Our Gang [DVD]

Part of the TV Classics series, this DVD collection from the Platinum Disc Corporation features over three hours of classic Our Gang comedies. The digitally mastered episodes are Waldo's Last Stand, Sundown Limited, The Fourth Alarm, Hi'-Neighbor!, The Dogs of War, The Pooch, Fly My Kite, Derby Day, and Mary, Queen of Tots.
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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

Waldo's Last Stand
The Our Gang kids offer to help their pal Waldo (Darwood Kaye) attract customers to his lemonade stand. Redecorating their clubhouse as a lavish nightclub, the kids stage an elaborate floor show, with Darla Hood as the star vocalist. Unfortunately, their efforts attract only one patron -- a surly, stone-faced little kid with a Popeye-the-Sailor voice (Billy "Froggy" Laughlin, making his first Our Gang appearance). Originally released on October 5, 1940, the one-reel Waldo's Last Stand has since lapsed into the public domain, and as a result is the most easily accessible of the MGM Our Gang films (though certainly not the best of the batch!) ~ 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

When wealthy young Jerry Tucker moves into town, the Our Gang kids line up to greet him. Alas, Jerry is a snobbish sort, though he immediately turns on the charm when he meets little Jane (Jackie Taylor), the erstwhile girlfriend of Wally Albright. Worried that Jane's head will be turned by Jerry's shiny new toy fire engine, Wally and the Gang build a fire truck of their own --- an impressive effort, constructed from virtually every piece of scrap metal and every stray wheel in the neighborhood. The story comes to a riotous conclusion when Jerry and the Gang race their respective fire engines down one of those very steep hills that one finds only in two-reel comedies. Originally released on March 3, 1934, "Hi'-Neighbor!" was the first of many top-rank "Our Gang" films directed by Gus Meins. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Pooch
Cheerful vagrant Mathew "Stymie" Beard tries to get back in the good graces of the Gang after stealing their pies. Stymie's not a bad kid, just hungry, as proven when he cadges a meal from a friendly housewife -- a meal supposedly for his faithful pet Pete the Pup, but actually consumed by himself. When a mean dogcatcher (Budd Fine) tries to round up the Gang's dogs, Stymie comes to the rescue, earning the undying devotion of the kids and the animosity of the dogcatcher, who vengefully bundles Petey off to the pound, intending to consign the poor pooch to the gas chamber. Desperately, Stymie prays for the five dollars necessary to spring Petey, whereupon a five-spot blows out of the hands of a lady shopper and lands at Stymie's feet. For a while, it seems as if Stymie and the Gang are too late to save Petey from being destroyed, but the dog has a trick or two of his own up his. . .er. . .sleeve. A semi-remake of the 1927 "Our Gang" comedy "Love My Dog," "The Pooch" was originally released on June 11, 1932. ~ 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

Fly My Kite
A real four-hankie picture, "Fly My Kite" is one of "Our Gang"'s most poignant episodes, though it also manages to be hilariously funny at times. Margaret Mann makes a return appearance as the gang's adopted Grandma, who reads Wild West stories to the kids, gives them boxing tips and dispenses valuable advice about honesty and decency. The fly in the ointment is Grandma's hateful son-in-law Dan (played by James Mason -- not the famous British actor) who orders the old lady to pack up and get out so that he and his new wife (Mae Busch) can move in. On cue, the Gang attacks Dan en masse and forces him to make a hasty retreat, though he warns Grandma that she'd better be gone by the time he gets back. While on his way out, Dan peeks into Grandma's mailbox and finds a letter stating that she is in possession of old gold bonds now worth $100,000. Returning, Dan tells her that the bonds are worthless, hoping to get his own grimy hands on the valuable documents. But Grandma, still unaware of her financial windfall, informs Dan that the bonds did "go up" after all: She has tied them to the tail of the kids' kite, which is now flying high in the air. The rest of the film is a slapstick tour de force, as the Gang uses any weapon at their disposal ---rocks, nails, broken bottles, etc. --- to prevent Dan from retrieving the kite. Utilizing one of LeRoy Shield's lushest musical scores (including such unforgettable tunes as the plaintive "Prelude" and the helter-skelter &"Hide and Go Seek"), "Fly My Kite" is among those rare "Our Gang" films that extends its appeal even to non-fans of the series. Originally released on May 30, 1931, the film represented the last "Our Gang" appearance of series stalwart Allen "Farina" Hoskins. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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