!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Lon Chaney Jr.

Given the impending release of the big-budget remake of "The Wolfman" I decided to take a look yesterday at Eben McGarr's love letter to Universal horror films, "House of the Wolf Man." I didn't realize then that today is actually the birthday of the original Wolf Man, Lon Chaney Jr.! But thanks to Dr. Gangrene's Tales from the Lab Blog, now I know.

To celebrate, I've decided to share this outtake from "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein." And should you decide to come back Friday (and really, you should) you'll be treated to my review of "Idle Roomers" - a Three Stooges short that finds Moe, Larry and Curly meeting a Wolf Man of their own - and most likely packing more entertainment (and maybe even more violence) in its 17 minutes than what looks to be a heavy-handed and lumbering 2 hours and 15 minutes of bloody gore from Del Toro and Co.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Lon Chaney Jr. Lou Costello

Here’s some fun stuff for you to look at while you’re waiting for my next review. First up is a fake commercial for monster action figures (based on the movie "House of the Wolf Man" - but more on that in a moment).

Not that there weren’t ever real monster action figures – there were, and you can read about (and see photos of some of) them here – but this particular commercial is a spoof of the commercials that used to air for Mego’s World’s Greatest Superheroes action figures in the 1970s and ‘80s.

I guess that’s only fitting as among the various companies that manufactured monster figures the Azrak company (again I refer you to this link) patterned not only the figures but their packaging on Mego’s endeavors.

So... no, there is no “Wolfmobile” but it’s fun to pretend there is one, right? Especially since it’s bound to be cooler than anything in the big-budget “Wolfman” remake that Hollywood is about to dump on us this Friday (if the trailer and TV commercials are any indication... not to mention the fact that the film's release was postponed by a whole year)...

...which brings me back around to "House of the Wolf Man." If you choose to see the "Wolfman" remake, it's my opinion that you're barking up the wrong tree. Because there is an alternative: don't go see it. Watch Lon Chaney Jr.'s grandson Ron Chaney in a faithful homage to the classic Univeral horror films instead. Ron is a featured player in Eben McGarr's "House of the Wolf Man" currently making the rounds of various film festivals and soon to be available on DVD. I think Bud, Lou and Lon would be proud.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


George O'Hanlon

RATING: *** & ½ out of ****

PLOT: Joe McDoakes (George O’Hanlon) is awoken by his wife (Phyllis Coates) who reads an urgent telegram to him: “You will inherit your grandmother’s entire estate if you get to her bedside before she dies.” Like a shot, Joe is up, dressed and out the door with his bags packed! When he gets to his grandmother’s mansion he is greeted at the front door by a creepy butler named Hideous P. Scroogington. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Silas, half-brother Ellery and Aunt Agatha (all played by O’Hanlon). Then it’s up to the bedside of grandma (also played by O’Hanlon) and a troubling revelation: grandma isn’t dying but merely wants to gauge how devoted her prospective heirs are to her (as opposed to their money). She also reveals that she told the others she’s planning to leave her fortune to Joe. Can Joe survive the spooky night with his money-hungry, bloodthirsty relatives out to get him?

REVIEW: This is an entry in the “Joe McDoakes” short subject series. The true origin of this series is one of those great “Hollywood success stories” that die-hard movie buffs love to relate to casual fans. Producer Richard Bare decided the best way to teach the fundamentals of movie making to his film students at the University of Southern California was to have them work on an actual film.

Bare decided to mimic the form of the popular Pete Smith and Robert Benchley short subject series that started in the 1930s and had been popular for about a dozen years at that point. These films featured “everymen” characters dealing with various topics that were informational in nature but filled with a lot of humor – such as how to give up smoking, getting a good night’s sleep, dieting, etc. These shorts were often narrated by all-seeing – and all-knowing (as in “know it all”) narrators that often acted superior to the characters in the stories. This format would become so popular that even beloved Walt Disney animated cartoon character Goofy would appear in his own series of “everyman” shorts in the 1950s.

