DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: The Our Gang Collection (Warner Archives)

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The Our Gang Collection (Warner Archives)

    The Our Gang Collection

     

    Directed By: Gordon Douglas, George Sidney, Edward L. Cahn, Bud Murray, Herbert Glazer, Sam Baerwitz, Cy Endfield


    Starring: George "Spanky" McFarland, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Darla Hood, Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas, Eugene "Porky" Lee, Tommy "Butch" Bond, Mickey Gubitosi (aka "Robert Blake"), and Billy "Froggy" Laughlin


    Studio: Warner Archive
     
    Year: 2009
     
    Rated: Not Rated
     
    Film Length: 572 minutes
     
    Aspect Ratio: 4:3
     
    Subtitles: None
     
    Release Date: September 1, 2009

    Late last year, fans of the Our Gang series of shorts were treated to a box set with a complete and (mostly ) uncut collection of the Hal Roach produced talkies in the series from RHI entertainment and Genius Products.  These were the shorts that many adults likely remember from the syndicated television packages that kept the "Little Rascals" eternally young several decades after they all reached adulthood.  This left two eras of the Our Gang  theatrical short series unanthologized on DVD in the US and Canada.  The Roach produced silent entries in the series from 1922-1929 and the MGM produced one-reelers from 1938-1944.  This five-disc release addresses the latter, and contains all 52 shorts produced by MGM, who had been distributing the series for over a decade before taking over production. 
     

    The Films ***½


    The conventional wisdom says that when Hal Roach handed over the production keys of his Our Gang series to MGM in 1938, the series lost its way, got progressively more forced and unfunny, and died on the vine in less than six years.  While there is a lot of truth to this party line, there were also a number of very entertaining shorts produced by MGM, especially in the first couple of years.  There was also some ebb and flow to the quality of the shorts in the series rather than a steady decline, but by the last few years of its run, things did get pretty dull.

    After the first two theatrical shorts were directed by Roach-era holdover, Gordon Douglas, George Sidney directed most of the shorts for the first year at MGM.  Edward L. Cahn picked up the baton in mid-1939 and Herbert Glazer directed most shorts produced after mid-1942.  Sidney's shorts tend to be the best of the three primary MGM directors, although as is the case for all three, the shorts he directed near the end of his run are not as good as his earlier ones.  Compared to the Roach shorts, the MGM one-reelers are much more heavily plotted and the young actors were apparently required to adhere closer to the scripts, resulting in some awkward line readings.  This is not initially a fatal flaw, but combined with growing tendencies by MGM to insert "moral lessons" in the scripts and stick with their most popular child stars for too long (Alfalfa and Spanky were in their early teens when they left) the charm of the series was eventually diluted.

    Fans of Our Gang's Roach-era heyday will sometimes direct a lot of vitriol towards the children who were added to the cast through the MGM years, but I think that most of the problems can be firmly pinned on the writing.  Mickey Gubitosi may strike a viewer as strident and annoying in a film like Baby Blues, but any seven year old kid given the specific dialog written for his character (let alone the amount of dialog written for his character) in his first scene crying for attention while his mother deals with pregnancy issues, is going to come across as selfish, petulant, and annoying.  When characters like Alfalfa and Darla were replaced by Froggy (a one-joke character who did little but mess-up aphorisms in a bizarre Popeye-ish voice) and Janet (a polished musical performer who did not quite fit in with the amateurish charm that defined the series at its best), it was difficult to say whether it was the performers themselves or the rigid scripts that were turning the characters one-dimensional, polishing all of the rough edges, and robbing the series of its charm.

    The shorts are presented chronologically on the discs as listed below.  The first short of each calender year is indicated via parentheses as well as bits of casting trivia.


    1. Joy Scouts (first appearance of "Mickey")
    2. Dog Daze (Scotty Beckett's final appearance - as "Wilbur")
    3. Auto Antics (Final appearance of "Porky")
    4. Captain Spanky's Showboat
    5. Dad for a Day (Bit part for Arthur Q. Bryan  - the future voice of Elmer Fudd)
    6. Time out for Lessons (Final appearance of "Woim")
    7. Alfalfa's Double (1940)
    8. The Big Premiere
    9. All About Hash (First appearance of Janet Burston - although her character was not named "Janet" and she would not be a series regular for another two years)
    10. The New Pupil (First appearance of "Froggy" - although he is called "Harold")
    11. Bubbling Troubles (Final appearance of "Butch")

    Disc Three
    1. Good Bad Boys
    2. Waldo's Last Stand (Appropriately titled final appearance of "Waldo")
    3. Goin' Fishin'
    4. Kiddie Kure (Final appearance of "Alfalfa")
    5. Fightin' Fools (1941) (Final appearance of "Leonard" aka "Percy")
    6. Baby Blues
    7. Ye Olde Minstrels
    8. 1-2-3 Go!
    9. Robot Wrecks
    10. Helping Hands
    11. Come Back, Miss Pipps

