Coming Up Shorts! with… The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5

Welcome back for another full post of Coming Up Shorts! This time, I’m going with the Hal Roach theatrical shorts featuring The Little Rascals, and some of their shorts from 1935-1936 that have been released together on disc in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5.

Here’s a list and quick plot description for each of the shorts included in this set (for my comments on the individual shorts, click on the title to go to my previous reviews):

  1. Anniversary Trouble (1935) (Length: 19 minutes, 22 seconds)
    • Spanky (George McFarland) has been elected the treasurer of the Gang’s club (“Ancient and Honery Order of Wood Chucks Club, Inc.”) and the Gang have decided to trust him with the money. However, it’s also his parents’ wedding anniversary, and the envelope containing the Gang’s money has gotten mixed up with his father’s gift to his mother.
  2. Beginner’s Luck (1935) (Length: 18 minutes, 38 seconds)
    • After having Spanky (George McFarland) recite for some of her lady friends, Spanky’s mother decides to enter him in an amateur talent contest. However, Spanky has no desire to win, and enlists the Gang’s help to sabotage his performance.
  3. Teacher’s Beau (1935) (Length: 19 minutes, 3 seconds)
    • The Gang’s teacher, Miss Jones (Arletta Duncan) announces that she will get married, and that they will have a new teacher for their next year, Mrs. Wilson. Not wanting a new teacher, the Gang try to find ways to break up the engagement.
  4. Sprucin’ Up (1935) (Length: 16 minutes, 58 seconds)
    • The kids are all complaining about how their mothers make them clean themselves up. However, when a new truant officer (and his beautiful daughter) move in, everybody changes their tune!
  5. Little Papa (1935) (Length: 19 minutes, 41 seconds)
    • Spanky (George McFarland) and the Gang want to play football, but he’s forced to babysit his younger sister. Hoping that she will be less trouble if she is asleep, Spanky and Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) try to find ways to make her sleepy.
  6. Little Sinner (1935) (Length: 17 minutes, 31 seconds)
    • Spanky (George McFarland) was just given a new fishing pole for his birthday, and he wants to try it out! However, it’s Sunday, and all the other kids warn him against skipping Sunday School (but he ignores them, to his regret).
  7. Our Gang Follies Of 1936 (1935) (Length: 17 minutes, 54 seconds)
    • Spanky (George McFarland) and the Gang put on a show for the kids of the neighborhood. However, one highly-demanded act is missing, so the Gang has to figure out what to do instead.
  8. The Pinch Singer (1936) (Length: 17 minutes, 26 seconds)
    • A local radio station holds an amateur talent contest with a $50 prize. The Eagles Club (that’s the Gang) decide to have Darla (Darla Hood) perform, but when she’s late, it’s up to Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) to go on in her place!
  9. Divot Diggers (1936) (Length: 14 minutes, 51 seconds)
    • The Gang are all out having fun playing golf. When the caddies at the course go on strike, the owner convinces the Gang to help caddie for some of his golfing customers.
  10. The Lucky Corner (1936) (Length: 16 minutes, 21 seconds)
    • Scotty (Scotty Beckett) and his grandfather are selling lemonade, but a bully and his father (who have a store of their own) force them to move their stand when some potential customers go to them for lemonade. So, with Scotty and his grandfather now situated in a different spot where almost nobody goes, it’s up to the Gang to help them drum up some business!
  11. Second Childhood (1936) (Length: 19 minutes, 11 seconds)
    • A cranky old lady (Zeffie Tilbury) is miserable on her birthday (and making her servants miserable) until a toy airplane comes flying in and breaks her vase. Spanky (George McFarland) and the Gang volunteer to do some work around the yard for her when they can’t pay for the vase, and in the process, help her start to enjoy life again!
  12. Arbor Day (1936) (Length: 17 minutes, 39 seconds)
    • It’s Arbor Day, and the school is putting on a pageant featuring all the kids, which is something that Spanky (George McFarland) wants to avoid. He is caught by the truant officer, along with a pair of midgets from a nearby circus mistaken as kids.

After nearly forty-five talkie shorts, the Our Gang/ The Little Rascals series was starting to settle into the cast it would become most known for. Matthew “Stymie” Beard left the series after Teacher’s Beau (1935), finishing a run that had started back in Teacher’s Pet (1930). Scotty Beckett left the series to go into the movies after filming Our Gang Follies Of 1936 (1935), although his appearance in the short The Lucky Corner (1936) was the result of that short’s release being delayed almost a year after filming began. Marianne Edwards left the series after The Pinch Singer (1936), but, like Scotty Beckett, her last appearance was in the delayed The Lucky Corner (1936). Meanwhile, in 1935, the series introduced the likes of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (making his debut in Beginner’s Luck), Eugene “Porky” Lee (Little Sinner) and Darla Hood (Our Gang Follies Of 1936), cementing some of the series’ most well-known members, and resulting in the shorts becoming a bit more musical.

As I have said in my previous reviews of Volume 1 (which contained the shorts 1929’s Small Talk through 1930’s A Tough Winter), Volume 2 (1930’s Pups Is Pups through 1931’s Dogs Is Dogs), Volume 3 (1932’s Readin’ And Writin’ through 1933’s Forgotten Babies) and Volume 4 (1933’s The Kid From Borneo through 1935’s Shrimps For A Day), these shorts are all quite new to me. For me, the shorts included in this fifth volume have continued to be a lot of fun! As has been the case, I’ve continued to enjoy those focusing on George “Spanky” McFarland, as he continues to be one of the funnier members of the group. Anniversary Trouble (1935), Beginner’s Luck (1935), Our Gang Follies Of 1936 (1935), The Pinch Singer (1936), The Lucky Corner (1936) and Second Childhood (1936) all left me laughing, and certainly left me with a strong desire to come back to them again! As did Teacher’s Beau (1935), even if that one did border on being a retread of an earlier short. There are a few scattered problems that date some of these shorts, but the worst one would have to be Little Sinner (1935), which goes on a little too long with its portrayal of some rather spirited African-Americans during a baptism ceremony at night. I do admit, I miss Scotty Beckett as he is phased out, since I thought he and Spanky made a great comedy team in their appearances together in some of the shorts included in the fourth volume, but Alfalfa manages to add to the fun rather memorably! All in all, this set was still quite entertaining, and just as highly recommended as some of the earlier volumes (and I eagerly look forward to the sixth and final volume of the talkie shorts from Hal Roach)!

As I mentioned in my reviews of the earlier volumes, ClassicFlix announced (in late 2020) that they had licensed the Little Rascals shorts, and planned to restore the talkies and the silent shorts. The film elements for many films and shorts originally produced by Hal Roach’s studio have changed hands a number of times over the years, and haven’t been as well preserved as most would hope. ClassicFlix tried a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the restorations for the Little Rascals series, but that ended up falling short. Still, they went through with their plans to restore the shorts, and, much like the first four sets, these shorts look fantastic (some minor damage is still present, but it’s just about not even worth mentioning)! This set doesn’t necessarily give any hints as to what film elements were used like the first one did (beyond the comment on the disc case about scanning from original Hal Roach 35mm film elements), but the results speak for themselves (and if you don’t believe me, I included some of the YouTube clips posted by ClassicFlix at the bottom of the post so that you can get a better idea)! Once again, the team at ClassicFlix have put a lot of hard work into restoring these, and I would certainly recommend this fifth volume (plus the first four as well, if you haven’t gotten them already)! With the sixth set already released (thus completing all the talkies before MGM took over the series), we only await the arrival of the silents in 2023 and beyond (some of which will be on Blu-ray while others will be DVD-only due to the quality of the available elements)! In the meantime, there is also The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection Centennial Edition on Blu-ray (or DVD) from ClassicFlix. This set includes all the talkie shorts included in the six volumes (although it has been condensed onto five discs instead of six) plus a bonus disc of extras (that bonus disc, a limited release, is also available separately, and comes with a six-disc box for all those that previously bought the individual volumes).

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 is available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. The whole set has a runtime of three hours, thirty-four minutes.

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“Star Of The Month (November 2022)” Featuring W. C. Fields in… My Little Chickadee (1940)

We’re back for the second film featuring my Star Of The Month for November 2022, W. C. Fields! This time, it’s his 1940 film My Little Chickadee, also starring Mae West!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Divot Diggers (1936)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 (1935-1936) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 14 minutes, 51 seconds)

The Gang are all out having fun playing golf. When the caddies at the course go on strike, the owner convinces the Gang to help caddie for some of his golfing customers. I will admit that I have some mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun watching the kids when they play golf by themselves at the start, and the chimp they bring along to help caddie is also entertaining. However, the focus on this one really isn’t the kids, it’s on the chimp and the adult golfers. While the adults are funny, I can’t help but feel that it takes away from the kids, who should have been the ones that this short followed. Still, I certainly can’t deny that this is one that I would have fun seeing again.

And Now For The Main Feature…

The stagecoach to Little Bend is robbed by a masked bandit. One of the passengers, Flower Belle Lee (Mae West), catches his eye, and he kidnaps her. Later, before the town can get a posse together to go after her, she wanders into town of her own volition. Later, the bandit visits her at night, but is seen leaving by the nosy Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton). When Flower Belle refuses to divulge who the masked bandit is (since she herself doesn’t know), the town council kicks her out, warning her not to come back unless she is married and respectable. On the train to the city of Greasewood, Flower Belle meets Cuthbert J. Twillie (W. C. Fields). He quickly becomes enamored with her, and she takes a liking to him after seeing that he carries a carpet bag full of money. Twillie quickly proposes marriage, and Flower Belle agrees. She convinces her friend, gambler Amos Budge (Donald Meek), to perform the “ceremony” (since everybody else assumes that he is a member of the clergy due to how he is dressed). In the town of Greasewood, Flower Belle quickly gains the attention of the local newspaper reporter Wayne Carter (Dick Foran) as well as that of the powerful and corrupt bar owner Jeff Badger (Joseph Calleia). After listening to some of Twillie’s tall tales (and learning that he is married to Flower Belle), Jeff immediately offers the job of town sheriff to Twillie, which he accepts. When he has the opportunity, Twillie tries to figure out a way to consummate their marriage, but he is shot down by Flower Belle at every opportunity. The masked bandit again visits Flower Belle, and Twillie, learning about how easily she lets the bandit into her boudoir, attempts to disguise himself as the bandit. Flower Belle quickly realizes that it’s him, but the two of them wind up in trouble when he is seen leaving and mistaken for the real bandit. Both of them are thrown in jail, but Flower manages to escape, hoping to clear Twillie. Will she be successful, or will Twillie be hanged as the bandit?

In 1939, Universal Studios successfully teamed up James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich (whose career had been in decline after her initial success under director Josef Von Sternberg) in the Western comedy Destry Rides Again. Hoping for a similar success, the studio decided to pair up W. C. Fields (who had recently signed with them for the film You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man) and Mae West (whose career had been in a slump ever since the rise of the Production Code, with My Little Chickadee being her first film since 1937’s Every Day’s A Holiday at Paramount Pictures). Behind the scenes, this didn’t turn out the best. Both stars had a preference for writing their own material, not to mention W. C. Fields had a penchant for ad-libbing (compared to Mae West, who preferred to stick to the script). It’s unclear as to who wrote what (and how much), as different sources have claimed different things, with Mae West claiming that she wrote everything apart from a scene set in a bar, and others have claimed that they wrote their own scenes (and ad-libbed their stuff together). Either way, they reportedly didn’t get along very well off-screen. It wasn’t enough to stop audiences from going to see the movie, however, as it turned out to be Fields’ highest-grossing film at Universal, and Mae West’s last successful film.

This is a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for a while, particularly after hearing via one of the forums I frequent that the movie was being restored (but more on that in a moment). I’ve finally had the chance to see the movie twice within this last year, and I’ve enjoyed it! Now, I’ve seen it said that originally, W. C. Fields received a lot of praise in this movie, while Mae West was heavily criticized. First off, I should mention that this was my first time seeing any Mae West films (as opposed to the various caricatures and imitations of her in many cartoons that I grew up with). On that initial impression, I’m inclined to agree with the critics who took issue with her in this film. Don’t get me wrong, she is funny here, with a number of innuendo-laden lines that somehow got past the censors, not to mention when she takes over as a schoolteacher for the classroom of young boys. My problem with her is that her performance is very one-note, as she essentially purrs EVERY line in that “come-up-and-see-me-sometime” manner. Not one hint of emotion beyond that, which really doesn’t work when she helps defend the train against some attacking Native Americans or when she escapes from jail in an attempt to help clear W. C. Fields’ Twillie of wrongdoing. If she could have managed more emotion, especially in those situations, I wouldn’t have been bothered as much by it.

W. C. Fields, on the other hand, does manage to give a good performance (and leave me laughing in the process). During that same train attack I mentioned, he was effectively cowering and trying to hide with the children in another train car (while using a slingshot to try and shoot at their attackers). He spends a good deal of the movie trying to get into his “wife’s” boudoir, with the most memorable attempt being him actually getting in, but making the mistake of taking a bath in her bathroom (while she gets ready to leave and go elsewhere, leaving him with a goat in the bed instead). Of course, he plays cards (and cheats at that, too), so he fits right in in a Western. The only complaint about him is how he treats his Native American friend (although that is typical of how his characters tend to treat others). The plot itself is kind of all over the place, which in some respects shows how they were having trouble writing it behind the scenes with the two competing egos. In my book, Fields alone makes this film worth seeing (he’s not enough to make it a great film, but he overcomes most of the film’s problems), so I would certainly recommend giving it a shot!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… My Little Chickadee (1940)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is sourced from a 4K restoration done by Universal Pictures and the Film Foundation using a 35mm nitrate composite fine grain and a 35mm dupe negative. In short, this film looks fantastic on Blu-ray! The detail is shown off beautifully, and all the dust and debris has been cleaned. This may not be the best W. C. Fields film on Blu-ray, but it’s certainly the best-looking one on the format, making it highly recommended!

Film Length: 1 hour, 24 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Mississippi (1935)W. C. FieldsNever Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!