Passport Video // 2004 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 29th, 2004
Whether you know them as The Little Rascals or Our Gang, they're still the most entertaining bunch of kids ever to grace the silver screen.
When most people hear the name of The Little Rascals, many think about Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the gang. Those fans are going to be disappointed with Passport Video's collection. Most of the shorts have been culled from the silent Pathé Studios era, which were populated with the likes of Farina, Fatty Joe Cobb, and Jackie Condon among others. Once the initial disappointment fades away, those fans will find much to enjoy in this compilation. The historical value is significant and the chance to see the often hard to locate silent era goes a long way.
Eleven shorts -- seven silent and four sound -- have been compiled onto four discs. On a scale of zero to four stars:
* Dogs of War (1923)
War games spill onto the Pathé movie lot; Harold Lloyd makes a guest appearance.
* Derby Day (1923)
After watching a horse race, the Rascals decide to get a piece of the action by staging their own faux race.
* Stage Fright (1923)
Farina and the Rascals are cast in a school play and proceed to turn it upside down. Several minutes of footage are missing from this short, causing much disjointedness.
* The Sundown Limited (1924)
Mickey (not the Mickey who would become Robert Blake in later years) and Joe create their own railroad, with disastrous results.
* The Buccaneers (also known as The Pirates; 1924)
The Rascals' homemade pirate ship sinks, and they take refuge on another boat. The only problem is that the boat is headed for a showdown with the Navy. Footage is missing from this short, causing some gaps in continuity.
* Mary, Queen of Tots (1925)
Little Mary is bilked out of her allowance by a vile nanny, leading to a fantasy of escape and revenge.
* The Fourth Alarm (1926)
After putting out a small fire, the Rascals open their own fire department.
* School's Out (1930)
Little Jackie Cooper doesn't want to see Miss Crabtree leave. When he mistakes her brother for a potential suitor, he and the kids decide to intervene.
* Bear Shooters (1930)
A camping trip ends in havoc when a crook in a bear suit is mistaken for the real thing.
* Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1937)
Alfalfa wants to stop crooning and become a tenor in this short that gives new meaning to the maxim "Be careful what you wish for."
* Waldo's Last Stand (1940)
Alfalfa decides to help Waldo perk up his dwindling lemonade business by staging a revue. Robert Blake, then known under his real name of Mickey Gutobsi, appears prominently.
Some may wonder why the gang is often referred to as The Little Rascals although the on-screen credits refer to them as either "Our Gang" or "Hal Roach presents His Rascals." When the series first began at Pathé Studios as a group of silent comedies, they were called the latter. After the series switched to sound, they reverted to the popular "Our Gang" moniker. When the shorts were sold for television in 1940, MGM refused to allow the "Our Gang" name to be used, because theatrical shorts were still being produced. As a result of MGM's stand, the name "The Little Rascals" was created, and that is how these shorts became known from then on.
No deep analysis is required for entertainment such as The Little Rascals/Our Gang. The premise remains similar throughout; a bunch of innocent children getting into all sorts of predicaments, often unintentionally and with the sincerest intentions. What is remarkable about these shorts is how the comedy is allowed to grow organically out of the situation and characters rather than being set up in a series of stale punch lines. There is a timeless quality to all these shorts, despite their being set in specific time periods. The reason is simple: Even as times change, there will always be children getting into the hair of adults everywhere. That never changes.
The child actors are simply amazing. They bring a natural quality that is so often lacking with today's child crowd. I have grown so tired of the wise-beyond-their-years type that always has a quick remark. What is refreshing about the children featured in this series is the innocence and sweetness they have, even during some of the darker moments and characterizations. My favorite Rascal has always been Jackie Cooper (best known as Perry White in the Superman films), who plays the cantankerous malcontent to perfection. All of the children are skilled performers whose performances are so natural and unaffected that it doesn't seem like they are acting. A lot of the credit goes to producer Hal Roach and longtime director Robert McGowan for tapping into their inner child to elicit these fine performances.
The Little Rascals Collection is brought to you by Passport Video, a studio specializing in releases of public-domain material (free of copyrights). The quality of public-domain prints tends to vary from source to source, and it is important to keep this in mind when viewing the eleven shorts that make up this collection. Some of the transfers, such as Derby Day, Dogs of War, and Bear Shooters look beautiful considering their age. Others, such as Stage Fright and The Buccaneers, look absolutely atrocious. The transfers all suffer from the telltale signs of age: blemishes, thick grain, flickering, and other assorted imperfections; these vary from short to short. I give the video a high score of 85 because Passport's work on this title far exceeds anything they have done before or since.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The audio is excellent for a public-domain release. While there are the expected aural defects such as crackling, hiss, and popping, they are not as plentiful or overwhelming as one would expect from a Passport Video release. The reason may lie in the fact that most of the silent shorts have a new organ score plastered onto the soundtrack. The remaining sound shorts vary from excellent to passable in quality.
Although they are not listed as extra content, the fifth disc contains two items that should be considered as such. "Our Gang Reunion" (1950) is a five-minute segment culled from the then-hit talk show You Asked for It. The sole virtue is the novelty value of seeing the child actors grown up, but that is virtue enough. Kid Stuff: Inside Hollywood's Child Stars (1992) is a 45-minute documentary that purports to take an in-depth look at the child stars of yesteryear. It is nothing more than a cut-and-paste job, however, with interviews and historical footage thrown together with little thought and feeling. The sole connection between this documentary and the subject matter is an all too brief interview with Tommy "Butch" Bond, who doesn't appear in a single short featured in this collection. If you have purchased Passport's sister release The Shirley Temple Collection, be prepared for a case of déja vu, as this miserable documentary also appears in that collection.
Passport Video's five-disc collection is both satisfying and frustrating. It gathers together a decent sampling of the rarely seen Pathé-era shorts, many of which have not been seen in almost four decades. The more familiar Rascals are not as well represented, but the four shorts included that feature them are among the best in their vast canon. The set falters with the terrible documentary and the uneven video and audio quality. Casual Rascals fans will wonder why more Alfalfa-Spanky-era adventures aren't offered in this collection. This set is aimed more toward hardcore Rascals fans who are curious about the Pathé years. Nevertheless, I recommend that both sides pick this set up.
Acquittals all around. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Passport Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Excerpt from the Classic Series You Asked for It: "Our Gang Reunion"
* Documentary: Kid Stuff: Inside Hollywood's Child Stars
* IMDb: Dogs of War
* IMDb: Derby Day
* IMDb: Stage Fright
* IMDb: Sundown Limited
* IMDb: The Buccaneers
* IMDb: Mary, Queen of Tots
* IMDb: The Fourth Alarm
* IMDb: School's Out
* IMDb: Bear Shooters
* IMDb: Our Gang Follies of 1938
* IMDb: Waldo's Last Stand