DirectorRobert F. McGowan, Gus Meins, James Parrott
Release Date(s)1935-1936 (April 5, 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 5 Blu-ray includes the next batch of 12 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):
- Anniversary Trouble (1935 – 19:22)
- Beginner’s Luck (1935 – 18:38)
- Teacher’s Beau (1935 – 19:03)
- Sprucin’ Up (1935 – 16:58)
- Little Papa (1935 – 19:41)
- Little Sinner (1935 – 17:31)
- Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935 – 17:54)
- The Pinch Singer (1936 – 17:26)
- Divot Diggers (1936 – 14:51)
- The Lucky Corner (1936 – 16:21)
- Second Childhood (1936 – 19:11)
- Arbor Day (1936 – 17:39)
This batch includes the debut appearances of Carl Switzer (as Alfalfa), Darla Hood, and Eugene Lee (Porky), as well as Rosina Lawrence (as the kids’ teacher), not to mention the final appearances of Matthew Beard (Stymie), Leonard Kibrick, Marianne Edwards, and Scotty Beckett. It also includes several fan-favorite episodes. In Beginner’s Luck, Spanky is forced to take part in a talent show while the gang tries to spoil his performance. (“Friends, Romans, and Countryman, lend me your ears!”) Sprucin’ Up features the gang cleaning up to earn the new girl’s attention after complaining about their mothers making them clean up. In Little Sinner, the kids skip out on Sunday school to go fishing. Our Gang Follies of 1936 is remembered as the one with the skeleton dance. Alfalfa sings “I’m in the Mood for Love” on the radio in The Pinch Singer, then struggles to sing after drinking lemonade made with starch instead of sugar in The Lucky Corner. (This batch of shorts frequently features the kids singing, dancing, and performing.) And Spanky and Alfalfa teach an elderly neighbor lady how to use a slingshot in Second Childhood. If you watched much of The Little Rascals on TV as a child, you’ll likely remember every single one of these classic shorts.
While a couple were directed by Fred Newmeyer (a veteran of several Harold Lloyd films) and Robert McGowan, the rest were 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 four volumes on Blu-ray (see our reviews here, here, here, and here) the result is impressive. The new HD presentation offers the cleanest and highest-resolution image available, easily besting the previous Genius Products/RHI Entertainment DVDs. Contrast is much improved and there’s more detail visible than was ever apparent in past TV broadcasts. 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. (As always however, they are a product of their time, so you should definitely 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 – 4:46)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 1 Trailer (HD – 2:44)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 2 Trailer – Lovesick (HD – 2:33)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 3 Trailer (HD – 2:24)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 4 Trailer (HD – 2:52)*
* 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 the amount of work that 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, 3, and 4 on Blu-ray.
The Little Rascals: Volume 6 (available for pre-order here, street date 6/14) will be the final release of the ClassicFlix Our Gang “sound” era Blu-rays and 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 in the months ahead. In the meantime, the remastered image here is lovely and these are some of the best shorts the series has to offer. ClassicFlix’s Little Rascals Blu-ray sets are highly recommended for fans of the series.
- Bill Hunt