Friday, February 26, 2021

OUR GANG (a.k.a. THE LITTLE RASCALS) Are Finally Being Restored

Hal Roach's Our Gang series is one of the longest running and most prolific in the field of short subjects with 220 one- and two-reel comedies released between 1922 and 1944. The secret to the longevity of the series, as well as its appeal to generations long after its conclusion, is mainly due to Roach’s choice to cast kids who came across as “natural” on the screen—scruffy underdogs that moviegoers could identify with or wish they could be—not glossy “showbiz professionals.” We all know those characters: Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla, Pete and many others. 

After producing 88 silent Our Gang shorts, Roach transitioned to sound releasing 80 “talkies” in the series starting with Small Talk in 1929. It took time to fine-tune the adjustment from silent to sound, but soon the studio began firing on all cylinders producing classics like Shivering Shakespeare and The First Seven Years (both 1930). Personally, I find the silent shorts and the sound shorts from the Hal Roach collection to be gems. When the characters made the transition to MGM years later, the shorts were cut from 20 minutes in length to ten, and the magic (for the majority of the shorts) was not there. 

To be fair, it was not the studio's fault. The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and Our Gang (a.k.a. The Little Rascals) works best in an era known today as The Great Depression. The Marx Brothers disrupted the opera, a society party, a college, and the racetrack. The Stooges were milk men, garbage men, pest exterminators, and disrupted the society party, the indoor plumbing, and high-scale events. In short, the wealthy could laugh at the idiots while the poor could laugh at how the wealthy were victimized. With The Little Rascals, the magic recipe was still there until they made the transition to MGM, where the studio attempted to modernize The Little Rascals in what appeared to be a promising post-Depression era.

For years the Our Gang comedies have been available under multiple DVD releases and in dismal quality. Just the other day I was watching a few of those Hal Roach comedies on television and observing how bad the picture quality is. They are in desperate need of restoration. Well, the good news is an effort is being made to restore those film shorts. 

THE LITTLE RASCALS: THE CLASSICFLIX RESTORATIONS (Volume 1) contains the first 11 Our Gang sound shorts produced by Hal Roach at the dawn of the “talkie era." From Small Talk to A Tough Winter, with each short newly scanned and restored from original Hal Roach 35mm film elements. A must-have for any true Our Gang fan, Volume 1 features the talents of Jackie Cooper, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Mary Ann Jackson, Bobby “Wheezer" Hutchins, Joe Cobb, Harry Spear and Norman “Chubby" Chaney.



  • Small Talk
  • Railroadin'
  • Lazy Days
  • Boxing Gloves
  • Bouncing Babies
  • Moan and Groan Inc


  • Shivering Shakespeare
  • The First Seven Years
  • When the Wind Blows
  • Bear Shooters
  • A Tough Winter

Historical background: Small Talk was originally heavily edited for time and sound quality, initially in television packages for airing across the country and eliminated in the 1980s from television screenings due to poor sound quality. Railroadin'  was never shown on television due to missing sound (found a number of years ago in a film vault). Moan and Groan, Inc. and The First Seven Years features the great Edgar Kennedy, master of the slow burn. These fun facts, along with others, emphasize the importance of why these shorts needed to be restored.

The first volume will be released April 13 from ClassicFlix, who is independently funding the restorations. Fans of Our Gang, a.k.a. The Little Rascals, can rejoice that the films are being lovingly restored but there is a catch... sales of Volume 1 will dictate whether the demand is large enough to warrant continued restoration for a Volume 2. Restoration costs are pricey with thousands of dollars per short, which is why we commend ClassicFlix for jumping in and taking one for the team. With the retail price of $27 for the Bluray release, the total comes to a little over $2 per film short and honestly, that is a small price to pay for restored versions.

Click the link below to purchase your Bluray today and support the cause. We all say how much we are willing to help preserve old films and here is our chance to contribute.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Samantha's Seventies

Fan fiction is usually hit or miss. Thankfully, Adam-Michael James writes what he loves, knows the Bewitched canon and provides new ideas in a book titled Samantha's Seventies, with continued adventures of Samantha and Darrin Stephens. Fans of the television series Bewitched will enjoy these stories, additional adventures that take place after the original TV series concluded. Here, mortals and witches finally spend a Christmas together. Two Aunt Claras emerge.

What I found amusing was that references to past episodes are made in these stories and footnotes to those past episodes are provided for clarification. Adam-Michael James wrote a great book about the history of Bewitched so it comes as no surprise that he wrote this book of short stories. He also wrote a novel, I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin (2017). At this point there is literally tens of thousands of fan fiction for every television and motion-picture franchise. I know of none for Bewitched until now, which makes his book essential for any fan of the series who cannot get enough.  

