Coming Up Shorts! with… The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1

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 1929 and 1930 that have been released together on disc in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1.

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. Small Talk (1929) (Length: 25 minutes, 4 seconds)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is adopted, and the rest of the Little Rascals run away from the orphanage to come see him.
  2. Railroadin’ (1929) (Length: 18 minutes, 53 seconds)
    • The kids are all hanging out at the train yard where Joe’s (Joe Cobb) father works, when a bum starts the train and the kids find themselves unable to stop it.
  3. Lazy Days (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 30 seconds)
    • Farina (Allen Hoskins) is just too lazy and tired to do much of anything, but when Joe (Joe Cobb) reads a paper for a baby contest (with monetary prizes), the whole gang decides to get their younger siblings ready for it (even the “lazy and tired” Farina).
  4. Boxing Gloves (1929) (Length: 17 minutes, 28 seconds)
    • Harry (Harry Spear) and Farina (Allen Hoskins) are fight promoters, and decide to pit Joe (Joe Cobb) and Chubby (Norman Chaney) against each other.
  5. Bouncing Babies (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 45 seconds)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is sore because his baby brother is getting all the attention, and wants to send the baby “back to heaven.”
  6. Moan & Groan, Inc. (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 41 seconds)
    • The kids ignore the warning of Officer Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy), and go dig for treasure in a haunted house.
  7. Shivering Shakespeare (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 26 seconds)
    • The kids all take part in a production of Quo Vadis for the Golden Age Dramatic League.
  8. The First Seven Years (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 10 seconds)
    • Jackie (Jackie Cooper) wants Mary Ann (Mary Ann Jackson) to be his “wife,” but has to fight Speck (Donald Haines) for her affections.
  9. When The Wind Blows (1930) (Length: 19 minutes, 47 seconds)
    • On a windy night, Jackie (Jackie Cooper) accidentally locks himself out of his house, and is mistaken for a burglar as he attempts to get into the homes of the various Rascals.
  10. Bear Shooters (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 29 seconds)
    • The gang all go camping to hunt bears, but they unknowingly come across a pair of bootleggers who try to scare them off.
  11. A Tough Winter (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 35 seconds)
    • On a cold winter’s day, the gang spend some time inside with handyman Stepin Fetchit before getting together for a taffy pull.

In 1921, producer Hal Roach came up with the idea for a series of shorts featuring young kids being themselves (as opposed to being over-rehearsed like some kids were when auditioning for parts in other productions). Long story short (as I hope to talk about them more if and when the silent shorts get restored for Blu-ray), nearly 88 silent shorts were produced in this series. Of course, with the success of Warner Brothers’ 1927 movie The Jazz Singer, everybody started making the transition to sound, and the Our Gang comedies were no exception. While they started making adjustments behind the scenes to accommodate sound for the shorts, the cast started to change a little as well, as some of them outgrew the series. Joe Cobb, Harry Spear and Jean Darling made a few appearances in the talkies before quickly being phased out, with the group joined by the likes of Norman “Chubby” Chaney and Jackie Cooper, plus Donald Haines, who made a few appearances as other characters before becoming a member of the Gang himself.