Bare hired his wife’s ex-boyfriend George O’Hanlon to be the title star and co-writer of the film and announcer Art Gilmore to narrate it. The film, “So You Want to Give Up Smoking” provided Bare’s students with the experience they needed and Bare ended up with a saleable, professional finished product… which he promptly used as a pilot to gauge big studio interest. And interested the studios were, as Bare soon made a deal with Warner Brothers to continue the series – an arrangement that lasted until 1956, resulting in 63 entries.

While the series dealt a lot with everyday domestic life, the tone was always heightened – every emotion was up a few notches more than normal, every situation exaggerated for ultimate comic effect (no doubt a convention partially adapted to keep the shorts moving through their short running times). Joe was forever “behind the eight ball” – and in fact the series visually illustrated this with its opening and closing titles literally showing Joe peering out from behind a giant 8 Ball.

Joe McDoakes George O'Hanlon

The hyper-heightened world that Joe populated was sometimes aided by his sojourns into the realm of fantasy, where he often imagined the worst that could happen to him or dreamt of taking revenge on his rivals. But the most “fantastic” scenario in the series, and therefore the most unique had to be its lone horror-comedy entry “So You Want to Be an Heir.”

The short begins in typical wacky McDoakes fashion: once Alice reads Joe the telegram, he frantically throws his clothes on and packs his bags. As Joe leaves, Alice phones the airline to reserve a plane ticket for him and exclaims, “What, he’s already there?!” to underscore how frantic Joe is about the possibility of inheriting a million bucks.

First and foremost, however this brisk 9-minute short pulls out all the stops when it comes to horror-comedy trappings. Joe arrives at the large, spooky mansion in the middle of a thunderstorm, with lightning flashing and howling winds gusting. A scary hooting owl also gives him a start. And then Joe meets Hideous P. Scroogington, the creepy butler who seems like a refuge from one of Charles Addams’ “Addams Family” cartoons. The interior of the mansion is full of musty antiques and large weapons hanging on the wall. There’s even a suit of armor that is identified as Joe’s great-great granfather!

Then there’s Joe’s clan. Joe’s uncle, half-brother and aunt are all rather slimy and sinister from the very start. Even Joe’s grandmother is frightening – she would give the wicked witch from “The Wizard of Oz” a scare! O’Hanlon does an amazing job of imbuing each with their own way of talking, walking and gesturing – it’s a bravura performance. And it is enhanced by some really great split-screen cinematography that is so detailed that it’s hard to tell where the splices are.

The night Joe spends at the mansion leads to atmospheric chills and thrills that deftly mix comedy and horror (the menacing nature of the villains is probably the reason the short was banned in Finland). Joe tries to sleep but is wide-awake, staring at the raging thunderstorm through the window and nervous as all-get. Suddenly, Aunt Agatha appears to offer Joe a glass of milk. She scoots out when she hears the window opening. Joe pours milk into flower pot on night table – flower dies! Then Uncle Silas comes in through the window and tries to strangle Joe with a hankie but when he hears the door he scoots off, too. Elliott enters brandishing a knife and threatening stab Joe, but he is is frightened away by the cuckoo clock. Joe ends up hiding under the bed, where he finds a skeleton. “Would you mind moving over just a little?,” Joe asks the bag of bones.

Meanwhile Grandma is in the basement dungeon mixing a concoction in a swimming pool sized cauldron! Between the various mansion sets and the musky dungeon, it seems the elaborate sets for this one were borrowed from a larger-budgeted Warner Brothers feature. Uncle Silas comes back into Joe’s bedroom with an ax and axes the empty bed, followed by Elliott, now armed with a gun who shoots up the bed. Joe is still under the bed with the skeleton, and quite rattled. He falls through a trap-door into grandma’s cauldron below, screaming about the intense heat...

