Friday, October 31, 2008

The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: All 80 Original “Our Gang” Shorts Remastered and Rereleased on DVD

Between 1929 and 1938, Hal Roach produced one of the most successful series of shorts in cinematic history. Originally called Our Gang, but renamed The Little Rascals when brought to TV in the Fifties, they revolved around the exploits of a lovable bunch of ostensibly unsupervised urchins who invariably landed in mischief.
The shows featured such unforgettable characters as ringleader Spanky (George McFarland), his love interest Darla, (Darla Hood), pals Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (Billie Thomas), Stymie (Matthew Beard), Dickie (Dickie Jackson), Porky (Eugene Lee), Farina (Allen Hoskins), Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins), Chubby (Norman Chaney), bully Butch (Tommy Bond) and his sidekick Woim (Sidney Kibrick), schoolteacher Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe) and Petey the Dog.
Ernie Morrison, who played Sunshine Sammy, is of interest because he was the first African-American ever signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood, and several other black actors on the series would follow suit. Still, The Little Rascals fell out of favor during the Sixties, specifically because of its stereotypical depiction of blacks as scaredy cats whose hair stood on end, whose eyes bugged out, and who turned white from fear. Furthermore, they were often the butt of jokes involving ebonics and eating watermelon.
Nonetheless, the actors defended their roles, by pointing out that most of the characters were simplistically-drawn, whether as spoiled, rich, Asian, etcetera. Only Buckwheat enjoyed a bit of a revival, thanks to Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.
Watching this remastered, restored and uncut 8-disc collection today, it might make you wince here and there in terms of its political incorrectness, yet you definitely get a sense that the humor was never meanspirited. And every installment is entertaining, endearing and hilarious, though really only recommended for nostalgic purposes for those already familiar with Spanky and company, not for impressionable young minds..

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 1332 minutes
Studio: Genius Products
8-Disc DVD Extras: Commentaries from film historians and authors, interviews with former Little Rascals, film introductions, three “our Gang” silent shorts, three featurettes and a 12-page photo booklet with trivia, images and collectible lobby cards.

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