DirectorRobert F. McGowan, Raymond McCarey
Release Date(s)1932-1933 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Hal Roach Studios/MGM (ClassicFlix)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C
Though they debuted as regular short subjects in movie theaters in the 1930s and 40s, most members of Generation X (and younger Boomers) have fond childhood memories of watching Hal Roach’s classic Our Gang comedy shorts on TV. Rebranded as The Little Rascals, the shorts began their long syndication run in 1954 and were a nearly constant presence on American television over the next five decades, starting with UHF broadcasts and eventually moving to cable on TBS, TNT, American Movie Classics, and more recently TCM.
What made the shorts so compelling to kids (by which I mean kids of all ages) was that their humor was universal, the settings and stories were relatable, and the young stars were just poor and lower-middle class kids not unlike those you played with every day. They were the underdogs in every story, a direct reversal of the old Scooby-Doo cliché: The kids were constantly chafing against their meddling parents and other adults. Their adventures and capers were good-natured, with loyal animals (like Petey the Pup) as constant companions. And while the shorts have been rightly criticized for promoting racial stereotypes, particularly involving the Black cast members (including Allen Hoskins’ Farina, Matthew Beard’s Stymie, and Billie Thomas’ Buckwheat), it’s also important to note that Our Gang was one of the first film series ever to have an integrated cast and to depict its Black and White children as equals. A few of its young stars went on to have longer film careers, including Jackie Cooper, Carl Switzer, and Robert Blake. And filmmakers Frank Capra, Walter Lantz (creator of the animated Woody Woodpecker), and Charley Chase began their careers as writers for the series.
ClassicFlix’s The Little Rascals: Volume 3 Blu-ray includes the next batch of 11 shorts in HD as follows (note that the running times listed include a brief title clip ahead of the original studio logos and title cards):
- Readin’ and Writin’ (1932 – 21:02)
- Free Eats (1932 – 19:14)
- Spanky (1932 – 19:52)
- Choo-Choo! (1932 – 20:42)
- The Pooch (1932 – 20:27)
- Hook and Ladder (1932 – 18:13)
- Free Wheeling (1932 – 19:49)
- Birthday Blues (1932 – 19:31)
- A Lad an’ a Lamp (1932 – 17:17)
- Fish Hooky (1933 – 18:31)
- Forgotten Babies (1933 – 16:58)
This volume includes the first appearances of young George “Spanky” McFarland, Wally Albright, and Dickie Moore, not to mention the final appearance of June Marlowe’s Miss Crabtree. Choo-Choo! actually features an early use of rear projection to enhance live action sets. The set includes some fan favorite shorts as well, among them Hook and Ladder (featuring the kids as the crew of a fire house responding to calls in rickety, Rube Goldberg, and animal-powered “engines”) and Fish Hooky (which finds the gang on the run from the truant officer on Santa Monica Pier—former Our Gang members Allen “Farina” Hoskins and Joe Cobb also appear). You might also remember Forgotten Babies for one word: “Remarkable!” This short also features the first appearance of actor Tommy Bond, who would go on to play Jimmy Olsen in the 1948 Superman serial.
Of note is the fact that all of these shorts save one (Raymond McCarey’s Readin’ and Writin’) were directed by Robert McGowan. Once again, they were shot on 35 mm photochemical film using nitrate stock at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 (1.33 was the typical silent film ratio, while 1.37 was formalized by the Academy for sound films in the early 30s). For this Blu-ray release, ClassicFlix sought out the best original film elements available for scanning and restoration at 2K. ClassicFlix was able to use original nitrate film elements for many of the shorts. The remainder were scanned from fine grain prints and other safety elements.
As was the case with Volumes 1 and 2 on Blu-ray (see our reviews here and here) the result is remarkable. The new HD presentation from ClassicFlix offers the cleanest and highest-resolution image available, besting the 2008 Genius Products/RHI Entertainment DVD release by a wide margin. Contrast is greatly improved and there’s much more detail visible now than was apparent in TV broadcasts. The grain appears to be intact and organic, yet the digital restoration team has cleaned away a blizzard of scratches, nicks, dust, bad splices, and other defects. The result certainly can’t be called perfect given the age and condition of these elements. Some shots are a bit out of focus, once in a while there’s a frame or two missing, and there’s also some digital nose reduction and/or compression artifacting visible on occasion. But the shorts definitely look better than they ever have before. What’s more, they’re uncut, with none of the egregious King World Productions edits. (They are however a product of their time, so do keep that in mind.)
On the audio front, it appears that the original nitrate sound elements were all usable, so ClassicFlix has done so. And their audio restoration is impressive as well in 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio format. There’s still plenty of analog hiss, and some of the kids’ lines are indistinct due to the poor quality of the recording hardware at the time. Occasionally, bits of audio are missing. But plenty of pops, clicks, and crackle have been digitally removed. The audio quality is greatly improved over the previous DVDs. Optional English subtitles are included.
The Blu-ray includes five special features, as follows:
- Restoration Comparison (HD – 4:59)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 1 Trailer (HD – 2:45)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 2 Trailer – Lovesick (HD – 2:33)*
- The Little Rascals: Volume 2 Trailer – Stymie Shines (HD – 2:04)
- Zenobia Trailer (HD – 3:52)
* Plays automatically when you start the disc.
Once again, the restoration clip allows you to compare the raw film scans to the final restored image for scenes from a few of the specific shorts in this collection. There are also trailers for the restored Oliver Hardy film Zenobia (1939) and both The Little Rascals: Volumes 1 and 2 on Blu-ray.
At the rate of 10-11 shorts per disc, expect 7 or 8 volumes for ClassicFlix to release all 80 of The Little Rascals/Our Gang sound shorts on Blu-ray. Volume 4 is already available (containing shorts from 1933-1935—see our review here) and Volume 5 (1935-1936) is due to street on 4/5/22. The remastered image on this release is lovely and the shorts—including some real gems—are a blast, as always. If you’re as fond of them as I am, this release is highly recommended.
[Editor’s Update: The final release of the ClassicFlix Our Gang “sound” era Blu-rays will be Volume 6, which will include the remaining 23 shorts. But ClassicFlix has decided to continue with an effort to restore some of the 88 “silent” era shorts as well, and will release at least some on Blu-ray and DVD.]
- Bill Hunt