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Mickey Rooney: Long & Short of It

Other // Unrated // January 26, 2010
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 22, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Collection:
For a while budget DVD studios have made quantity their main selling point.  With sets boasting 100 horror movies or 600 classic cartoons it's pretty certain that they weren't terribly choosy about which titles to include.  Hollywood Select Video in cooperation with Infinity Entertainment has started to release public domain films based around a common theme rather than just a genre.  In the coming weeks I'll be reviewing their set entitled, The Envelope Please, a collection of films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar that didn't win, but today I'm looking at Mickey Rooney - The Long & Short of It a nice collection of 14 films covering Rooney's incredibly long and prolific career.  It's a nice set, though there are some glaring omissions (none of the films he made with Judy Garland are included) and some real flops.  The set is also marred by all of the films containing a watermark in the corner.
A bit about Mickey Rooney:
Born Joseph Yule Jr. to a pair of actors, Rooney first appeared in a series of "Mickey McGuire" silent films (which lasted well into the sound era) based on a comic strip.  In order to avoid paying royalties to the strip's creator, Joe Yule had his name legally changed to "Mickey McGuire" and was billed as such in the series.  He stared in 78 of the shorts from 1927 through 1936, three of which are included in this set.   Though he was legally "McGuire", when his mother suggested that he tour under that name during the off season, the studio threatened to sue.  He then changed names, once again, to Andy Rooney and this time it stuck.
After the McGuire series Rooney segued into feature films and was the #`1 box office draw in the years leading up to WWII.  Staring in a series of incredibly successful "Andy Hardy" movies and in other light comedies, he ruled the box office.   During the War he enlisted and was as a radio personality on the Armed Forces Network.  Unfortunately, when he returned to civilian life he discovered that his career was on the skids and found work increasingly hard to find.  He had a TV show (one episode is included) in the 50's where he played a role similar to those of his 30's films, but it lasted only a single season.
Ever the trooper, Hardy took what work he could (several of his stinkers from this time are to be found in this collection) and persevered until he became fashionable once again.  In recent years he's appeared on The Simpsons, and co-starred in Night at the Museum.  In 1983 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
This collection:
This is a mixed bag.  Since it's limited to public domain offerings and Rooney spent his most successful years working for MGM, many of his best performances are not included.  There are some great films in this set however.  The Mickey McGuire films are fun to watch, thought they come across as Our Gang knockoffs, which they undoubtedly were.  Little Lord Fauntleroy is an excellent movie, as is Quicksand and Love Laughs at Andy Hardy. 
On the other hand, there are some real stinkers included too.    Mooch Goes to Hollywood is pretty stupid and My Outlaw Brother is just dumb.  The Manipulator however is wretched and the worst film I have ever seen.   It should just be avoided at all costs.
The set contains the following films and shorts:
Disc 1:
Officer 13 (1932) -  Billed as Mickey McGuire, the child star plays the son of a police officer who is run off the road and killed by Jack Blake, a crook he's chasing.  The young lady in the car with the Blake, Doris Dane a society woman and daughter of a prominent judge, testifies that it was an accident.  They were only swerving to miss a boulder in the road when the cop was killed, or so she says.  The jury finds the defendant innocent largely because of Doris' testimony.  Overcome by guilt once she sees the dead man's family, Doris goes to the Chief of Police and recants her statement.  Unfortunately Blake has paid protection money and the chief won't go after him.  So it's up to the slain officer's partner, who wears badge 13 from the title, and Doris to convince the chief to do the right thing.
They say that the quality of public education has been declining for years, but you wouldn't know it from watching this film.  Apparently they didn't teach basic civics back in 1932, because everyone assumes that Blake will be tried a second time once Doris recants her testimony.  As everyone knows the US Constitution prohibits that, so I was left scratching my head through most of this film.  Aside from that large gaff, this B -movie is a simple drama that works, but just barely.  I never could understand why a nice girl like Doris was hanging around with a low-life scum like Blake, maybe she was slumming or something.  Rooney did a great job as the dead officer's son.  He was the only one who seemed to be upset at the man's death, actually showing emotion.  Officer 13 (played by Monte Blue) was so wooden that some of his scenes were unintentionally comical. Overall not a bad way to spend an hour if you set your sights low. 
The Big Chance (1933) - This is another crime drama, again involving crooked gamblers.  The story will be very familiar to any modern viewers:  a boxer, Knockout Frankie Morgan (John Darrow), has won a number of fixed fights in order to get a match with The Champ, where he's supposed to take a dive and win his handler, Flash, a lot of money.  The only problem is that Knockout meets a spunky kid, Arthur (Mickey Rooney) and his older sister Mary (Merna Kennedy).  Knockout gets knocked out by Mary and proposes to her after one date.  But can he look his love in the eye if he throws the big fight? Whatever will he do?