Up until watching this set, I had very little experience with the Rascals. Obviously, I had heard of them, but I hadn’t really seen much of the series, just the movie from the 1990s (and it has been some time since the one time I saw that) and some appearances by former Rascals in various movies, like George “Spanky” McFarland’s appearance in Kentucky Kernels or Dickie Moore’s appearances in films like Miss Annie Rooney or Out Of The Past (or, much to my surprise when I recently found out, Jackie Cooper’s appearances as Perry White in the Christopher Reeve Superman films I’ve been watching since I was a kid). So this set was pretty much my big introduction to the Rascals, and I found it quite worthwhile! From the very first short, I was enjoying myself quite heartily! Just based on how Small Talk starts off, it’s not hard to believe that it was the first sound short, as it starts off silently, only to blast us with the sounds of all the kids making noise (and what a natural “kid” thing to do)! Granted, the acting is a little stiff in the first few as everybody tried to get used to acting with sound, but they quickly settle in to the routine, and everything gets much better! I know I enjoyed watching the “fight” in Boxing Gloves, with Joe and Chubby squaring off against each other! Shivering Shakespeare has been listed as one of the better ones from this group, and I heartily agree with that, from watching the kids’ antics as they try to remember their lines in the play (with some assistance from their teacher, I think) to the slow-motion pie fight that ends it! When The Wind Blows is another fun classic, with Jackie Cooper getting into trouble on a windy night when he accidentally gets locked out of his house! There are some aspects on these shorts that are dated, but overall, there is a timeless appeal to them, and I now count myself a fan as I look forward to seeing the remaining sets as they come out!

In late 2020, ClassicFlix announced that they had licensed the Little Rascals shorts, and planned to restore the talkies (and the silents as well if the talkies do well enough). 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, as this first set proves, they’re off to a good start! According to the restoration featurette on the disc, they worked with original nitrate elements for seven of these first eleven shorts, fine grain and safety elements on three shorts (due to lack of existing nitrate elements or film elements too far gone) and a mixture of safety and nitrate on Railroadin’. For the most part, these shorts look great (again, this is my first experience with them, so, for the most part, I don’t know how they have looked previously). There is some minor damage here and there on some of the shorts, and some shots don’t look quite as good, but that’s the result of available film elements (and available restoration budget). If you don’t believe me about how good everything looks, I’ve included some of the YouTube clips posted by ClassicFlix at the bottom of this post. Seriously, though, the restoration team at ClassicFlix have poured their hearts and souls into restoring this series (and it looks it), so I would very heartily recommend this first volume (especially if you want them to not only finish out the talkies, but also restore the silent shorts as well). From what I’ve heard, the second volume of the next eleven shorts (already available at the time of this writing) looks even better, and the third set is already scheduled (and I hope to get around to both of them when I can get that far)!

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 is available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. The whole set has a runtime of three hours, forty-three minutes.

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

Batter Up! We’re here now for the second Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly film, the 1949 musical Take Me Out To The Ball Game, which also stars Esther Williams and Betty Garrett.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Moan & Groan, Inc. (1929)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 41 seconds)

The kids ignore the warning of Officer Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy), and go dig for treasure in a haunted house. Personally, I enjoyed this one! While there are no real spooks here, it feels like a good one to watch around Halloween. The bit with the Japanese finger trap is one of the best gags in the short, particularly when Officer Kennedy and his superior both get their hands stuck in one. There might be too much focus on the adults here, but it’s not bad enough for me to trash this one. I can certainly say that I look forward to watching this one again!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Cat And The Mermouse (1949)

(available as an extra on the Take Me Out To The Ball Game Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 37 seconds)

Tom the cat is all set for a relaxing day at the beach, when Jerry the mouse interrupts his rest. This was another enjoyable Tom & Jerry cartoon. It quickly becomes obvious that the short goes into a dream sequence when Tom goes underwater (and seems to be “breathing” just fine), but that’s not a problem. There’s some fun with the underwater creatures like a swordfish and an octopus that join in the chasing. Other than that, it’s still a typical Tom & Jerry cartoon, but that’s still very much a point in its favor (as is the laughter it provides)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

During the off season, baseball players Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) and Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) tour the country on the vaudeville stage, but it’s time to return for spring training! When they rejoin their team, however, they find that the team owner has died, and a distant relative has inherited the team. They soon find out the new owner is K. C. Higgins (Esther Williams), and she knows her stuff! Dennis immediately falls for her, but Eddie doesn’t get along with her at all. Once the season starts, Dennis finds himself being chased by Shirley Delwyn (Betty Garrett). At a big party for the team, Dennis realizes that he likes Shirley, and Eddie finds out that Katherine Higgins likes him! Of course, there are also some gamblers causing trouble by trying to fix things so that the team won’t win the pennant.