    Disc Four
    1. Wedding Worries (Final appearance of "Darla")
    2. Melodies Old and New (1942) ("Janet" becomes a series regular)
    3. Going to Press
    4. Don't Lie
    5. Surprised Parties
    6. Doin' Their Bit
    7. Rover's Big Chance
    8. Mighty Lak a Goat
    9. Unexpected Riches (Final appearance of "Spanky")
    10. Benjamin Franklin, Jr. (1943) (First appearance of "Dickie" and "Happy")
    11. Family Troubles

    Disc Five
    1. Calling All Kids
    2. Farm Hands
    3. Election Daze
    4. Little Miss Pinkerton
    5. Three Smart Guys
    6. Radio Bugs (1944)
    7. Dancing Romeo
    8. Tale of a Dog


    The Video ***

    All of the shorts are presented in 4:3 black and white video appropriate for their original theatrical presentations.  The transfers are solid, although they are clearly derived from sources a few generations removed from the original negatives.  A few of the slightly rougher looking shorts may be derived from prints, but everything appears to at least be sourced from 35mm elements.  Densities look very consistent although contrast and grain levels will sometimes vary with the source element from title to title.   Light element damage including both positive and negative speckling is noticeable but never severe or distracting.  The video transfers all appear to have been done recently (within at least the last ten years) with no signs of combing or composite video artifacts.  Altogether, the presentation exceeded my modest expectations.

    The Audio **½


    The English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio has substantial background hiss, but has otherwise very good fidelity without noise reduction artifacts.  The fidelity does improve as the series progresses, but since the shorts are arranged chronologically, there is never a severe change in audio quality from one title to the next.  There are occasionally noticeable changes in average volume level from short to short that can be jarring when watching via the "Play All" option.  No subtitle options or alternate language tracks are present.

     

    The Extras ½


    The discs have no extras.
      

    Packaging


    The five DVDs come packaged in a "fatboy" case with two hinged trays, one containing two discs on opposite facing sides of the tray and one containing a single disc.  The first and fifth discs are in the inner parts of the case.  Menus are straightforward with the only options being "Play All", and "Theatrical Shorts".  The menu for selecting shorts uses the title card as the graphic representing each short.  Kudos to Warner for actually calling them theatrical shorts rather than "episodes".
     

    Summary ***


    Warner Archive's The Our Gang Collection gives Our Gang/Little Rascal completists exactly what they want and nothing more.  All of the post Hal Roach MGM one-reel theatrical shorts in one box set of five burned to order DVD-Rs.  Transfers are solid although clearly derived from sources a few generations removed from the original negatives.  This results in some higher than ideal contrast with occasional light positive and negative "speckling".  Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio has substantial background hiss, but has otherwise very good fidelity without noise reduction artifacts.  Hardcore fans will be pleased to own the complete set, and casual fans will likely enjoy the first two discs in the set, although as the series progresses through the 1940s, they seem to be running our of creative and comedic gas.

    Regards,
     
  2. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    "Unanthologized?!?"
     
  3. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Originally Posted by Mike Frezon
     
  4. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Already in the plans!
     
  5. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    I also received an advance copy of this title.

    I agree with Ken that the transfers exceeded my overall
    expectations after seeing some of the other titles that
    have come out of the Warner Archive.

    Our Gang fans (like myself) will be pleasantly pleased
    with what Warner has done here.

    Between the Hal Roach set recently released by Genius
    Entertainment, and now this Warner effort, I am a very
    happy collector overall.

    Now to get the silents....
     
  6. Ed Moroughan

    Ed Moroughan Second Unit

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    Thanks for the review Ken. I might have to stick my toe in the Warner Archive finally.
     
  7. Mark B

    Mark B Supporting Actor

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    This looks like the best release yet in the Archive. Things are looking up.
     
  8. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    Hmm.

    I'm a big fan of the Hal Roach OUR GANG period, but I've never enjoyed these later MGM shorts much. I was thinking of passing this up, but now that I see it here with my own eyes, I may take a chance. Although the handful of films I've seen from this period are pretty bad, it's true I haven't seen all of them. Maybe there are a few nuggets to be discovered.

    By the way - what's the price on this?
     
  9. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

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    Joe the price is currently $34.95 which is not bad at all.
    More than likely these are the same prints released for the laserdisc box released 11 or 12 years back. I think I'll have to dust that off and view a few and then decide if its worth selling that off and upgrading to this or not.
     
  10. WadeM

    WadeM Supporting Actor

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    Not seeing updates on the silents : http://www.laughsmith.com/

    Not sure how much I'd like these MGM shorts, but at that price, it's gonna be hard for me to not get it.
    I've been holding off a bit on buying DVDs, but this is tempting.
     
