During the Golden Age of Hollywood, most of the major studios had B-picture units that cranked out low budget albeit entertaining programmers to often fill the lower half of double bills. A group of actors at these studios were the kings and queens of those low-budget units: Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan at Universal, Ann Miller at Columbia, Ann Sothern at MGM, and Jane Withers at Fox. Jane Withers was so popular that she actually made it into the box-office top ten for two years running, and Rascals from 1938 proved to be one of her most well-liked movies. Pure hokum from start to finish, Rascals provides song and dance, a love story, some broad comedy, and Jane Withers playing her own version of Little Miss Fix-It that had proved so profitable for Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin in their movies.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 18 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/16/2013
When wealthy heiress Margaret Adams (Rochelle Hudson) stumbles into a gypsy camp after a heavy blow on the back of the head has robbed her of her memory, the gypsies take her in and make her one of the troupe teaching her how to be a fortune teller to bring in money with her looks and charm. She’s not the first one the group has taken in: heartsick Tony (Robert Wilcox) was earlier adopted by the group after the breakup of his previous relationship and has been hiding from the world with the help of young Gypsy (Jane Withers) and Gino (Borrah Minevitch) who runs the organization. The gypsies love having the amnesiac Margaret with them, but they feel it only fair to find a doctor who might be able to restore her memory. When they do and raise the money for her operation, it’s with the understanding that restoring her old memory may make her new friends into strangers once she reclaims her old life, a life she had actually run away from rather than be forced into an arranged marriage with a money-hungry baron (José Crespo) by her socially-conscious mother (Katharine Alexander) who cares only about adding a title to the family name.
The Production Rating: 3/5
The screenplay by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan is particularly silly in regards to Margaret’s plight making her into a brow-beaten woman who succumbs to her mother’s ridiculous wishes rather than exerting her own independence at such a ludicrous engagement (by the end, she’s like a zombie walking down the aisle rather than insisting she make her own decisions; she certainly has pluck and fortitude when she’s a gypsy literally fighting for Tony when another gypsy claims him). The silly story does allow for several musical numbers (score by Sidney Clare and Harry Akst), the best of which is “Take a Tip from a Gypsy” which puts Jane Withers front and center showcasing her very mediocre singing voice but an undoubted adeptness at tapping (a delightful stair step dance choreographed by the great Nick Castle). Director H. Bruce Humberstone does a rather sloppy job filming the big extravaganza “Song of the Gypsy Band” when the troupe puts on a show to raise money for Margaret’s operation, and you may never want to hear another harmonica as long as you live after the seemingly endless numbers in the movie with them as the accompaniment.
Jane Withers was twelve years old in this film, and it’s to Fox’s credit that she wasn’t glamorized or put on a strict diet letting her be a plumpish pre-teen full of sass and precocity. Rochelle Hudson was never much of an actress, but she’s certainly beautiful (waking up from her operation in full glamour make-up and styled hair was typical of Hollywood in these days) and makes a suitable romantic partner for the strapping Robert Wilcox who isn’t afraid to show genuine hurt and tear-filled eyes when he thinks of rejection by the women he’s loved. Borrah Minevitch, whose “gang” (as they’re billed) play the gypsies, has a kind of sub-Harry Ritz brand of comic zaniness that’s best in very small doses. Katharine Alexander as the selfish Mrs. Adams and José Crespo as the blustering baron do fine with their one-note characters.
The film has been presented in its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image quality throughout seems a bit artificially sharpened and isn’t especially pleasing. There are continual dust specks and debris, cue markers for reel changes, scratches, and an odd tendency to drift out of focus before being snapped back into focus. The grayscale is certainly more than adequate though the image seems just a tad dark and lacking in luster. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 8 chapters present here.
Video Rating: 2/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Once again, the volume has been encoded at excessive levels which will require user adjustment to prevent distortion. There is frequent buzz in the background which is distracting during quieter moments and some hiss, pops, and attenuated crackle, too, at times. But the dialogue is always discernible and is never overpowered by sound effects or the background music.
Audio Rating: 2/5
There are no bonus features with the Fox made-on-demand program, not even a trailer.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
One of the most well known of Jane Withers’ 1930s vehicles, Rascals is a painless way to pass an hour and a quarter. Fans of the star will likely enjoy having this finally on disc even if the picture and sound quality are both sub par.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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