THE LITTLE RASCALS
The Complete Collection
Review by Michael Jacobson
Creator: Hal Roach
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Genius Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 1375 Minutes
Release Date: October 28, 2008
The Little Rascals have been one of cinema’s enduring comic creations…so much so that even in my own youth, a local station used to run the shorts on Saturday mornings. And I watched…often in lieu of the cartoons that other networks were exhibiting!
Legend has it that the idea for the series came to legendary producer Hal Roach when he was just watching some kids playing outside his office window, and he was amazed at how much time flew by while he was engaged in their fun. Starting in the early days of sound and proceeding for a decade, he would amass an unparalleled cast of young talent that for me, continues to set the bar for juvenile film performers. He would dub his creation Our Gang and make 80 classic shorts with them for his own studio.
The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection amasses all 80 of these comedy classics, fully restored and uncut, and chronicling Hal Roach’s years with his creation before selling the rights to MGM at the end of the 1930s. Fortunately for fans, since MGM’s attempts to continue the series were lackluster, Roach was able to buy back his films and rights…everything but the name “Our Gang”. The shorts would find a new outlet in the emerging medium of television, and with a new, longer lasting name…The Little Rascals.
Who could ever forget them? Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Buckwheat, Butch and more. They got into and out of trouble with mischievous ingenuity, but it was even better when one or more got the comeuppance they deserved. Who could forget Spanky on stage in full Roman garb, trying to give a dramatic performance while his friends pepper him with pea shooters? Or Alfalfa’s terrible voice and frequent approaches toward the lovely Darla, always getting him in trouble with the He-Man Woman Haters Club?
Or how about Buckwheat, in one of the movie’s first truly integrated ensembles, where he was treated as just another kid? Or the eternally fearsome Butch and his run-ins with the kids? How about Pete the dog, back when pit bulls didn’t seem so fearsome?
It was all magically hysterical, and the comedy remains eternal, thanks to the genius of Roach and the perfect young stars who anchored each delightful story with all the timing and delivery of seasoned pros. This lengthy 8 disc set is an absolute treasure trove of American cinema history.
Small Talk, Railroadin’, Boxing Gloves, Lazy Days, Bouncing Babies, Moan & Groan, Inc., Shivering Shakespeare (all 1929); The First Seven Years, When the Wind Blows, Bear Shooters, A Tough Winter, Teacher’s Pet, School’s Out (all 1930); Helping Grandma, Love Business, Little Daddy, Bargain Day, Fly My Kite, Big Ears, Shiver My Timbers, Dogs Is Dogs, Readin’ and Writin’ (all 1931); Free Eats, Spanky, Choo-Choo!, The Pooch, Hook and Ladder, Free Wheeling, Birthday Blues, A Lad an’ a Lamp (all 1932); Fish Hooky, Forgotten Babies, The Kid From Borneo, Mush and Milk, Bedtime Worries, Wild Poses (all 1933); Hi’-Neighbor, For Pete’s Sake, The First Round-Up, Honky-Donkey, Mike Fright, Washee Ironee, Mama’s Little Pirate, Shrimps for a Day (all 1934); Anniversary Trouble, Beginner’s Luck, Teacher’s Beau, Sprucin’ Up, The Lucky Corner, Little Papa, Little Sinner, Our Gang Follies of 1936 (all 1935); Divot Diggers, The Pinch Singer, Second Childhood; Arbor Day; Two Too Young; Pay As You Exit, Spooky Hooky (all 1936); Reunion in Rhythm, Glove Taps, Hearts Are Thumps, Three Smart Boys, Rushin’ Ballet; Roamin’ Holiday; Night ‘N’ Gales; Fishy Tales; Framing Youth; The Pigskin Palooka; Mail and Female; Our Gang Follies of 1938 (all 1937); Canned Fishing, Bear Facts, Three Men in a Tub, Came the Brawn; Feed ‘Em and Weep, The Awful Tooth, and Hide and Shriek (all 1938).
These remastered short films look good for their age…naturally, they still exhibit some of the wears and tears of time, but occasional splotches and scratches don’t diminish the enjoyment. The black and white photography is fairly well presented with decent contrast. Overall, the best I’ve seen The Rascals look on home video!
The audio also belies its age, but no more than expected. It was the early days of sound recording, so you have to figure on some pops and hisses in the background, as well as minimal dynamic range. Clarity of the spoken words is generally fine, if naturally a little thin.
Scattered throughout the shorts are various introductions and commentaries from film historians. There is also a multi-part documentary “Catching Up With the Rascals”, plus the story of Hal Roach and Our Gang, a look at the racial issues in and around the films, and three original silent era shorts.
The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection is an astoundingly generous set for fans of classic comedy. This is 23 hours of your life very well spent!