When Dr. Hugo Robbin\'s laboratory is blown up, his nurse Ann Loring is charged with murdering the doctor. During her trial, a group of children continually disrupts the courtroom, claiming to have important evidence. The children are finally allowed to testify, but as a result of their testimony, their friend Dan, who runs a repair shop, is now charged with the crime instead of the nurse. The children are now determined to prove Dan\'s innocence, and they go to the abandoned laboratory to look for evidence, leading to a series of hazardous adventures.
Larry Olsen ... William \'Curley\' Benson
Eilene Janssen ... Betty
Peter Miles ... Dudley (as Gerald Perreau)
Ardda Lynwood ... Ardda
Dale Belding ... Speck Jones
Virginia Grey ... Ann Loring
Don Castle ... George, Defense Attorney
George Zucco ... Doc Hugo Robbin
Paul Hurst ... Jailer
Whitford Kane ... \'Fix-it\' Dan Cameron
Wilton Graff ... Prosecutor
Claire Du Brey ... Housekeeper (as Claire Dubrey)
Rene Beard ... Dis (as Renee Beard)
Donald King ... Dat
Grant Mitchell ... Judge
Okay, aside from the \"I\'m shocked...shocked to find a 1940\'s film featuring stereotypical characters!\", here are a couple of notes for Roach fans who might not have stumbled across this picture.
First, it seems that all the money went into the Cinecolor process. The film has one of the dreariest casts of any 40\'s B programmer. George Zucco, Grant Mitchell and Virginia Grey are the only name actors in the picture. Whitford Kane, who plays Fix-it Dan, had a wonderful role the prior year in Fox\'s THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (as the publisher of Mrs. Muir\'s sea novel). The prosecutor is Wilton Graff, never a particularly humorous actor. The rest of the cast is non-entities and the kids act more like they came out of the MGM-George Sidney unit than a Hal Roach comedy.
Also curious is the musical score. The immensely talented Heinz Roemheld is credited as musical director. However, rather than creating one of his own wonderful works (including those fabulous chase cues with pizzicato violins as in FULLER BRUSH MAN or JACK AND THE BEANSTALK), he basically adapted music from TOPPER TAKES A TRIP and TOPPER RETURNS. These were terrific scores, and the TOPPER RETURNS material is particularly appropriate for this film. Of course, there is some original Roemheld music but it\'s basically a patchwork score.
The script is fair, the gags are contrived and not particularly funny, but the scenes with the Gorilla are genuinely scary.
As for Dis and Dat, I always winced at the moment in Africa SCREAMS where native Bill Walker turned white at the sight of the big Ape. Now I discover it was done the previous year in WHO KILLED DOC ROBIN! Fun for 48 minutes but don\'t mortgage the house buying a copy or print.
I don\'t know if there are any original 35mm Cinecolor prints out there. Most of the prints extant (including mine) are 16mm Thunderbird reduction prints. Cinecolor was a dubious process to begin with and anything other than first generation prints are usually pretty dingy.
You can make out the Hal Roach/Our Gang connection in the casting of the movie, but by this time, the magic was gone, and the youngsters appearing here were used more for visuals and sight gags rather than genuine chemistry among friends. The story finds the kids attempting to prove their friend, the neighborhood Fix-It Man (Whitford Kane), innocent of a murder, and most of the action takes place in the second half at a creepy old mansion with it\'s share of dark passageways and ghostly effects. Since you never get to see the title character Doc Robbin till the very end, you begin to wonder just what connection George Zucco might have had to the picture until he\'s finally revealed under the gorilla suit. Unlike many films of the era utilizing a gorilla gimmick where the ape looks entirely fake, this one has some genuinely scary moments for young viewers where it\'s hard to tell the difference; I think I\'d run too.
As for the kids, they\'re a little hard to warm up to, with Ardda (Ardda Lynwood) the single genuinely likable character, especially with her courtroom testimony. Speck\'s (Dale Belding) gimmick of fainting a lot gets to be over used, and even though one of the film\'s alternate titles cites \'Curley and His Gang\', I didn\'t see much that suggested Curley (Larry Olsen) as the nominal leader of the kids. Others on this board have mentioned the stereotyping of the little black boys, Dis and Dat, but when you come right down to it, they wound up with the funniest bits, especially the scene involving the washer and clothes press machine. It seems to me that if racism was the main point of the film, you wouldn\'t have the kids all getting along as equals and having a fun time together during their misadventures.
However if you want the real thing in an Our Gang comedy, you\'ll have to go back to some of the shorts made during their heyday in the early 1930\'s. Think what you\'d have had here with Spanky at the helm, and Darla, Alfalfa and Stymie along for the ride - the gorilla wouldn\'t have been safe!