...and then he wakes up from his nightmare. He had the electric blanket on too high! Just then Joe’s wife Alice walks in… and promptly reads the same telegram that started the whole story in the first place. “I wouldn’t go through that again for 8 million dollars!,” exclaims Joe. Then Alice repeats the frantic dressing up and packing of bags that Joe did at the short’s start and bolts out the door in pursuit of grandma’s money. This leads to a wonderful punchline where Joe looks at the audience and says “she doesn’t know it’s only a dream!”

The phrase “underrated” has been so overused in recent years as to almost be a cliché, but in this case, I have to say that George O’Hanlon was truly one of the most underrated comedians of all time. His facial expressions and vocal inflections are nothing short of brilliant – especially when you consider that these were 8-10 minute shorts that compressed so many ideas, gags and plot elements into such a short running time! O’Hanlon’s face, voice and body language were like a fast-paced short-hand – he put all these elements over with both speed and attention to detail. After the McDoakes series ended, O’Hanlon made a career doing guest shots in various TV series and landed a recurring role on a famed TV series that at the very least made his voice famous (some might say immortal): he landed the role of George Jetson on “The Jetsons.”

Now over 50 years since the “Joe McDoakes” series ended, it finally is getting more exposure via broadcasts on TCM and appearances on DVD, and the response is almost always the same: people are stunned at just how good these shorts are, and how much they laugh at them. They are without question Hollywood’s hidden gems, now slowly being discovered to the delight of many.


Phyllis Coates often played Joe’s wife in the “McDoakes” series. Her other famous recurring role was that of Lois Lane in the first 26 episodes of the “Superman” TV series with George Reeves. Amongst other credits, she also appeared on “The Abbott & Costello Show” and in the movie, “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.”

Philip Van Zandt was something of a regular in comedy shorts including several horror-comedy shorts from Columbia starring the Three Stooges (among them “Spooks,” “Dopey Dicks” and “Outer Space Jitters.” He had a varied career that included feature films like Laurel & Hardy’s "Air Raid Wardens" and “The Big Noise,” the Marx Brothers' "A Night in Casablanca," the classic horror-comedy "Ghost Chasers" with the Bowery Boys, the Universal horror film “House of Frankenstein,” several entries in the “Boston Blackie” mystery series, a role in the Lon Chaney biopic “Man of a Thousand Faces” (where James Cagney portrayed the silent film legend) and a little film called “Citizen Kane.” He also appeared in a few episodes of the George Reeves “Superman” TV show.


HIDEOUS (pointing to a rusty old suit of armor): “And this is your great-great grandfather, Sirloin McDoakes.”

JOE: “That’s a suit of armor!”

HIDEOUS: “No, no that’s him – we could never get him out of the suit!”

GRANDMA: “You should have seen their faces on that bunch downstairs when I told them I was leaving my money to you. I’d watch my step if I were you. That’s a scheming bunch. I wouldn’t put it past them if they tried to murder you.”

AUNT AGATHA: “I brought some milk for my darling cousin once removed… and once removed he’ll never bother me again!”


There is lots of physicality in the short – all three cast members pitch in for all they’re worth for maximum visual impact. Best sight gags include the aforementioned scenes of both Joe and Alice getting packed, dressed and out the door in record time, the weird manner in which Hideous walks and carries himself, and the various attempts by Joe’s relatives to do him in.

BUY THE FILM: “So You Want To Be An Heir” has been released on DVD twice, first as part of Warner Home Video's "Burt Lancaster Signature Collection" on the same disc as "South Sea Woman" and more recently as part of the video-on-demand Warner Brothers DV-R Archives series, as part of “The Complete Joe McDoakes Collection.” Order either here:

FURTHER READING: Leonard Maltin authored the seminal work on short subjects which includes a detailed section on Joe McDoakes and it’s come out under two titles, both now out of print. But there are used booksellers out there with copies of “The Great Movie Shorts” and “Selected Short Subjects” and you owe it to yourself to seek them out.

