The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 gives us more of what we crave: eleven more of Hal Roach’s masterful two-reel comedy shorts featuring his rascals in some of their funniest and most poignant adventures.
The Production: 4.5/5
The most important addition to Hal Roach’s unforgettable Our Gang crew in 1932 is featured right on the cover of latest release of the classic shorts: The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3: George “Spanky” McFarland. An adorable tyke in checkered jodhpurs and tam o’ shanter with a feisty manner and innate screen charisma, it’s clear Hal Roach knew what he had once the child was placed before the camera in the second of the eleven shorts contained in this newest collection. He even titled the short featuring Spanky’s second appearance with his name and in the following two shorts, he for the first time gave one of the gang actual featured billing with a greeting to the audience, unprecedented in the history of the Our Gang comedies.
And Spanky lives up to his hype. At age three, he’s a natural before the camera whether he’s taking a bath, tossing money from an upstairs window, or in this collection’s finale episode “Forgotten Babies,” recounting the exploits of Tarzan and baby-sitting an assortment of mischievous toddlers who keep him on the go from beginning to end, “remarkable” as one of the tykes continually repeats. Continuing with the gang, Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard is often paired with Spanky in his first shorts and gets many great opportunities in this set of eleven films being especially exceptional in “The Pooch” as he finds himself out of the gang’s good graces and looking for a way to make amends. For me, he is the MVP of this set, reliably hilarious most of the time and always up for more serious moments where his ability to cry on cue is quite impressive.
With Jackie Cooper having left the series, it seems Hal Roach recruited a new “leader” for the gang in the person of Kendall McComas who plays Breezy Brisbane in the set’s first episode “Readin’ and Writin’” (which also marks June Marlowe’s last appearance as the unforgettable Miss Crabtree) and hangs around for seven additional installments but loses his place at the gang’s head once Dickie Moore joins the gang in “Hook and Ladder” often playing Spanky’s big brother who must endure his presence during the gang’s activities. Both Kendall and Dickie are excellent actors, Kendall showing off both his tough and tender sides in “Readin’ and Writin’” and Dickie his poignancy in “Birthday Blues” when he does everything he can think of to get enough money to buy his mother a birthday present after his father thoughtlessly brushed off her special day and broke her heart. As with so many of the Our Gang shorts, slapstick is fundamental, but there were more than occasional dips into sentimentality and touching, affectionate love that gave the series its heart in addition to its hilarity.
And we must share a couple of kind words for some major work by some adults in these films. Foremost among them is the prissy officiousness of Del Henderson as he must serve as chaperone for the rowdy gang on an overnight train trip to return them (mistakenly) to an orphanage in “Choo-Choo!” June Marlowe’s Miss Crabtree is always a delight and gets to go out with a great flourish on the gang’s first day of school in “Readin’ and Writin’.” Billy Gilbert as a selfish father in “Spanky” and May Wallace as a jill-of-all-trades playing either a mother or a matron always make the most of their opportunities. The memorable dwarfs Clarence Howerton and Tony Lawrence are disguised as infants who cleverly steal money and jewelry at a garden party in “Free Eats.” And how about Hal Roach bringing back two of his first rascals for encore appearances now as adults: Mary Kornman as the gang’s new teacher and freckled-faced Mickey Daniels as the new district truant officer in “Fish Hookey” (which also featured cameo appearances by Joe Cobb and Farina Hoskins, too).
Here are the eleven shorts contained on the single disc in this Volume 3 edition:
1 – Readin’ and Writin’
2 – Free Eats
3 – Spanky
4 – Choo-Choo!
5 – The Pooch
6 – Hook and Ladder
7 – Free Wheeling
8 – Birthday Blues
9 – A Lad an’ a Lamp
10 – Fish Hookey
11 – Forgotten Babies
3D Rating: NA
The shorts are displayed at the 1.37:1 aspect ratio and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While you might see a random scratch here and there and a soft shot or three (some of the soft focus sequences are clearly intentional), the majority of these shorts look astonishingly good with crisp, clean images and a startlingly good grayscale which features deep blacks and clean white levels. Never have they looked so clear and wonderfully dialed in as they do here. These are two-reel comedies with a couple of chapters each.
The ancient sound elements for these shorts are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound, but there is hiss, mostly softer than in earlier shorts in this series, in every one of these shorts. One can’t expect hefty fidelity in films this old, and you’d be right not to expect much bass in the mixes. Still, the audio quality is more than acceptable.
Special Features: 2/5
Restoration Comparison (4:59, HD): comparison featurette shows the often atrocious shape of what ClassicFlix had to work with in bringing this kind of astonishing quality to the images of these short comedies. Split-screen compares side-by-side images from the same film in before and after shots or sometimes we get split screen with before on the left and after on the right.
ClassicFlix Trailers (HD): The Little Rascals Volumes 1 and 2 and Zenobia.
The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 gives us more of what we crave: eleven more of Hal Roach’s masterful two-reel comedy shorts featuring his rascals in some of their funniest and most poignant adventures. Highly recommended!
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