Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Little Rascals: The Restoration Project

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.” 

After producing 88 silent Our Gang shorts, Roach transitioned to sound releasing 80 additional “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). 


Thanks to David at Classic Flix, and passionate film buffs who spent untold hours laboring over each short, newly scanned and restored from original Hal Roach 35mm film elements. These new prints are clear, very crisp, with as much detail as possible, and (for purists) the title cards completely accurate with Leo The Lion shown at the beginning of each episode. By far these are the best versions of these releases… ever. Up until today we all had to suffer from the Blackhawk prints and other renditions on VHS and DVD. The six Bluray volumes are the definitive releases.


Volume one features the talents of Jackie Cooper, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Mary Ann Jackson, Bobby “Wheezer" Hutchins, Joe Cobb, Harry Spear and Norman “Chubby" Chaney, and contain some of the best of the series. 


But throughout volume three and four, with the introduction of George "Spanky" McFarland to the troupe in 1932, the Our Gang comedies soon embarked on one of the series’ most prolific periods of mirth making. Two years later, Hal Roach was inspired to team Spanky with a loyal sidekick: precocious child actor Scotty Beckett, whose delightful comic support of “Spank” premiered in one of Our Gang’s funniest and most beloved two-reelers, “Hi-Neighbor!” (1934). 


Spanky and Scotty often functioned as a Greek chorus to the “bigger” kids in classic outings like “The First Roundup,” “Honky-Donkey” and “For Pete’s Sake” (all 1934). They also displayed their broad comic range and chemistry by imitating the antics of Roach’s biggest stars, Laurel & Hardy, as in “Mike Fright” (1934) which is a personal favorite of mine. 

Volume six comes out this month (you can pre-order now) but the first five are available now. I would like to add that while I am not aware of any archival restorations of the silent shorts, there is an even greater need for restoration and the sale of the six Blurays will send the message – without support the restoration for these gems will stop with just the 80 sound shorts.