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Nearly a century ago, a group of kid actors were brought together by American film producer and director Hal Roach. Known as Our Gang, generations of movie and TV viewers would be more familiar with them under the name The Little Rascals.
In 2020, ClassicFlix, a home video label that focuses on restoring and releasing long neglected classic movies on Blu-ray and DVD, licensed all 80 Roach produced Rascals shorts. The goal was to create the best looking and sounding Little Rascals films for the home market. The result is the first in a series, The Little Rascals-The Classic Restorations, Vol. 1.
Several labels have released The Little Rascals films on DVD over the years, including Cabin Fever, Hallmark, RHI/Genius Products, and Vivendi. But, other than public domain releases, this is the first major Rascals Blu-ray collection.
ClassicFlix has done an outstanding job with the film restorations. In seven of the 11 Rascals movies included in this disc, the original nitrate film elements were used as a scanning source. The fact that the films, all from 1929 and 1930, have been scanned for Blu-ray is a major plus in terms of digital preservation, as nitrate film is fragile and highly flammable. For three of the shorts, acetate based safety film was used. One combined safety and nitrate film sources.
A comparison of the pre and post restoration of a few of the films are included as a special feature. At the beginning of ClassicFlix's work, the film prints appeared to be in poor condition. Lots of scratches were visible in the picture of Bear Shooters. Small Talk, the first Little Rascals sound short, had streaks in the frame and a dark picture. Bouncing Babies had both scratches and streaks in the image. The scratches were so abundant, they almost made for a rain-type effect. With ClassicFlix’s restorations, the images are now sharp, the darkness is gone, and the picture is steady.
"Bear Shooters" Restoration Comparison
The initial six Little Rascals films included here were produced just two years following Hollywood's first sound feature with dialogue, The Jazz Singer. In fact, a couple of shorts in the Blu-ray, Small Talk and Railroadin', are billed in their title screens as "Hal Roach presents His Rascals' Voices." The familiar theme song, “Good Old Days,” wasn't used until their 13th movie, Teacher's Pet. Thus, the audio in many of the films is primitive, and there are sequences in which there’s silence. It’s especially noticeable during the Joe (Joe Cobb) versus Chubby (Norman Chaney) bout in Boxing Gloves, in which the crowd is shown cheering but nothing is heard.
In Lazy Days, an empty baby carriage that Farina (Allen "Sonny" Hoskins) was previously using for his infant brother, breaks apart. The wheels and frame fall off and hit the ground. Initially, you hear a clicking noise, but when the buggy does go down and comes undone, it’s just quiet. These missing audio moments changed as more Rascals films were completed.
One inventive audio sequence is from a running gag in Bouncing Babies. Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) keeps throwing a light bulb into the street so he can cross an extremely busy intersection. The cars then all stop, with the drivers checking their car tires to make sure they're not flat. This allows Wheezer and Pete the Pup to safely make their way past the vehicles. So, we get to hear the glass of the bulb breaking, the screeching brakes, and even Pete's barking as the routine is repeated four times.
"Bouncing Babies" Restoration Comparison
A portion of the Rascals appeal is the fact that they appeared so natural on camera. You believe that Wheezer really doesn’t like his new baby brother receiving more attention than him in Bouncing Babies. Trading the baby for a goat, as Wheezer wants to do in the movie, is another story. Jackie (Jackie Cooper)’s facial expressions look like he’s actually feeling down in the dumps in the early section of The First Seven Years. “Gee, I wish I had a wife. All the kids has got one” he tells Officer Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy), Kennedy’s advice is for the boy to act like a caveman. That plan doesn’t work, as Jackie’s crush, Mary Ann (Mary Ann Jackson), ends up pummeling him!
"Moan & Groan, Inc."
Some people have voiced concerns over the years regarding the racial depictions in the Little Rascals comedies. But, author Richard Lewis Ward, in his 2005 book A History of the Hal Roach Studios, viewed the films from a different angle. Ward explained, " For the most part, the idea of black kids playing with white kids, going to the same school in the same classroom with white kids, was something that wasn’t seen much in American society in the 1920’s and 30’s. And so the films were quite revolutionary.”
One Rascals movie does feature comic actor Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry) whose routines definitely have been considered controversial. A Tough Winter, the final short on the disc, was basically a pilot for his own series of shorts for the Roach Studios. But, the project never came to fruition. Fetchit’s slow speech delivery and billing as "The World's Laziest Man" was all part of a character he was playing,. It’s said that Fetchit became the first Black actor to earn a million dollars and receive screen credit. But that didn't lessen the feelings about the character.
The Blu-ray disc has an aspect ratio of 1:37:1 with a 1080p resolution. Total running time is 223 minutes. Subtitles are in English only for this Region A Blu-ray release. The disc is housed in a clear Blu-ray case, with the plot line of each film listed inside. No booklet is included.
The disc itself begins with the trailer for Zenobia, a 1939 Roach Studios film starring Oliver Hardy (minus Stan Laurel) and Harry Langdon. The movie’s also part of the ClassicFlix catalog. The only other bonus feature is the aforementioned comparison between the films before and after the restorations.
When you select an individual short from the main menu, a brief intro from Small Talk and the Blu-ray's title appear each time before the movie starts. By choosing Play All, the intro is shown just once to begin the disc.
If you’re looking for the best quality early Little Rascals sound films on Blu-ray, your search is over. The Little Rascals:The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 is the clear choice. Recommended.
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