Hal Roach's Rascals [DVD]

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Derby Day
The Our Gang kids set up a concession stand across the street from the local racetrack. Befriending Mary Kornman, the daughter of a wealthy horse-owner, the youngsters gain free access to the track, and thrill to the sight of a race in progress. Thus inspired, the kids set up their own track and stage their own "champeenship" race, with the youthful jockeys astride such beasts of burden as cows, goats, and donkeys, and with the action covered by a junior-grade newsreel team (grinding away with a cigar-box camera). Inevitably, the race degenerates into a comic free-for-all and a climactic chase, but not before little Allen "Farina" Hoskins crosses the finish line on his trusty tricycle. Originally released in November of 1923, Derby Day was chosen some 37 years later as the "pilot" film for The Mischief Makers, a TV package primarily comprising abbreviated Our Gang silent comedies. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Official Officers
Living in a crowded tenement neighborhood, the Our Gang kids habitually run afoul of the nasty, ill-tempered cop on the beat, "Hard-Boiled" McManus. Upset at McManus' ill-treatment of the youngsters, Inspector Malone replaces him with the more likable Officer Mac. The kids take an immediate shine to Mac, who reciprocates by deputizing the gang as junior officers. The kids take their new responsibilities seriously -- so seriously, in fact, that they manage to capture a genuine crook. As a bonus, the youngsters finally settle accounts with "Hard-Boiled" McManus, in an abrupt but satisfying finale. Originally released on June 28, 1925, Official Officers is one of those ubiquitous Our Gang silent comedies that seemed to pop up on a daily basis in the early days of television. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Olympic Games
Originally released on September 11, 1927, the silent, two-reel Our Gang comedy Olympic Games was undoubtedly inspired by the upcoming 1928 Olympiad in Amsterdam. This time around, the gang members are the athletes, and their back yards are the playing fields. While the older kids compete in the standard events -- with the usual array of makeshift javelins, shot puts, and the like -- spectator Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins greets their efforts with his trademarked Bronx cheer. All vestiges of sportsmanship and fair play are cast to the winds as the games degenerate into a garbage-throwing melee. Plotless and almost humorless, Olympic Games fails to live up to the promise of its title. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Fourth Alarm
While the Our Gang kids are beating the summer heat with their own elaborate version of a "slip-n-slide," a fire alarm rings, and the men from the nearby firehouse race to the conflagration. Tagging along, the youngsters manage, through a series of incredible coincidences, to put the fire out themselves. Impressed, the fire chief deputizes the kids and helps them organize their own fire brigade. As usual, the gang takes its new responsibilities with the seriousness of any adult: They even build their own fire engine, which though unwieldy is certainly fast and efficient. But will the gang be able to extinguish a fire in a chemist's lab and escape being blown to bits by a hidden reserve of dynamite? Largely filmed on the familiar Hal Roach Studios back lot (sharp-eyed comedy fans can spot such "landmarks" as the A to Z Pawnshop and the Pink Pup Café), The Fourth Alarm was originally released on September 12, 1926. The film was meticulously remade in 1932 as Hook and Ladder. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Dogs of War
Originally released on July 1, 1923, the silent, two-reel Dogs of War may well have been the most schizophrenic entry in the entire Our Gang series. The film begins with an elaborate sandlot recreation of a battlefield, with the Our Gang kids staging an elaborate mock war, complete with such "artillery" as rotten eggs and overripe vegetables, and with makeshift tanks and cannons adding to the imaginary carnage. Suddenly an armistice is declared when "Red Cross Nurse" Mary Kornman is called away to the local movie studio to appear in an epic titled Should Husbands Work? for a magnificent five dollars a day. Recognizing a good thing when they see it, the rest of the kids head to the studio (actually the Hal Roach lot) and offer their services as actors. Ordered to get out and stay out, the youngsters devise a clever method to gain access to the studio where, in addition to wreaking their usual havoc, they produce a one-reel "masterpiece" that more closely resembles an Andy Warhol experimental picture of the 1960s. Watch for comedy great Harold Lloyd in an amusing cameo -- which also serves as a plug for Lloyd's latest release, Why Worry?. One TV version of Dogs of War, retitled Hollywood USA, jettisons the "war" sequence entirely, with little damage to the film's continuity. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Sun Down Limited
The Our Gang comedies were never more enjoyable than when they fulfilled the fantasies of the kids in the audience. Case in point: the silent two-reeler The Sun Down Limited, in which the Our Gang kids construct and operate their own railroad service, powered by a somewhat overworked dog. While Mickey Daniels and Joe Cobb enjoy a brisk business transporting their fellow gang members to and fro on a small, abandoned stretch of track, neighborhood bully Toughy does his best to sabotage the operation. Inevitably, the kids' makeshift train hops the tracks and begins careening down city streets, with poor Allen "Farina" Hoskins bravely attempting to halt the vehicle all by himself. Even film historian William K. Everson, no fan of the Our Gang series, listed this comedy as one of the best Hal Roach films ever made. The Sun Down Limited was originally released on September 21, 1924. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Mary, Queen of Tots
Ignored by her parents and browbeaten by her governess (May Beatty), poor little rich girl Mary Kornman finds comfort only in her collection of dolls, which bear a striking resemblance to the familiar Our Gang kids. And well they should: The dolls were carved by an Italian gardener who used the kids as his models. After an enchanting sequence in which Mary dreams that her dolls have come to life, who should arrive at her home to deliver a basket of laundry but the Our Gang-ers themselves. The nasty old governess, who previously threw away Mary's dolls, gets her comeuppance when the presence of the real kids convinces her that she's gone crazy. An uneasy combination of charming whimsy and traditional Our Gang slapstick, the silent, two-reel Mary, Queen of Tots was originally released on August 23, 1925. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Spook Spoofing
The rest of the "Our Gang" kids rather cruelly taunt their black pal Allen "Farina" Hoskins, who is deathly afraid of ghosts. After driving poor Farina into a frenzy of fright in a spooky graveyard, the kids cap their mischief by convincing the nervous boy that one of the Gang members, Harry Spear, has died, and that Farina had better bury his "cold and clammy" pal in a hurry. Fortunately for Farina, the tables are turned on the prankish kids, thanks to an unexpected solar eclipse. Originally released on January 14, 1928, "Spook Spoofing" was the only silent "Our Gang" comedy to run a full three reels (approximately 27 minutes). Long available in the "Little Rascals" TV package, the film has been withdrawn in recent years due to the its stereotypical and demeaning "scared darkie" comedy content. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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