The Warner Archive Collection exclusively presents the 52 MGM-produced "Our Gang" shorts, also known as “The Little Rascals” from the time they were syndicated on television. MGM bought the property from Hal Roach in 1938 and continued making them until 1944. However, other than the child actors, very few of the creative talent stayed on and the series noticeably suffered for it. By the end of its run in 1944, only three “Our Gang” shorts were made due to poor box office returns and it’s easy to see why.
The first disc offers possibly the most familiar line-up for many fans with Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Porky, Darla, and neighborhood bully Butch. The kids took part in outlandish adventures that decades later still seem amazing and amusing for kids to participate in.
In 1939, Mickey (Robert Blake) first appeared in “Joy Scouts” while Porky left after “Auto Antics,” because as legend has it he was getting too big. According to IMDb and demonstrating what little thought was given to the kids, a scene where they hang on the back of a dogcatcher’s truck had to be shot 32 times. All the exhaust caused Darla to pass out and she had to be taken to the hospital.
In 1940, the series took a big loss as Alfalfa and Butch departed, taking with them the frequently told Popeyesque storyline of the two boys fighting over the fickle-hearted affections of Darla Hood. Supporting player Waldo also made his last appearance in the appropriately titled “Waldo's Last Stand.” The addition of deep-voiced Froggy, who constantly mixed-up sayings, wasn’t enough to fill the hole they left.
Darla’s last short was “Wedding Worries” (1941). The gang tried to keep her father from remarrying because of all the evil stepmothers in fairy tales. Janet, who first appeared in a minor role in “All About Hash” (1940), took over as the gang’s leading lady the following year in “Rover's Big Chance” (1942).
After Spanky’s last “Unexpected Riches” (1942), Buckwheat is the only remaining Roach cast member left and he finishes out the run, but those 10 shorts are very forgettable and rarely generate a smile. A few of the 1943 shorts are slightly serious with a WWII focus. “Benjamin Franklin, Jr.” finds the kids whining about the rationing and what they have to go through, but Mickey sets them straight. “Calling All Kids” plays like a USO Radio show as the gang honors the troops through song and dance.
For a limited time, The Our Gang Collection is only available online at Warner Archive for $34.95. The run from ’38 to ’40 is worth owning if the consumer finds the value worth it. The entire set may be better left for the completist as the quality of the shorts progressively diminishes.