  11. Tony S

    Tony S Stunt Coordinator

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    I have been very skeptical of the Warner Archives due the the dvd-r issue. I have skimmed over a lot of that thread and since they seem to be a lot better quality than home burned dvd's I am very tempted to get this release.
     
  12. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    One thing I was wondering is, wouldn't this particular release be a candidate for "official" Warner release on a regular DVD set? It's one thing to release obscurities that aren't as likely to sell much, but I think the name OUR GANG (or THE LITTLE RASCALS) would ensure a good amount of sales. I think this is what some fans wrere concerned about regarding The Warner Archive.
     
  13. DeWilson

    DeWilson Cinematographer

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    But are the OUR GANG shorts UNCUT - There are several WWII era shorts that have a heavy "Kill Japs" and "Kill Nazi" flavor and even dialog in them!.
     
  14. David Mahlan

    David Mahlan Stunt Coordinator

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    The e-mail I received from Warners announcing the Our Gang release carried this disclaimer:

    [SIZE= larger]The Our Gang Collection is intended for the Adult Collector and is not suitable for children.[/SIZE]

    That kind of surprised me, but perhaps it was due to these sentiments that require a historic context many kids lack.
     
  15. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The blackface segment (inclusive of a gag where Buckwheat is shown in "whiteface") is left intact in "Ye Olde Minstrels". If they were going to censor stuff, that would normally be one of the first things to go.

    Also, the stage-comic routine between Froggy and Spanky In Doin' Their Bit where they talk about "Jap-killin'" is completely intact as well.

    Regards,
     
  16. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor

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    In several of the Warner chats, they always stood firm in that they did not have any plans to produce a DVD set of shorts as they did for Laser. That was despite all the crys for the Joe McDoakes, Traveltakes, Pete Smith Specialties and Our Gang to be released. I am glad that they are trying this through WA and happy for the announcement of the Joe McDoakes and Dogville Comedies. I expect this is the only way that they would be released. These shorts released in the WA does not worry me, what would worry me is if they announced Show Boat Collection or Raintree County in the WA. That would be the end of the world.
     
  17. Tony Bensley

    Tony Bensley Producer

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    I know that this is a very old Topic, but am I the only one who's not seeing the Titles from Disc 1 listed? The reason I ask this is because of some of the odd irregularities that have been occurring recently with the HTF revamping!


    CHEERS! :)
     
  18. Tony Bensley

    Tony Bensley Producer

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    Hi Ken!


    I've taken the liberty of adding in the Disc 1 entries, as these aren't present for reasons unbeknownst (I have no way of knowing whether they were deleted by some technical error, or if you didn't include them, in the first place?) to me! In addition, I've included more casting/directing trivia, and other milestones.


    I hope you don't mind!


    CHEERS! :)


    Tony
     
  19. Tony Bensley

    Tony Bensley Producer

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    Just a few minutes ago, I gave in to a perverse temptation to view LITTLE MISS PINKERTON (1943), which in my opinion represents the absolute nadir of the MGM 'Our Gang' shorts!

    In terms of being as bad as I remember, this stinker never disappoints! In my opinion, pretty much everything about it is bad; the bad writing; Janet Burston's generally bad acting, including an apparent incapability of correctly pronouncing Froggy, which she mispronounces "FROH-GE"; and the whole premise of a kindly Custodian getting murdered in an alleged Comedy! I honestly wonder whether MGM used some rejected "Crime Does Not Pay" series writers for this? It's really that bad! :P


    Even the print on the Warner Archive set that this short derives from isn't particularly good, with slightly uneven framing, and a brief but noticeable tear in the Film during the chase scene. Nevertheless, the visual quality is probably the best thing about this short! This should be called "Little Miss Stinkerton"! :D


    Spoiler Alert:
    When "FROH-GE" (Froggy) swallows the key a second time at Film's end, I just wince! :P


    CHEERS! :)
     
    Randy Korstick likes this.
  20. Tony Bensley

    Tony Bensley Producer

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    More about LITTLE MISS PINKERTON:


    Last night, I read a post on another forum, in which it was pointed out that since the "Our Gang" series was by now losing money, MGM attempted to take the series in a different direction, and was produced along the lines of their long running "Crime Does Not Pay" two reel short subject series, in a last ditch bid to save it!


    Besides this being in my opinion, a most ill advised move, that Janet Burston's chance to shine disintegrated into what was perhaps her most awkward display of acting yet, certainly didn't help matters! While LITTLE MISS PINKERTON wasn't the biggest money loser among the MGM 'Our Gang' comedies (?), there's little doubt that the failure of this short to recoup its expenses at the Box Office, put the final nail in the coffin of this long time remarkably successful series! Only four more 'Our Gang' shorts were made before MGM permanently shut down its production in the autumn of 1943 (Though the last 3 shorts weren't released until April, 1944!), with the cancellation of its last in production short, HOME FRONT COMMANDOS.


    CHEERS! :)
     

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