No fan of Our Gang would think of going without The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2, the second in a series of releases which bring the beloved comedy shorts back to an eagerly awaiting public in near-pristine quality.
The Production: 4.5/5
ClassicFlix continues its awe-inspiring releases of Hal Roach’s classic Our Gang Comedies in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2. Covering the next eleven shorts in the sound period which were released in a fifteen month window between August 1930 and November 1931, this latest release sees the second generation of Our Gang thinning its numbers somewhat before the next generation of Rascals completely takes over. In the process we gain one of the most legendary members of the gang: Matthew “Stymie” Beard and lose some of the mainstays of the group: Jackie Cooper (who went on to become an Oscar-nominated actor and one of MGM’s biggest child stars of the early 1930s), Allen “Farina” Hosklns, Norman “Chubby” Chaney, and Mary Ann Jackson. Through it all, however, the genesis of the series remains intact: a group of precocious youngsters of mixed races and ethnicities playing together and exploring the fun and fears of childhood in equal measure.
Even more than in the last volume of the series, every one of these eleven shorts proves itself a classic, filled with hilarity not only with slapstick gags but also with witty puns and continual malapropisms. The comedy, however, is often mixed with the rougher aspects of life: living in poverty, occasional marital strife which the children must deal with, and cruel stepparents and occasional charlatans who try to cheat people whom the gang loves. “Pups Is Pups” gets the set off to a jolly start with the gang getting their pets all gussied up to enter a pet show (not understanding it’s just for purebreds and not for their motley collection of parrots, pigs, and goats). Wheezer wants to enter his collection of puppies who play hide-and-seek with him (and you’ll be super impressed with the amount of animal training which was required to make this a viable part of the story), but the pups go missing and Wheezer tries everything he can think of to find them. Like so many of these shorts, there’s as much heart as there is humor at the core of the story, undoubtedly one of the reasons why these shorts which are nearing the century mark can still elicit such strong reactions from all who view them.
One of the more notable additions to the adult cast in this group of films is June Marlowe who plays everyone’s favorite teacher Miss Crabtree: pretty, gentle, and sweet as can be. Making prominent appearances in five of the eleven shorts in this collection, she first appears as the gang’s new teacher replacing their beloved Miss McGillicuddy in “Teacher’s Pet.” The kids are sure they’re not going to like her, and Jackie especially has made plans with his buddies to disrupt her first day and then hopes to get expelled and subsequently go swimming. But everything backfires in a most hysterical way for Jackie as all his schemes come to naught. Jackie gets a tour de force sequence where he breaks down after humiliating himself but is forgiven by his understanding teacher, an ending that can still make one misty-eyed even today and allegedly is the sequence that won for Jackie Cooper the title role in Skippy which would bring him his Oscar nomination. What’s more, Jackie’s infatuation with Miss Crabtree enlivens two more series entries: “School’s Out” and “Love Business.”
Wheezer and Stymie emerge as the most prominent stars in this collection of shorts and each gets a showcase movie. For Wheezer, it’s both “Big Ears” where he fears his squabbling parents are going to get a divorce and proceeds to make himself sick to bring them back together and “Dogs Is Dogs” where an abusive stepmother (the unforgettably hatchet-faced Blanche Payson) makes his life a living hell with Petie’s very life on the line. For Stymie, it’s “Little Daddy” as Child Services is scheduled to remove him from the home he shares with older brother Farina once their father is arrested for moonshining. Stymie’s matter-of-fact roll-with-the-punches attitude and a collection of Rube Goldberg-style contraptions they have for work and play make this a most memorable comedy-drama.
One must also mention two heartwarming shorts featuring elderly Margaret Mann as the kindly neighborhood lady the kids all call “Grandma.” In both “Helping Grandma” and “Fly My Kite,” she’s being victimized by unscrupulous tricksters: a skinflint (Oscar Apfel) who’s trying to cheat her out of a handsome profit for selling her general store in the former and a charlatan son-in-law who’s robbed her of her life savings and hopes to swindle her out of $100,000 worth of gold edge securities in the latter. “Fly My Kite” in particular features not only a lot of slapstick but also more than a modicum of suspense as the gang flies to Grandma’s rescue once they realize their beloved friend is about to lose her fortune. And if this wasn’t enough, famed comedian Billy Gilbert makes two appearances in this collection as first a seafarer who so dazzles the gang with his tales of the sea that they continually skip school (much to Miss Crabtree’s annoyance) in “Shiver My Timbers” and as an irate neighbor tired of a pedigreed dog eating his chickens in “Dogs Is Dogs.”
3D Rating: NA
The eleven shorts are all presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from a tiny scratch here and there and an occasional soft close-up (likely the product of the original photography), the images are spotless. They’re also very sharp with a luscious grayscale that emphasizes rich black levels and crisp whites. Contrast has also been applied beautifully giving these shorts a luster heretofore unseen. Each of these shorts is two reels which makes their runtimes approximately twenty minutes.
The shorts all feature a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio mix. Though they certainly illustrate an advance in sound technique from the first eleven shorts in the initial volume (no segments here filmed silently with clear sound present that went unrecorded), the presentation on the discs still is marked by low-to-mid level hiss and some occasional crackle. Usually, it’s not distracting, and your laughter will normally drown out what’s coming from your center speaker anyway. All of the dialogue is easy to hear and understand, and the jaunty music used throughout including the gang’s famous theme “Good Old Days” by LeRoy Shield which was introduced in “Teacher’s Pet” sounds just fine.
Special Features: 2/5
Restoration Comparison (5:16, HD): before-and-after clips and side-by-side comparisons of excerpts from the shorts before and after restoration really show how much loving effort went into the beautiful transfers we are now enjoying.
The Little Rascals, Volume 1 Trailer (2:45, HD)
A Night in Casablanca Trailer (2:18, HD)
No fan of Our Gang would think of going without The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2, the second in a series of releases which bring the beloved comedy shorts back to an eagerly awaiting public in near-pristine quality. Highly recommended!
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