This is a light weight film that never really pays off.  It unfolds in a typical fashion and viewers never really connect with the characters.  What makes it worse is that the film ends before we discover what the consequences are for the big decision Morgan. (Spoiler:  He wins the fight against the champ and kisses Mary in the locker room after.  The fact that Flash lost over $10,000 on the fight, or what he's going to do about it, is never addressed.  End Spoiler.)
This movie is also marred by frequent splices.  It looks like the film print they used has been around the block a few times, because several conversations are unintelligible because of the myriad of splices.  This includes a climactic scene where Morgan tells Flash he's not going to take a dive.  We never get to see Flash's reaction because the movie jumps to the next scene.  This poor print really makes the movie hard to watch.
Lost Jungle (1932): This is a fun film.  It is the feature version of the serial of the same name and has a lot of excitement and action scenes.  When animal trainer and circus performer Clyde Beatty's fiancée, Ruth, goes missing in the South Pacific, he joins a rescue expedition.  The blimp they are travelling in runs into a hurricane and crash lands, but fortuitously lands on the same island as Ruth and her father's crew.  Add into this mix a slew of wild lions and tigers as well as a lost city and a missing treasure and you've got an enjoyable way to pass an hour.
This movie was made to showcase Clyde Beatty.  Now virtually unknown, at the time Beatty was a household name, a famous animal trainer who would go into a crowded cage filled with wild animals armed only with a chair and a gun filled with blanks.  Consequently, the action in this film just about always revolves around Beatty facing a menacing animal.  He keeps a tiger at bay with a piece of bamboo and a piece of vine he uses as a whip, he stares down a killer lion while trapped in a lion pit, and faces several animals all at once during his circus act.  Like most theatrical versions of serials, it's a bit choppy in places, but overall it's an interesting look what a trip to the circus would look like during the depression.  Rooney is only in one segment, he plays a big fan of the trainers, and isn't even listed in the credits.
Disc 2:
Little Pal (aka The Healer - 1936):  This poverty row picture (it was made by Monogram) features Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Holden, a brilliant surgeon and physician who turns his back on the riches that working in the big city would offer him in order to spend his time curing crippled children.  (The children are presumably suffering from polio.  Oddly enough, they never mention the disease by name.  The cause of the children's disability is only mentioned once, when a nurse remarks that she hopes Holden will find a cure for the 'terrible affliction.') 
Rooney plays a young polio victim who has lost the use of his legs and is treated at Dr. Holden's center.  He plays a supporting role but the main focus is the love triangle between Holden, his nurse, and an attractive society woman who wants to turn the small clinic into an elaborate sanitarium for the elite.
The movie is very predictable and unfolds just as you would expect it to, so there's little suspense and not much real drama.  The acting is a bit wooden, except for Rooney who gives the most believable performance in the picture.  It's a bit sad watching the film now since we know that no one ever came up with a 'cure' for people afflicted with polio and that the hope the movie was trying to instill was false.  A bit of a yawner, but still worth watching.
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936):  This is one of the best films in the collection.  Produced by David O. Selznick and released through United Artists, the film is a stark contrast to the earlier poverty row pictures.  This one is filled with lavish sets and meticulous period costumes. 
Most readers are probably familiar with the story, but here's a quick recap:  Cedric (Freddie Bartholomew) is a fatherless waif living in poverty in America with his mother 'Dearest' (Dolores Costello Barrymore, wife of John Barrymore and grandmother of Drew Barrymore.)  His simple life changes when he discovers that his father was really English nobility.  The father was disowned by Cedric's grandfather, The Earl of Dorincourt (wonderfully played by C. Aubrey Smith) for marrying an American.  The Earl realizes he needs an heir after his other son dies, and sends off to America for Cedric.  When the young boy gets to England however, things aren't all wine and roses, especially between Dearest and the Earl.  It's up to the adorable child to thaw the old man's frozen heart.
In this film Rooney plays one of Cedric's best friends in America, Dick Tipton.  The scene where Dick comes to Cedric's aid in a fight is great, showing how close the two friends are as well as adding a nice bit of action.
This film had a fairly big budget and a lot of the money ended up on the screen.  It not only looks good, but the acting is excellent across the board.  The only thing that mars this heart-warming film is a less than average print.
Mickey's Surprise (1929):  This is a Mickey McGuire short.  The series was obviously trying to cash in on the success of the Our Gang shorts, though this installment is totally lacking the charm and humor of the Roach films.  This short is pretty disjointed and plays like a Mack Sennett short with a series of unrelated gags strung together.  In it Mickey is late for school so, well, nothing happens.  The kids have a spelling bee and then go home.  They return later for a talent show, with Mickey staring in just about all the acts.  He and his friends recite "Old King Cole" and play a few songs.  The End.  Not very funny or entertaining.
Disc Three:
Hoosier Schoolboy (1937):  A new school teacher (Anne Nagel) arrives in a town embroiled by a strike.  She becomes friends with the tough thug of the school, Shockey Carter (Mickey Rooney), and discovers that a little caring goes a long way.  Shockey's father was a war hero, but drowns his memories of the war with alcohol, leaving Shockey to support the family.