The idea for Take Me Out To The Ball Game came from Gene Kelly (although some claim it was very similar to the 1930 MGM musical They Learned About Women), and he brought in Stanley Donen to help finish the story. They were able to sell the idea to producer Arthur Freed for $25,000. At first, the film was considered as a follow-up to Anchors Aweigh, with Kathryn Grayson to be cast as the female lead. That didn’t happen, and Judy Garland was considered next. However, her health issues resulted in her being replaced by Esther Williams. Busby Berkeley was hired to direct the film, but he struggled enough that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen ended up directing a lot of the film themselves (although they gave Berkeley the onscreen credit, his final credit as a film director). The film turned out to be a success, and Arthur Freed decided to officially give Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen the directing reins for the movie On The Town (which would again pair up Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, with Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett coming along for the ride).

Of the three Sinatra-Kelly films, I consider this one to be the most fun! I really enjoy the music, from the title tune, to “Strictly U.S.A,” to “The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St. Patrick’s Day!” Just about all of the music can easily get stuck in my head whenever I watch it! The humor generally works for me, too, especially how much they poke fun at Sinatra and how light he was, whether it be by Betty Garrett carrying him over her shoulder with ease, or all the stuff he was trying to eat to get his weight up during the spring training montage. At one hour, thirty-three minutes in length, this movie does away with the length problem of the earlier Anchors Aweigh, and everything seems to fit so much better. And the addition of Jules Munshin as Gene and Frank’s buddy manages to make things work, especially for the little comedy bit that the three of them do for goofing around for the fans a few times before some of the games.

Now, is the movie perfect? No, it does have its problems. There are aspects that feel like a re-tread of Anchors Aweigh, with Frank again playing a guy who is shy around women, and needs the help of ladies’ man Gene Kelly . Not to mention Frank falling for one gal, only to realize he likes somebody else while Gene falls for the first girl. Plus, the song “Yes, Indeedy” seems to fill the “locker room talk” song role that “I Begged Her” filled in Anchors Aweigh (although, given the choice between the two, I’ll live with “Yes, Indeedy,” as the other song is too slow and would be better removed from that movie entirely). I’d also say that the ending is a little weak. From what I’ve read in the biography Gene Kelly: A Life Of Dance And Dreams by Alvin Yudkoff, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen were never able to come up with a proper ending to their story, so we got stuck with a song-and-dance where the four leads broke character. Personally, I’ve seen worse endings, so it’s not a huge problem. And, for some, the fact that actress Esther Williams, known for her underwater ballets, barely spends any time in the water, might also be a minor problem with this movie (although, to be fair, I’m not sure how they could realistically fit an underwater ballet into the story). Still, she is enough of an athlete herself that she seems to fit the role better than either Kathryn Grayson or Judy Garland would have. Even with these issues, I do enjoy this movie very much, and would highly recommend it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

On July 20, 2021, Take Me Out To The Ball Game was released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive Collection. I don’t know the exact source of the transfer, since Warner Archive is no longer doing podcasts or press releases via social media, and their newsletter didn’t mention it. My best GUESS is that they did a 4K scan of the original Technicolor negatives. Whether I’m right or not, one thing I can say: this new transfer looks GREAT!! Seriously, they’ve really brought out the color in this movie, and the detail is just exquisite! Plain and simple, they hit a home run with this one! Admittedly, whether you look at it as a bases-loaded grand slam or just a simple home run depends on your opinion of the film itself. Me, I REALLY like it, so it’s a grand slam in my book! Easily recommended!

Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

My Rating (after Blu-ray): 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Anchors Aweigh (1945)Frank SinatraOn The Town (1949)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Esther Williams – Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

The Pirate (1948)Gene KellyOn The Town (1949)

Betty Garrett – On The Town (1949)

Easter Parade (1948) – Jules Munshin – On The Town (1949)

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – Edward Arnold – Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

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