Artisan // 1936 // 190 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // January 8th, 2004
Rare and remastered, The Little Rascals are back in all their original glory!
It boggles the mind how a studio like Artisan can take a treasured property like Hal Roach's Our Gang comedies and release disconnected bits and pieces with very little thought. One would think The Little Rascals, Volumes 3 and 4 would follow the same format as The Little Rascals, Volumes 1 and 2 -- but that would be assuming too much. While there are some great films included in this collection, the packaging is a complete mess.
First and foremost, there is no mention of a Volume 3 or 4 anywhere on this disc. Whereas Volumes 1 and 2 were a repackaging of the Cabin Fever video series (complete with Leonard Maltin intros), it would appear Artisan has swiped yet another packaged release from a completely different studio and put their name on it. What's more frustrating, these films are indexed individually and linearly, meaning you must scroll through each film page (complete with scene selections) one by one in order to find the particular film you are interested in. However, there is a play all option on the main menu, for those so inclined. Why they didn't continue with the well executed Cabin Fever series is beyond me, but here's what you can expect to see.
Teacher's Pet (1930, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Jackie, Farina, Chubby, Wheezer, Stymie (in his Rascals debut), Dorothy, and Mary Ann.
It's the first day of school and the gang is plotting to haze their new teacher by giving her "the business." Jack, the mastermind, has given everyone a task and will orchestrate the entire assault. Given a ride to school by the kind and beautiful new lady in town, Jack is instantly smitten. Imagine his horror, when this lady walks into the classroom as their new teacher, Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe). Now Jack must foil his own plans in order to save his hide. The first of many wonderful Miss Crabtree episodes, these films showcase the best and most memorable Rascals moments.
School's Out (1930, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Jackie, Farina, Chubby, Wheezer, Stymie, Dorothy, and Mary Ann.
In the follow-up to Teacher's Pet, we find Jack and the gang discussing their adoration of Miss Crabtree and voicing concern over losing her to marriage, like their previous teacher. When a good-looking gentleman comes calling for Miss Crabtree, the kids spring into action to ensure she won't marry him. Unfortunately for them, the gentleman turns out to be her brother. Pay close attention to the pop quiz the kids are given for one of the Rascals' most classic moments. It doesn't get much better than this.
Readin' and Writin' (1932, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Kendall "Breezy" McComas, Stymie, Wheezer, Dorothy, and Pete the Pup.
Following the departure of Jackie Cooper (Hal Roach sold his contract to MGM, granting him the opportunity for bigger roles in feature films), Roach brought in the character of Breezy to fill the void as the gang's lynchpin. Unfortunately, he never quite lived up to expectations. In this last entry of the Miss Crabtree series, the summer is over and the gang is headed back to school. Everyone is excited, except for Breezy, who would rather be a streetcar conductor and does everything he can to get into trouble. When Miss Crabtree expels Breezy, he sets off to explore his newfound freedom, discovering adulthood is not everything it's cracked up to be. This all-Breezy episode falls well short of the work done by Dickie Moore and Jackie Cooper, which is probably why he didn't stay around for very long.
Spooky Hooky (1936, MGM)
Directed by Gordon Douglas. Featuring Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and Porky.
The circus is in town and the boys plot to get out of school and attend. Leaving a fake doctor's note on their teacher's desk at the end of the day, the boys later learn their class will be taking a field trip to the circus the next day. Now they must break into the school and retrieve the note before tomorrow arrives. One of the classic later era Rascal films, the spotlight is on the prankster Porky and scaredy-cat Buckwheat who deliver the biggest laughs.
For Pete's Sake (1934, MGM)
Directed by Gus Meins. Featuring Wally Albright, Spanky, Scotty, Stymie, Tommy, Buckwheat, and Pete the Pup.
Wally's sister is home sick when town bully Leonard (Leonard Kibrick) steals and destroys her doll, just for laughs. Now it's up to Wally and the gang to replace the doll and teach Leonard a lesson. When the doll they want is too expensive, Leonard's dad (the toy shop owner) offers to trade the doll in exchange for their dog, Pete -- who will guard the store and serve as Leonard's pet. Unable to raise enough money on their own, Wally reluctantly agrees, only to have the doll taken back when one of the gang accidentally breaks a toy. An angry Pete turns on Leonard and his father and he offers the doll up to get them out of his store before everything is destroyed. An otherwise average film, the highlight here is yet another classic turn by the wisecracking duo of Spanky and Scotty.
The Kid From Borneo (1933, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Dickie, Spanky, Stymie, Wheezer, Dorothy, Tommy, and Pete the Pup.
