By Matt Zoller Seitz
Lessons to live by, No. 267: If you want to fake a leg injury to avoid fighting someone, it's best to leave fish out of the equation.
Freckle-faced geek Alfalfa and his buddy Spanky didn't get the memo in the 1937 short film "Fishy Tales," one of many classic Our Gang shorts now playing on the video Web site Youtube.com (and others). The short finds Alfalfa ducking a showdown with the local bully, Butch, by pretending he's been injured, crawling into bed, sticking his good leg through a hole in a mattress, and replacing the part below his knee with a fish wrapped in a sock.
Between Butch whacking Alfalfa's fish leg with a hammer, the toddler hiding beneath the mattress and tickling Alfalfa's real foot with a feather, and the armada of hungry cats gathering outside the window, the scheme's pitfalls are painfully clear—but only to adults. What makes the best Our Gang shorts so enjoyable is their ability to depict kid logic—or maybe I should say "logic"—without condescension. They aren't simply for kids; the best of them seem to have been created by kids.
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