Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Unca Paul's Foodie Flicks 1: Dogs Is Dogs (1931)

(Note. . . An earlier version of this piece appeared on Eat With Annie, the website of Madame Blogmeister, food writer Annie Berrol)

The Our Gang comedies, at least until Hal Roach sold the rights to "the big studio" A.K.A. behemoth monolith Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, bringing ruination, devastation and Janet Burston to the series, hold a prominent spot atop the list of Monsieur Blogmeister's absolute favorite films.

Although, arguably, the funniest of the talented kid comedian headliners were George "Spanky" McFarland and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, who would be the featured "dynamic duo" starting with the 1935-1936 season, in this correspondent's opinion, the earlier 2-reelers from 1930-1932, thanks to Our Gang founder Bob McGowan's direction, writing and a stellar ensemble cast, frequently rank among the series' all-time best.

Spanky McFarland made his debut in Free Eats (1932), yet another stellar entry in Our Gang lore.

Dogs Is Dogs, arguably the penultimate entry in the Our Gang series, is a Depression-era take on what used to be called “the mellerdrammer”.

The players are Our Gang stalwarts Dorothy DeBorba, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins and Matthew “Stymie” Beard, Sherwood Bailey, his German shepherd Nero (scourge of the local chicken population), demure and genteel Blanche Payson from the Laurel & Hardy films, and most importantly, the series’ Larry Olivier of canine thespians, Pete The Pup.

Director and series founder Robert McGowan had plenty of experience trotting out the warhorse storyline with a despicable Simon Legree sort threatening to take granny’s house while twiddling his mustache – with absolutely none of the style and panache of Snidely Whiplash. McGowan used the plotline twice in the 1930-1931 Our Gang season alone, in Helping Grandma and Fly My Kite.

In Dogs Is Dogs, the slithering Simon Legree “snake in the grass” component is played to the hilt by a combo of menacing 6 foot 5 former police woman Payson and, portraying the cowardly and loathsome son to a T, pint-sized villain Sherwood “Spud” Bailey.

The plot is a simple one. Dorothy and Wheezer live with an evil stepmother and her spoiled brat son. Both make their existences a living hell, even by Great Depression standards. Sherwood manages to be not merely unsympathetic, but whiny, sniveling, evil AND charmless – and worse yet, he tries to get Wheezer’s pal Pete The Pup killed!

What makes Dogs Is Dogs a foodie film for the ages is the memorable scene in which Stymie cons the avaricious yet stupid Sherwood into making breakfast. The ever-persuasive Stymie claims that food, especially ham and eggs, can talk. The ever-spoiled Sherwood – even more obnoxious than usual in his Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit – takes a plate full of food of the icebox.

Sherwood (showing the ham and eggs to Stymie): “Why don’t they say something?”

Stymie: “You gotta kinda mess ‘em up a little bit in a frying pan – then they’ll talk – and how!

(NEXT SHOT – ham and eggs in pan, frying quite nicely)

Sherwood: When are they going to start talking?

Stymie: Gotta turn ‘em over, shuffle them around a little bit.

When the food fails to utter a single sound, Sherwood gives up and leaves. Stymie takes over and serves the splendid breakfast Sherwood left behind with Wheezer and Dorothy.

Dorothy: I knew ham and eggs couldn’t talk.

Stymie: Well, they’re saying hello to my stomach riggggggggght now.”

It’s even better than Stanley Tucci preparing a gorgeous egg dish at the end of Big Night.

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