DirectorRobert F. McGowan, Gus Meins, James Parrott
Release Date(s)1933-1935 (January 19, 2022)
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 4 Blu-ray includes the next batch of shorts—12 instead of 11 this time—in HD as follows (note that the running times listed include a brief title clip ahead of the original studio logos and title cards):
- The Kid from Borneo (1933 – 18:47)
- Mush and Milk (1933 – 18:18)
- Bedtime Worries (1933 – 20:23)
- Wild Poses (1933 – 18:31)
- Hi’-Neighbor! (1934 – 17:54)
- For Pete’s Sake! (1934 – 18:06)
- The First Round-Up (1934 – 18:46)
- Honky-Donky (1934 – 16:42)
- Mike Fright (1934 – 17:26)
- Washee Ironee (1934 – 16:38)
- Mama’s Little Pirate (1935 – 18:06)
- Shrimps for a Day (1935 – 20:42)
This is an interesting batch of shorts for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that several were edited for TV broadcast for the use of African American stereotypes. (In fact, you’ve probably never seen The Kid from Borneo before for this reason.) Wild Poses features a brief cameo by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Scotty Beckett, Jackie Lynn Taylor, Wally Albright, and Billie Thomas also make their first series appearances, though the latter is playing a different character than “Buckwheat” (who appears for the first time in For Pete’s Sake! but as a girl). You might recall Hi’-Neighbor! fondly for the gang’s crazy-contraption car, which they race downhill with predictable results. Also included is Mike Fright (a personal favorite that sees the gang performing on the radio as the “International Silver String Submarine Band”) and Mama’s Little Pirate (in which Spanky leads the kids into a cave on a hunt for hidden treasure).
While a few of these shorts were directed by Robert McGowan, James Parrott (a regular Laurel and Hardy helmer) contributes one too, and the rest were all directed by Gus Meins (of Buster Brown and Babes in Toyland fame). All were shot on 35 mm photochemical film using nitrate stock at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. 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, with the remainder scanned from fine grain prints and other safety elements.
As was the case with the first three volumes on Blu-ray (see our reviews here, here, and here) the result is impressive. The new HD presentation offers the cleanest and highest-resolution image available, easily besting the 2008 Genius Products/RHI Entertainment DVD release. Contrast is greatly improved and there’s more detail visible now than was apparent in TV broadcasts over the years. The digital restoration team has cleaned away scratches, nicks, dust, bad splices, wobble, and other defects. Some shots feature soft focus, once in a while there’s a frame or two missing, and there’s also some digital nose reduction used. Still, there’s no doubt that these shorts look better than ever. What’s more, they’re uncut, with none of the egregious King World Productions edits. (They are however a product of their time, so you definitely need to keep that in mind when watching.)
The audio restoration is also impressive in 2.0 mono DTS-HD MA. There’s still plenty of analog hiss, and some of the dialogue is a little muffled due to the quality of the recording hardware at the time. But plenty of pops, clicks, and crackle have been digitally removed. The audio is certainly improved over the previous DVD releases. Optional English subtitles are included.
The Blu-ray includes five special features, as follows:
- Restoration Comparison (HD – 5:24)
- 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)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 3 Trailer (HD – 2:24)*
* Plays automatically when you start the disc.
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. When you see just how much work was required to bring the image back from its poor current condition, I think you’ll agree that the result is impressive. There are also trailers for The Little Rascals: Volumes 1, 2, and 3 on Blu-ray.
Now that they’ve gone to 12 shorts per disc here, you can expect a total of 7 volumes for ClassicFlix to release all 80 of The Little Rascals/Our Gang sound shorts on Blu-ray. Volume 5 (1935-1936) is due to street on 4/5, and we expect Volumes 6 and 7 to follow soon after. The remastered image is lovely and the shorts are as fun as ever. ClassicFlix’s Little Rascals Blu-ray sets are highly recommended for fans of the series.
[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