Cast & Crew
Robert F Mcgowan
Charles A. Bachman
Lassie Lou Ahern
In this silent short comedy, a delivery boy trades places with a rich kid.
Robert F Mcgowan
Charles A. Bachman
Lassie Lou Ahern
Hal Roach Jr.
Fast Company (1924)
As a concept, Our Gang emerged from the coincidence of four key events, occurring all more or less at once. The first was a moment of professional crisis for producer Hal Roach. He had built his film empire on the success of Harold Lloyd, but in 1922 was facing the imminent departure of his eminent star and was desperate for new ideas.
The second key component was that new idea--or at least, an anti-idea. In his capacity as a successful Hollywood producer, he was forced to sit through numerous auditions from wanna-be stars, and had grown weary of the precocious youngsters that obsessed stage-parents so eagerly brought before him. He began to wonder what it would take to show real children on the screen...
The third component was talent. Specifically, an actor named Ernest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison. As a supporting player to Harold Lloyd, he had increasingly been stealing scenes and upstaging the world-renowned comedian (see Get Out and Get Under from 1920 as a particular case in point), and had become the unofficial co-star to Snub Pollard in his series of short comedies. When Roach signed him to a two-year contract, Morrison became the first African-American signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood history. And he did it all by age 7.
Roach recognized Morrison's natural talent, and wanted to feature him in his own starring series, but faced opposition from distributer Pathé who doubted whether a child-centered series would hold its audience.
The last piece of the puzzle was vision, which came in the form of director Robert McGowan. Together with Roach and writer Tom McNamara, he helped cast an ensemble of equally appealing and unstudied children to join Morrison. The first short they filmed was called Our Gang and inspired the series' name, but the first film to actually reach theaters was One Terrible Day (1922). McGowan's gift was his ability to coax perfect comic performances from such young, untrained children while maintaining the sense of authenticity and realism that Roach desired.
Seen today, the Our Gang films are as sprightly and funny as ever, but they seem to take place in an alien world very foreign to our own. Almost more so than other silent comedies of the same vintage, they depict a world that has been completely rewritten. The Our Gang rascals lead lives of casual danger and DIY troublemaking that in today's society would seem to border on criminal child endangerment and land their parents in prison. It should also be noted that the world of Our Gang is largely free of racial conflict, and depicts a multiethnic cast (built around a black actor) seemingly oblivious to skin color. Like Charles Schultz' , the Our Gang kids live lives that only rarely interact with adults, but which are full of child-size parodies of the adult world.
Fast Company was the 32nd short in the series, filmed in the spring of 1923 with the original cast of Mickey Daniels, Jackie Condon, Jack Davis, Allen Hoskins, and Ernie Morrison still in place. Co-directed by McGowan and Charley Chase, the story involves a rich boy arriving in town to be spirited away to a hotel for safekeeping until his busy parents can return for him. Used to being coddled and isolated, the boy is hungry for adventure and eagerly swaps places with Mickey Daniels, whom he spies nearby driving a handmade wagon pulled by a goat (this is the sort of stuff that happens in these films).
Mickey gets a once-in-a-lifetime view of the inside of a swanky hotel, while his rich-kid counterpart gets a once-in-a-lifetime view of dirt roads and surly goats. It's a win-win situation, until the other kids mistakenly conclude this newcomer has stolen Mickey's goat. To clear his name, the rich kid helps the Gang sneak into the hotel, which somehow leads to such surreal havoc as a monkey stealing the goat (everybody loves goats, apparently) and the kids putting on African war paint to pretend to be musicians (like you do).
Due to the out-of-order sequence in which the shorts were filmed, and the delay between filming and release, Fast Company was one of the last appearances of Sunshine Sammy Morrison with Our Gang. He left films to work in vaudeville, where he performed on the same bills as Abbott and Costello and Jack Benny. The series continued without him. A wholesale cast change took place in 1929 to coincide with the arrival of sound, and introduce a cast better suited to talkies.
When Roach sold the series to MGM in 1938, the sale also included the name "Our Gang," which meant that Roach could no longer reissue his existing back catalog of shorts under that name. So, he renamed them "The Little Rascals," reverting to a name he had considered using back in 1922. The dueling brand names have been a source of confusion and contention ever since. Under any name, though, the Our Gang comedies were a remarkable achievement representing one of those glorious moments when all the right ingredients come together at the right time to make magic.
By David Kalat
Leonard Maltin, Selected Short Subjects
Glenn Mitchell, A-Z of Silent Comedy
Richard Lewis Ward, A History of the Hal Roach Studios