I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type. Maybe that’s why I didn’t go very far in the Boy Scouts. I probably got somewhat turned off by the whole thing when one of the first campouts I went on as a scout was something they called “The Polar Bear.” It’s simple…we camped out in tents, in the dead of winter, in the midwest. Yeah, sorry, not my idea of a good time. Well, in today’s film, Spanky, Alfalfa, and the rest of the Our Gang kids decide that they have a solid grasp of outdoor survival skills, despite being too young to join the scouts. It’s the 1939 short “Joy Scouts.”
As the short begins, a large group of Boy Scouts are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as they begin a big camp meeting. Standing off to the side is the gang…Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Porky, Mickey, and Leonard. As the scouts head off and begin to show their merit badge-worthy skills, the gang asks the scoutmaster if they can join in. Alas, the events are only for the scouts, and the gang isn’t quite old enough yet.
If you think that’s stopping the gang, then you’ve never seen an Our Gang short before. They head off to a nearby campground, Geyser Springs, which is home to a particularly temperamental geyser. They soon begin to set up camp. Spanky and Mickey handle the tent, which they’ve stitched together out of a sun umbrella and bed sheets. Of course, they set it up right on top of the geyser after Leonard grabs the Danger sign for firewood. Meanwhile, Buckwheat and Porky handle the fishing duties. All they seem to be able to catch, though, is junk. Alfalfa is handling to cooking. He first tries making flapjacks, but when Leonard spills popcorn into the batter, the flapjacks start flipping themselves.
After hauling in nothing but junk, Buckwheat and Porky finally nab a good-sized fish. Spanky insists he knows how to cook it and drops it whole into the frying pan. But soon the smell just about too much for the Gang to handle. Lucky for them, it starts to rain. They duck inside the tent, after negotiating the fact that they forgot to make a door. But just as it stops raining outside, the water starts flowing inside as they geyser blows them into the air.
“Joy Scouts” is from the MGM era of Our Gang, after Hal Roach sold his rascals to the studio in 1938. The shorts from this era have a bit more polished look than the Roach films did…but they are nowhere near as funny as the older films. They’re still a lot of fun, though. Having the gang try to be scouts is a great premise for them and there are a few good gags here. I loved Buckwheat and Porky’s growing pile of junk and, of course, Alfalfa’s moment of crooning as he cooks for the gang.
It is, however, a little disappointing to watch the ending of the film and note the big difference between this version of the gang and the incarnations that came before. Here, camping gets the best of the gang…they end up having to run to the real scouts for help when all is said and done. They admit to the scoutmaster that they need to wait until they’re older. In the older shorts, the gang still would’ve set up a tent on top of the geyser, still would’ve fumbled with the cooking…but in the end, they would’ve gotten the best of the scoutmaster and those know-it-all scouts. Sorry, this is a fun short and all, but I like that version of the gang better.