Joe is also a popular topic among bloggers, and I’ve found two of the best entries to have come from Aaron Neathery’s essential “Third Banana” blog which you can read here, as well on the “Matinee at the Bijou” blog which is tied into the classic PBS TV series of the 1970s and ‘80s that is being developed for a revival. You can read their McDoakes piece here.

I don’t have a clip for this short, but I will leave you with this promotional clip from when the now-defunct "Comedy Channel" broadcast the shorts:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Spanky Buckwheat Alfalfa Porky

RATING: *** out of ****

PLOT: Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Porky concoct a plan to skip school the following day so they can go to the circus. The plan: secretly leave a “doctored” (as in “allegedly from a doctor”) note on the teacher’s desk stating that the four-some are sick. When the teacher informs them that she has circus tickets for the entire class, the quartet must retrieve the note… but now the school is locked! Returning after dark (and after the janitor has gone asleep) the kids have one spooky encounter after another. Are real spooks out to get them, and will they ever make it to the circus?

REVIEW: As promised, since February is a “short” month, I’m reviewing nothing but “short subjects” this month. For the uninitiated, “shorts” were part of the “extra added attractions” offered to movie-goers along with the cartoons, newsreels and movie serials. They ranged in length from one reel (approx 10 minutes), to two reels (16-20 minutes) to three reels (30 minutes).

Because of the shorter length of the films being covered this month, some of my reviews may be shorter than usual. Case in point: today’s review of a film that is among the shortest of horror-comedies being highlighted in “Scared Silly.”

“Spooky Hooky” is a very short 10 minutes. There isn’t a whole lot of content in this one reel “Our Gang” (aka “Little Rascals”) short. Prior to 1936, these famed comedy shorts featuring “kids being kids” were in the two reel 20 minute form. When taken as a whole, the series may have suffered a little in both formats. The 20 minute shorts left more room for character nuances but many were also apt to have more dull patches in-between the free-wheeling fun. Meanwhile, the 10 minute shorts moved so fast that there was hardly any room for character development at all, let alone nuances. Perhaps a happy medium would have been the preferred 16-17 minute lengths of the Three Stooges shorts.

One of the more prolific directors of the series, at least once the switch was made to single-reel entries was Gordon Douglas. Douglas knew how to keep the pace up, and while the manic energy was often a mask for the fact that there wasn’t much of a story to tell, some of the most memorable images and scenarios in the “Our Gang” shorts come from Douglas’ films. Such is the case with “Spooky Hooky.” For people who grew up watching the “Little Rascals” on syndicated TV, this entry’s images (and sounds) are fondly remembered.

Let’s start with the letter that Spanky has concocted. It is full of misspellings, some that are hysterical. The camera lingers on the letter long enough for viewers to not only read but retain its contents. For those who saw this short over and over again on TV, the spelling of “new monia” is a lifelong memory.

Our Gang Little Rascals Spooky Hooky

When the kids return to the school after dark, there are more fondly-remembered moments – even before they get into the building. First, Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Spanky are startled by the weird noise that Porky’s pocket-sized accordion-like noise-maker. Then Buckwheat is left to stand guard while the others sneak into the schoolhouse, and he promptly sits on the noise-maker! Startled, he jumps up and runs into the brush, where the sinister eyes and spooky hoots of an owl await.

The short moves into overdrive from here. As the kids open the window, the wind blows all the papers (including their letter) off the teacher’s desk. They flip the light switch on, but a bolt of lightning immediately shorts the lights out. Meanwhile, Buckwheat has climbed inside to join the others, insisting that he’s seen a spook.

Buckwheat begs to differ, but Spanky is still adamant that there’s no such things as spooks… until he, Buckwheat and Alfalfa see one standing nearby and waving its arms! Actually, it’s just Porky who has found a sheet and put it over his head (another image everyone remembers).