Mom's favorite brother, Uncle George, arrives in town with his traveling carnival. Pop hates Uncle George and wants his family to have nothing to do with him. This forces the kids to visit the carnival and seek him out. When the kids mistake the sideshow's Wild Man of Borneo is actually Uncle George, all heck breaks loose. A wild chase through town ends up in the house where it's Spanky who must tame Uncle George before he destroys the place. Non-stop laughs from start to finish, this has to be one of the funniest Rascals shorts of all time!
Dogs is Dogs (1931, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Wheezer, Stymie, Dorothy, and Pete the Pup.
One of the series' darker episodes, Wheezer is the half-brother of devious and manipulative Sherwood, whose mother (Blanche Payson) despises her stepson and his no-good father. As a result, Wheezer is routinely persecuted, beaten, and forced to do all the work. When the witch goes into town running errands, Sherwood manages to get Pete into trouble and put in the dog pound. Just when things are at their darkest, Wheezer's auntie arrives in a limousine to rescue Pete from the pound. More importantly, she rescues Wheezer and his sister from a horrible life and takes them home to be with their father, who has been too ill to come for them. More reality driven than many of the Rascals shorts, many find it to be quite heartwarming. I can pass.
The Pooch (1932, MGM)
Directed by Robert McGowan. Featuring Stymie, Spanky, Wheezer, Dorothy, Breezy, and Pete the Pup.
Stymie is on the outs with the gang for stealing, but wins them over when he rescues all of their dogs from the evil dogcatcher. Unfortunately, in the process, Stymie's dog Pete is captured and he must come up with $5 to save him before he's put down. When a $5 bill drops the sky (blown from the hand of a passing shopper), the police accuse Stymie of stealing and the chase is on. Eluding his pursuers, Stymie arrives at the pound only to be told his dog is dead, which isn't true. Pete and Stymie are happily reunited and the dogcatcher gets it in the end -- literally. A showcase for Matthew "Stymie" Beard, this is one of the Rascals' patented chase episodes and one of the more touching in the series.
Dog Heaven (1927, MGM)
Directed by Anthony Mack. Featuring Joe Cobb, Wheezer, Farina, and Pete the Pup.
One of the series' early silent shorts, this one shows us the world through Pete's eyes. A despondent doggie wants to end his life when his best friend Joe deserts him for a girl. The now anthropomorphized pooch is commiserating with his fellow canines and drinking himself into oblivion until he's forced into action to save his former master's new girlfriend from drowning. Joe, realizing his dog is a hero, returns just in time to stop Pete from hanging himself and a joyful reunion ensues. Strangely effective, this film proves Roach was ahead of his time.
Sprucin' Up (1935, MGM)
Directed by Gus Meins. Featuring Spanky, Scotty, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and Pete the Pup.
When a cute little girl (Marianne Edwards) moves in across the street, the boys fall all over themselves trying to impress her. Spanky has the upper hand until Alfalfa shows him up. As the two attempt to one-up each other, the object of their affection is won over by her previous boyfriend, leaving the others flat. This film marks the beginning of the end for the duo of Spanky and Scotty, as Alfalfa steals focus and comes front and center as Spanky's friend and rival -- a theme that will last for years to come.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, these films, while diligently restored, still suffer from years of neglect. For those expecting a superior transfer, you'll be sorely disappointed. The same holds true for the audio -- Dolby 1.0 mono -- which sounds like a great vinyl album found at a garage sale, complete with pops, crackles, and hiss. They may not be perfect, but being able to watch these tiny comedic masterpieces uncut and uncensored is what's most important.
The surprising treat here can be found in the bonus materials -- a 49 minute documentary entitled Hal Roach: Hollywood's King of Laughter, narrated by Penn Jillette. This touching and informative piece, including interviews with some of the biggest names in comedy, provides a wealth of information and insight into the man who mastered and defined film comedy as we know it today. The remaining features aren't worth much at all -- a trivia game, fun facts, photo gallery, cast bios, and studio trailers.
If you ignore Artisan's errant packaging (Dolby 2.0 Stereo? I don't think so), mislabeling (The Hal Roach Documentary is called one thing on the case and another on the menu, both of which don't come close to the actual title), and poor marketing strategy, you will find a treasure trove of laughs within. Again, longtime fans of the series more than likely have the entire Cabin Fever video series, which is far and away more comprehensive than this disc. However, for those who are looking to add The Little Rascals to their comedy collection, you can't go wrong with this $19.98 investment. This court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 190 Minutes
Release Year: 1936
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Documentary: Hal Roach: Hollywood's King of Laughter
* Trivia Game
* Fun Facts
* Cast Bios
* Studio Trailers
* IMDb: Teacher's Pet
* IMDb: School's Out
* IMDb: Readin' and Writin'
* IMDb: Spooky Hooky
* IMDb: For Pete's Sake!
* IMDb: The Kid from Borneo
* IMDb: Dogs Is Dogs
* IMDb: The Pooch
* IMDb: Dog Heaven
* IMDb: Sprucin' Up