You can purchase your copy of the book here:

Friday, February 12, 2021

Netflix Brings Back Arsene Lupin

Arsene Lupin was a fictional gentleman burglar in a series of 17 novels and 39 novellas by March Leblanc, first written in 1905, which helped contribute to the genre that included Boston Blackie and Jimmie Dale (alias The Grey Seal). The fictional character also appeared in numerous motion pictures (beginning in 1908), television dramas (beginning in 1971), comic books, stage plays and (believe it or not) video games. Courtesy of the good folks at Netflix, the French mini-series consisting of ten hour-long episodes was English dubbed and recently released on their streaming platform. Starring Omar Sy in the role of Assane Diop, he plays a gentleman burglar who is inspired by the literary adventures of master thief Arsene Lupin. His attempt to undermine the family that framed his innocent father for an unjust jewel theft creates the motive for his determination... and fun for the audience.

Fans of mystery dramas are probably familiar with the two MGM classics that air on Turner Classic Movies from time to time: Arsene Lupin (1932, starring John Barrymore) and Arsene Lupin Returns (1938, starring Mevlyn Douglas). Rarely seen is the 1944 version from Universal Studios with Charles Korvin in the lead. The character appeared in a total of 23 movies, and numerous television renditions, proving his popularity still remains even to this day.

John Barrymore as Arsene Lupin from the 1932 movie.

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938, MGM)

The first episode of the new Netflix series sets the stage for what is to be expected: a brilliant cat and mouse game that leads detectives on mis-direction and the villains questioning who is behind the crime. The executives at Netflix chose to break up the ten-episode series into two seasons, the first five available now, closing with a cliffhanger. The final five episodes will be made available later this year. 

Episodes three and four threw me off, however, as it appeared the protagonist was so determined to take down the powerful Pelligrini family that he was making too many mistakes. For a man clever enough to pull off the heist depicted in the first episode, a mastery of thievery, subterfuge and disguise, that I questioned whether the brilliance of the series was diminishing with each entry in the series. But the fifth episode ended on a high note and makes me wanting more.

It was reported that Lupin was one of the most-viewed series on Netflix, having recently beaten out the above-average Queen's Gambit, which proves the network does not need a $100 million action-packed budget to succeed. Lupin is shot with class, providing us with unlimited beauty of Paris; the episodes are not gritty or dark -- even in the second episode that was shot in prison. All of which brings me to recommend the series for anyone who wants to see an updated rendition of the character we grew up with from the 1930s.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The True Facts Why John Hart Replaced Clayton Moore on The Lone Ranger

John Hart in a publicity still
As difficult as it is to fathom after three decades, the truth of why Clayton Moore was replaced by John Hart for the third season of the television program, and then returned to the role beginning with the fourth season, has been told with such inaccuracy over the years (especially on the Internet and social media) that it warrants retelling the facts as they appear in the archival and historical files.

By February 1951, Trendle and General Mills agreed to continue television production with a third season. Having filmed 78 episodes consecutively, making up the first two seasons of the series, Jack Chertok assured producer George W. Trendle that an additional 52 episodes could be produced but the cost of production, like the cost of any business, required an increase in budget. Trendle disapproved of the increase in budget. In August of 1951, the Apex Film Corporation (owned by Chertok) created a breakdown of the first 78 television productions, to verify that Chertok’s company truly lost $29,681.60 in the deal. The average cost per episode was $11,547.20. General Mills was contracted to pay $10,000 per episode for the first 52 episodes, and $13,500 per episode for the additional 26. Chertok agreed to swallow the financial loss knowing that when the programs went into reruns later, when General Mills decided to no longer sponsor the program, he would recoup some of the loss in the form of rerun residuals and thus make a profit in the long run.

Jay Silverheels, meanwhile, did not want to wait around for a call to be on hand to play the role of Tonto when he could be making motion-pictures, so Trendle wrote out a check and a two-page agreement stipulating pay of $150 a week from January 1, 1951 to March 31, 1952, with a $2,500 signing bonus. This would expire once filming began for the television program, whereupon his contract for a weekly salary during production replaced this contract. (By 1954, Silverheels was making $650 per week, and $325 in between filming of seasons.) No such contract was provided to Clayton Moore, whose agent insisted to Trendle that offers to do movies were more lucrative.

Sure enough, Clayton Moore signed to play a role in Columbia’s Hawk of Wild River, a Durango Kid western, in which Charles Starrett is sent to Wild River to recover stolen gold and finds the town terrorized by The Hawk (played by Moore) and his outlaw gang. Moore kept busy playing supporting roles at Columbia and Republic, including the Allan "Rocky" Lane western, Captive of Billy the Kid, and the title role in Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory for United Artists. On Halloween 1951, Clayton Moore sent George Wallace to St. Joseph's Hospital with a broken nose following a screen brawl with Moore (courtesy of a Lone Ranger punch to the face) while filming Radar Men from the Moon at Republic.

In late August 1951, Trendle flew to California to lineup a deal with a different production company for the new season of The Lone Ranger, as well as a pilot for both Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and The Green Hornet. He attended meetings with a number of television producers, including the Samuel Goldwyn organization, an executive under Herbert Yates at Republic, and someone at RKO Studios only to discover that while all parties were interested in a Lone Ranger movie shot in color, the studios merely wanted to perform the task of distributor, and provide the sound stages for filming, while receiving a distribution contract involving a percentage of the gross receipts. None wanted to invest in television, let alone a third season to what was already an established success on the small screen. (Yates never believed there would be a financial return with television like the movies, offering to invest in a cliffhanger serial. Trendle rejected the offer.) Disappointed, believing everyone’s math was all wrong, and coming to the realization that many studios were simply acting as a distributor for independent productions, Trendle went back to Jack Chertok and agreed on the increase in budget to produce a third season.