Thankfully the kids find the note and are happy, but then Porky goes into another room and starts throwing light bulbs onto the floor. At first the other kids are scared… until they figure out that it’s just Porky again. However, this wakes up the live-in janitor, who opens his creaky bedroom door to check out the commotion. The kids think it’s Porky playing around again, until Porky sneaks up behind them. When they realize that Porky ISN’T the one who opened the door, they panic in fright again.

Each kid goes to hide, leading to the main set-piece of the short, and surely its most remembered bit: Buckwheat backs into a corner where an anatomical skeleton on wheels is kept, and the hands of the skeleton get caught on the back of Buckwheat’s raincoat, giving off the impression it is following Buckwheat. Of course, when Buckwheat looks behind him and sees the skeleton he runs, so the effect is that the skeleton is running after him!

Billie Buckweat Thomas

The spectacle of the skeleton “chasing” Buckwheat scares everyone, especially the janitor, who is involved in two memorable sight gags himself. First, his triangular night-cap stands straight up to indicate fright, and then he runs right through the door, leaving his silhouette behind just like in cartoons.

After all is said and done, the kids’ efforts are for naught – they really do end up with colds from being out in the rain, and can’t go to school (or the circus) after all!


ALFALFA: Buckwheat looks like he saw a spook!
SPANKY: Don’t talk like a kid – there ain’t such things like spooks!

SPANKY: Please don’t hurt us Mr. Spook.
PORKY: Otay!

BEST GAGS: As previously mentioned, from the owl scaring Buckwheat, to Porky scaring the other kids by wearing a sheet, to the slam-bang skeleton chase ending, this short is loaded with great sight gags.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: As often happens in an “Our Gang” short, the adult supporting cast is where you’ll find some familiar faces.

The teacher, Miss Jones is played by Rosina Lawrence. A regular at the Hal Roach Studios that were home to both Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy, Rosina appeared several times with each. In fact, she played teachers in “Our Gang” shorts several times – called Miss Jones in at least three entries and Miss Lawrence in three other entries. One of her biggest roles was as the heroine in Laurel & Hardy’s classic feature, “Way Out West.” She also had notable roles in the all-star bio-pic “The Great Ziegfield”: and alongside Warner Oland in “Charlie Chan’s Secret.”

Dudley Dickerson plays the janitor. He was one of the premiere African-American comic actors of the 1930s and ‘40s. Although Dickerson and his contemporaries like Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, Stepin Fetchit and others have been criticized over the years for their wide-eyed performances in servitude roles that often required them to act cowardly and scared, the charge is unfair to these fine performers. First of all, they did not have control over the types of roles that were offered to them, and second of all, their scared antics were really not much more different from the wildly physical reaction comedy of Lou Costello, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and others who appeared in horror-comedies. Last but not least, they were wildly talented and always gave their all to ensure lively performances. Dickerson in particular was a horror-comedy stalwart, appearing in many such shorts and features alongside The Three Stooges, Hugh Herbert (in fact he and Hugh were practically a comedy team in their films together), Schilling & Lane, Andy Clyde, Harry von Zell and others, mainly at Columbia Studios. He also appeared in entries for several series including the Boston Blackie, Lone Wolf, Tarzan and The Falcon.

BUY THE FILM: “Spooky Hooky” has been released on DVD at least three times in collections that range from a handful of shorts to a collection containing all the sound shorts originally produced at Hal Roach Studios. Buy them here:

FURTHER READING: Without question, the only book anyone will ever need on the team is “Our Gang: the Life & Times of The Little Rascals” by Leonard Maltin. And on the internet, “The Haunted Closet” recently posted a nice photo-journal recap of the various horror-comedy entries featuring the endearing and enduring kid gang (special thanks to Bill for allowing me to borrow some of the images).

Since “Spooky Hooky” was a short, there isn’t a trailer for it. I couldn’t find any scenes online, either. Instead, please enjoy this montage reel of various Little Rascals clips that Cabin Fever put together to promote their DVD release: