Coming Up Shorts! with… The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4

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 1933-1935 that have been released together on disc in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4.

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. The Kid From Borneo (1933) (Length: 18 minutes, 47 seconds)
    • Dorothy (Dorothy DeBorba), Dickie (Dickie Moore) and Spanky’s (George McFarland) mother has received a letter from her brother stating that he is in town with a carnival and wants to meet the kids. The kids go to the carnival, but they mistake the “Wild Man From Borneo” (their uncle’s “sideshow attraction”) as their uncle.
  2. Mush And Milk (1933) (Length: 18 minutes, 18 seconds)
    • The gang are all stuck at a boarding school run by a cranky old lady (Louise Emmons). Her husband, Cap (Gus Leonard) promises to give the kids a better life when his back pension comes through.
  3. Bedtime Worries (1933) (Length: 20 minutes, 23 seconds)
    • Spanky’s (George McFarland) father (Emerson Treacy) has just been promoted to head shipping clerk, and has decided that Spanky must now sleep on his own. However, Spanky has a lot of trouble getting to sleep on his first night alone.
  4. Wild Poses (1933) (Length: 18 minutes, 31 seconds)
    • Spanky’s (George McFarland) parents decide to have his picture taken. However, after listening to the other kids from the Gang who tag along, Spanky refuses to sit for a picture!
  5. Hi’-Neighbor! (1934) (Length: 17 minutes, 54 seconds)
    • Jerry (Jerry Tucker), the new kid in the neighborhood, has his own small fire engine (and the envy of the Gang). However, he doesn’t want to share it with them, leading them to put together their own fire engine.
  6. For Pete’s Sake! (1934) (Length: 18 minutes, 6 seconds)
    • Wally (Wally Albright) and the Gang try to fix up a doll for Marianne (Marianne Edwards), but a bully breaks her doll. So the Gang tries to get her a new doll, but they have to deal with the bully and his father to get it.
  7. The First Round-Up (1934) (Length: 18 minutes, 46 seconds)
    • The Gang all decide to go camping at the nearby Cherry Creek. However, when night falls, the kids all start to reconsider the idea.
  8. Honky-Donkey (1934) (Length: 16 minutes, 42 seconds)
    • Little rich boy Wally (Wally Albright) wants to play with some poor kids, and hangs out with the Gang. When they’re chased off the vacant lot that they’re playing on, Wally decides to bring them (and their pet donkey) to his home.
  9. Mike Fright (1934) (Length: 17 minutes, 26 seconds)
    • The “International Silver String Submarine Band” (that’s the Gang) auditions as part of an amateur radio talent contest against a bunch of other talented kids.
  10. Washee Ironee (1934) (Length: 16 minutes, 38 seconds)
    • Rich boy Waldo (Wally Albright) tries to get into a football game with the Gang, and ends up falling in the mud. His mother is throwing a society party (at which she expects him to play the violin), so the Gang tries to help wash out his clothes.
  11. Mama’s Little Pirate (1935) (Length: 18 minutes, 6 seconds)
    • Upon listening to his father read about the discovery of pirate treasure in a cave, Spanky (George McFarland) decides to lead the gang on a treasure hunt in a cave. However, his mother is opposed to the idea and orders him not to go.
  12. Shrimps For A Day (1935) (Length: 20 minutes, 42 seconds)
    • The Gang are taken to a party hosted by the sponsor for their orphanage, where an adult couple finds a lamp and wishes to be kids again. They are mistaken for being part of the group of orphans, and are brought back to the orphanage.

With thirty-three talkie shorts from the Our Gang/ The Little Rascals under their belts, the Hal Roach series continued to make changes as they kept plugging along. Longtime Our Gang director Robert McGowan (who had been with the series essentially since the beginning) had tired of doing the series and wanted to leave for a few years, but his departure kept getting delayed as the studio couldn’t come up with a replacement for him. The Hal Roach studio tried to change up the series, including shrinking the cast down to a small handful to appease McGowan (with Dickie Moore, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins and Dorothy DeBorba leaving after Mush And Milk), but McGowan finally had enough and left after directing Wild Poses. As a result, the series went on hiatus for four months. When they came back, they had a new director (Gus Meins) and several new cast members, including Wally Albright (who only lasted for a handful of shorts), Scotty Beckett and Billie Thomas (“Buckwheat”).

As I 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) and Volume 3 (1932’s Readin’ And Writin’ through 1933’s Forgotten Babies), these shorts are still new to me. For me, the shorts included in this fourth volume continued to be as much fun (if not more!) as the earlier talkie shorts. George “Spanky” McFarland continues to be the main appeal here, and the two shorts that showcase him (Bedtime Worries and Wild Poses) left me laughing pretty steadily. Of course, the introduction of Scotty Beckett really added something as well, essentially making the two of them a comedy team that worked quite effectively (especially in The First Round-Up). Mike Fright, Mama’s Little Pirate and Shrimps For A Day also left me in stitches throughout, making them worth seeing again and again! Not every short in this set is perfect, as The Kid From Borneo and Washee Ironee in particular are both dated in some of their stereotyped depictions. Still, the rest of the set more than makes up for it, which makes this fourth volume of Our Gang shorts highly recommended in my book (and I certainly look forward to seeing more with the fifth volume)!

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 silents if the talkies sold well enough, which it sounds like they have). 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 three sets, these shorts look fantastic (some minor damage is still present, but is BARELY noticeable)! 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 fourth volume (plus the first three as well, if you haven’t gotten them already)! With the fifth and sixth sets already released (thus completing all the talkies before MGM took over the series), we only await the arrival of the silents in 2023 (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 will also be The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection Centennial Edition on Blu-ray (or DVD) from ClassicFlix. This set will include all the talkie shorts included in the six volumes (although it will be condensed onto five discs instead of six) plus a bonus disc of extras (that bonus disc will also be available separately, and will come with a six-disc box for all those that previously bought the individual volumes, although it won’t be available through Amazon until after its release date).

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 is available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. The whole set has a runtime of three hours, thirty-eight minutes.

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear: Screen Team & “Musical Screen Teams (September 2022)” featuring… Give A Girl A Break (1953)

We’re back for my second and final entry for my Musical Screen Teams blogathon! This time, we’ve got another film from 1953, Give A Girl A Break, starring Marge and Gower Champion, along with Debbie Reynolds!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Mama’s Little Pirate (1935)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 18 minutes, 6 seconds)

Upon listening to his father read about the discovery of pirate treasure in a cave, Spanky (George McFarland) decides to lead the gang on a treasure hunt in a cave. However, his mother is opposed to the idea and orders him not to go. This was yet another entertaining entry in the series. Most of the fun is in watching Spanky try to be smart about how they are exploring the cave, only to have things go completely wrong (with his friend Scotty there to tell him off ahead of time). The over-exaggerated giant (as played by R. E. “Tex” Madsen) adds to the fun when he encounters the kids. I know I enjoyed this one, and look forward to seeing it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Rehearsals for the show Give A Girl A Break have begun under director and choreographer Ted Sturgis (Gower Champion), but they’ve hit a snag. Their big star, Janet Hallson (Donna Martell), is angry with Ted for not fawning over her after she performed a number, and demands an apology. His half-hearted apology doesn’t convince her, and she decides to walk out on the show. Without a star, producer Felix Jordan (Larry Keating) suggests they go to Ted’s former dance partner, Madelyn Corlane (Marge Champion), but Ted dislikes the idea, since he is still mad at her for walking out on him. Instead, he suggests putting an ad in the paper, in an attempt to give somebody new a chance to make good. The next day, a great many young hopefuls show up, hoping to get the newly vacant part. Among that group are Suzy Doolittle (Debbie Reynolds), whom Ted’s assistant and gofer Bob Dowdy (Bob Fosse) quickly takes a shine to, and Joanna Moss (Helen Wood), who catches the eye of the show’s composer, Leo Belney (Kurt Kasznar) (since he had seen her dance before at a recital). Both of them are told to come back the next day to audition for the part. When Ted comes up to Felix’s office, he finds Madelyn there, who is also told to come back the next day to audition. That evening, Suzy rehearses at her mother’s insistence instead of going on a date with Bob (although he is understanding, and walks her home from the dance studio). Joanna goes back to her apartment to share the news with her husband, Burton Bradshaw (Richard Anderson), who also has his own news about a potential job that may take him elsewhere. Madelyn tells her boyfriend, Anson Pritchett (William Ching), about the audition, but he convinces her to withdraw. When Ted learns about Madelyn pulling out, he goes to see her and help her get past her fears. The next day, all three women audition, and Felix finds himself unsure as to which one to pick. With the other three men all equally adamant that their girl should get the role, who will win out in the end?

Give A Girl A Break ended up being far different from its initial conception. Originally, the film was to potentially star the likes of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ann Miller. However, much was changing in Hollywood at that time, as musicals were falling out of favor with audiences while television’s popularity continued to rise. As a result, the cast consisted of husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, and newcomer Bob Fosse. While there was still some big talent behind-the-scenes that had contributed to the film (such as composer Burton Lane and lyricist Ira Gerswhin, director Stanley Donen and screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), they weren’t enough to save the film. The movie lost money at the box office, effectively ending whatever chance the Champions had of becoming big stars (and didn’t do Bob Fosse any good as a movie star, either).

I first saw the film most of a decade ago. At the time, I was coming off of discovering the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion via Lovely To Look At (1952) (to be fair, I had previously seen them in the 1951 Show Boat, but their appearance there didn’t have anywhere near the impact that Lovely To Look At did in my estimation). In Give A Girl A Break, they have two dance routines together, set to the songs “Challenge Dance” and “It Happens Every Time.” In general, their “Challenge Dance” seems to be what they are known for here, as it feels like the better promoted dance of the two. Personally, I don’t care for it that much, and prefer “It Happens Every Time.” Admittedly, the lyrics to “It Happens Every Time” are quite forgettable (not helped by the fact that Gower’s singing voice was VERY obviously dubbed for this song, in spite of him actually singing for an earlier song in the film). The music, however, is quite memorable, and sticks with me long after I finish watching the film. Their dance is equally enjoyable, with them swinging around on a set full of poles. The whole song makes me think of their dance to the instrumental version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from Lovely To Look At. I wouldn’t put “It Happens Every Time” on the same level as that one, but it certainly left an imprint on me.

As for the rest of the movie, I think it’s a lot of fun. Realistically, I think that Bob Fosse is what really makes this film. He has three songs and dances, “Nothing Is Impossible” with Gower Champion and Kurt Kasznar, and “In Our United State,” which is used for two different partnered routines with Debbie Reynolds (one a romantic duet in the park, and the other a dream dance sometimes referred to as the “Balloon Dance,” with them dancing “backwards and forwards”). Those three dances are some of the most fun and entertaining in the film, and easily make the movie worthwhile (alongside the previously mentioned “It Happens Every Time”). There are a few other tunes, but, apart from the “Puppet Master Dance” with Helen Wood and Kurt Kasznar, they don’t really stand out that much (and quite frankly, Helen Wood is fairly good as a dancer but very much underutilized compared to the other two leading ladies). It’s not an absolutely great film, as I think the Champions can’t really carry it in the acting department (they’re decent, just not great). Thankfully, Bob Fosse, despite being billed fifth, does a much better job (and is given nearly as much screentime as the Champions). While it certainly would have been fun to have seen what the film would have been like with its original conception, I do think that what we got is entertaining enough. I know I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing it a number of times over the last decade. So, as I have no hesitation about sticking it on when I feel like it, I would definitely have no qualms about giving it some of my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Marge Champion

Lovely To Look At (1952) – Gower Champion

Singin’ In The Rain (1952) – Debbie Reynolds – Susan Slept Here (1954)

Kiss Me Kate (1953) – Bob Fosse – My Sister Eileen (1955)

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