DirectorRobert F. McGowan
Release Date(s)1929-1931 (August 3, 2021)
Studio(s)Hal Roach Studios/MGM (ClassicFlix)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- 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 the 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 2 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):
- Pups Is Pups (1930 – 18:39)
- Teacher’s Pet (1930 – 20:54)
- School’s Out (1930 – 20:51)
- Helping Grandma (1931 – 21:04)
- Love Business (1931 – 20:27)
- Little Daddy (1931 – 21:10)
- Bargain Day (1931 – 19:01)
- Fly My Kite (1931 – 21:04)
- Big Ears (1931 – 21:08)
- Shiver My Timbers (1931 – 21:02)
- Dogs Is Dogs (1931 – 20:53)
Of note is the fact that all of these (and many more in the series) 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 or other safety elements.
As was the case with Volume 1 on Blu-ray (see our review 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; it’s a night and day difference. Contrast is greatly improved and there’s much more detail visible now than was apparent in TV broadcasts over the years. 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, etc. But while I’ve been watching these shorts for my entire life, I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time here. Better still, the shorts are 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, the good news is that the original nitrate sound elements were usable this time, so ClassicFlix has done so. And their audio restoration is impressive too, presented here in 2.0 mono in 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 DVD. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The Blu-ray includes three special features, as follows:
- Restoration Comparison (HD – 5:16)
- The Little Rascals: Volume 1 Trailer (HD – 2:45)
- A Night in Casablanca Trailer (HD – 2:18)
Once more, the restoration clip is remarkable, as it allows you to compare the raw film scans to the final restored image for scenes from a few of the shorts. When you see just how much work was required to bring the image back from its poor current condition, I think you’ll agree with me that the result is close to miraculous. There are also trailers for the restored Marx Brothers film A Night in Casablanca (1946) and The Little Rascals: Volume 1 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. In fact, Volume 3 is already on the way (street date is October 19–the set will contain the next batch of 11 shorts from 1932 and 1933, and you can pre-order it here). The remastered image on this release is beautiful and the shorts are a hoot, as always. If you’re as fond of them as I am, or just appreciate great film restoration work, this release is highly recommended!
- Bill Hunt