There is nothing evident to suggest animosity between George W. Trendle and Clayton Moore. Trendle was indeed critical of Moore’s portrayal, always in the form of letters to Jack Chertok, instructing the filmster to pass suggestions on to the actor.

Trendle sought a visual interpretation of the radio program, once expressing pleasure that Moore had gotten his voice down to a level mimicking Brace Beemer’s. Trendle suggested Moore keep his elbows down when riding Silver. “One of the rules of good horsemanship is to keep the elbows down when riding. I notice that a lot of the cow punchers seem to keep their elbows almost horizontal and you have a tendency to do that more or less in your riding. It shows lack of balance… Not only that, but with your elbows down you are closer to that gun on the lower hip, which the real fast gunfighters bore in mind when riding.”

            Trendle’s repeated criticism of Moore would climax in April 1950, when he told Jack Chertok that he listened to the television show with the film turned off and the sound on. “I agree that the fellow is getting so far away from Beemer it isn’t funny, and that is a thing I am afraid we will have to discuss. The man is a fair Lone Ranger but nothing to brag about, and if he does not try to cultivate the Beemer voice more closely, I am afraid we are going to be in the position of looking around again.” Chertok debated: “It is still the old, old problem that we have to face, regardless of what man is playing the Ranger – including Beemer himself, that he cannot talk as slowly on the screen as he does on the radio. But I repeat, we will do our best.”

Throughout the fall of 1951, industry trade papers reported a new actor was being sought for The Lone Ranger, but no explanation was given. Both officially and unofficially, Clayton Moore was never fired, even though he once used the phrase in his autobiography. Moore was simply unavailable to play the role for the third season.

“No one connected with The Lone Ranger ever told me why I had been fired – and I never asked. That may seem strange, but I wasn’t the sort of person to go in and make a scene about something like that,” Moore later recalled in his autobiography. “Such things happened in show business all the time. You got a part or lost a part, sometimes just on the whim of a producer or because the show was taking a new turn.” Moore never made any salary demands, and the only indication to suggest the casting change was Trendle’s insistence that someone better could be found – someone more in line with the iconic image Trendle envisioned. 

Enter stage left John Hart. Tall and athletic, Hart began his screen career in 1937 playing small bit parts, and like most actors worked his way up the Hollywood ladder. An avid surfer who also served combat duty during the Second World War, he returned to Hollywood after the war and scored the title role of the Jack Armstrong cliffhanger serial for Columbia Pictures in 1947. Hart got the role because George W. Trendle confessed that Hart’s voice was closer to Brace Beemer’s than Moore.

“I don’t know how many guys they looked at to do The Lone Ranger, but they picked me,” Hart later recalled to author Tom Weaver. “They ran all those Red Ryders where I had good heavy-duty parts and did a lot of horse-backing. I was a good-looking, young, husky guy who could do all this stuff, and also do lines. I was a pretty good actor. When I first started out, I got a lot of bad advice about playing the part. I tried the bad advice for about one or two shows and then I said, ‘The hell with that. I’ll do it my own way.’ They wanted me to be like a stiff Army major, and it was all wrong. So I just forgot that and slipped into the part, and everybody loved it.”

Compared to Clayton Moore, Hart was stiff and monotone with his delivery. Moore’s body language and way of speaking was natural, more fluid. Hart slouched in the saddle. Unlike the first two seasons, many of the teleplays were original stories instead of adaptations of the radio scripts. This resulted in less comradeship between The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with Tonto relegated down to sidekick status and a spotlight on John Hart as a charismatic hero. For many viewers, this cut much of the on-screen chemistry that was predominant on the first two seasons.

Like Clayton Moore before him, as soon as filming completed for the television season, John Hart quickly found work for motion-pictures and serials, including a brief role in Columbia’s Steel of the Royal Mounted, which would be re-titled before theatrical release as Gunfighters of the Northwest. Clayton Moore and Jock Mahoney were playing the leads in that same serial. 

In chatting with Jack Chertok by letter, George W. Trendle expressed disappointment with John Hart in the role, having viewed the entire season’s worth of episodes, and agreed Clayton Moore would be better suited if he was available to return to the role. Clayton Moore, according to Trendle, resembled radio’s Brace Beemer closests in both mannerisms and voice. By then Moore had a new agent, Earl McQuarrie, who was also representing Jay Silverheels. Just as Moore was never told why he was not brought back for an additional season, Hart was never told why he was being replaced after 52 episodes. Trendle was reluctant to admit to Moore personally that he was better suited than Hart, but instead reaffirmed what he expected from of the actor both in front and in back of the camera. Moore had no misgivings and returned to the program.