This low budget drama was surprisingly good, with excellent performances by Rooney and Nagel.  The only real problem is that they threw too much into the script.  While the interaction between the teacher and Shockey was very good, the sub plot (that takes over the movie in the second half) about the milk farmers going on strike was pretty lame.  While the first plot tried to paint things in shades of grey, the strike was purely in black and white: evil milk distributor vs. the goodly farmers.  The end was pretty abrupt and wrapped things up too nicely for my tastes too.  Even so, this is a very enjoyable flick.
Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946):  The penultimate entry in the long running Andy Hardy series (the last one would be made 12 years later) this one find Andy (Mickey Rooney) returning home after fighting in WWII.  He has the GI bill so he's in a hurry to go back to college, partially to finish his degree but mostly so he can see his sweet heart, Kay (Bonita Granville).  Unfortunately things don't work out the way Andy plans, and when Kay has to return home for the weekend unexpectedly, Andy has to find a new girl to take to the freshman dance.  From there, things go even further downhill for the unlucky Andy.
This was an enjoyable chapter from a good series.  The film has some good laughs, especially the sequence when the diminutive 5' 2" Rooney is dancing with the towering Dorothy Ford (6' 2" and she's wearing heels!)  It's unfortunate that no one has released a boxed set of all 16 Hardy movies, restored of course.  I'd be the first in line to buy a copy.  Until then, we'll have to be satisfied with PD copies like this one. 
Mickey the Great (1946):  This is an hour long film made by stitching together four Mickey McGuire shorts.  There's a framing sequence where three of the girls who used to act in the series, now adults, get together for lunch and talk about Mickey McGuire as if the events in the shorts were real.  It was fun to see some of these once-child actresses grown up.  Shirley Jean Rickert is one of them and after her Hollywood career was over she became a stripper in burlesque houses. 
The shorts themselves are funny, they obviously picked some of the better shorts and fans of Hal Roach's Our Gang films will definitely find these appealing too, though not quite as good.  
Unfortunately the picture quality of this movie is pretty wretched making it almost unwatchable.
Disc Four:
The Big Wheel (1949): This was a fun, light car racing movie that had a few plot holes but was enjoyable never the less.  Rooney plays Billy Coy who moves to Carrell for one reason only:  to race cars at the track there.  His father was a famous driver who was killed when he was a lap away from winning the Indy 500, and Billy wants to succeed where his father didn't.
He quickly gets a job at a garage that works on race cars and before you know it steps behind the wheel during a race when another driver is too injured to drive.  Billy starts racking up wins, and soon teams up with another driver, 'Happy' Lee and the pair are nearly unbeatable.  One race however, Happy's wheel is loose and under a no-passing yellow flag, Billy zips past the other cars to warn his buddy about the danger.  Before he can, the wheel falls off and Billy hits his friend, killing him.  From the stands it looks like Billy murdered his biggest rival, and he's soon ostracized by the other racers and the other mechanics and the owner of the garage where he worked.
Most of this film is a lot of fun and has some nice race scenes included.  The big dramatic conflict, everyone thinking that Billy was a murderer, was awful contrived.  Everyone knew that Billy and Happy were best friends and racing partners and the way they all suddenly hate him, and then accept him again when the plot calls for it is pretty dumb.  You don't go into a movie like this looking for a tight plot though, and this deliver's a good amount of entertainment even with the weak story.
My Outlaw Brother (1951):  Based on a book by Max Brand, this western is pretty ordinary and unexciting.  Rooney plays both a main character and comic relief in this mix-up oater.  Denny O'Moore (Rooney) is traveling south to Mexico from New York City.  He's a fish out of water, looking for his brother, Patrick (Robert Stack) who is running a big silver mine in Mexico.  When he rides into town right in the middle of a bank robbery, he complains to the Sheriff that the criminals spooked his horse, and though he's never ridden and for no understandable reason, he trades his horse and wagon for a broken horse and saddle, which he continually falls off of for the rest of the movie. 
Going down to Mexico, he runs into Joe Walter (Robert Preston), a law officer who is crossing the border unofficially to stop The Fox, an Indian bandit who has been sending raiding parties into Texas.  The only American who knows the identity of the Fox is his right hand man, you guessed it, Patrick O'Moore!  When Walter learns that Patrick is Denny's brother, he agrees to tag along with the green horn, and tries to keep him out of trouble, with little luck.
The story was just too hokey for me to suspend my disbelief.  Denny isn't fazed by seeing a man shot in cold blood, but he's outraged that someone spooked his horse.  Walter and Denny just happen to be going to the same place, at the same time, and meet up in the Texas desert.  Then of course there's the convoluted and totally implausible ending that's unintentionally comical.  Give this one a miss and go on to the rest of the set.
Mickey's Revolution (1931):  Another Mickey McGuire short.  This one is pretty amusing with Mickey getting into trouble with a farmer, and then on a golf course. After that what does he do??  Why he puts on a show! 
Disc 5:
Quicksand (1950):  This is a very good film noir offering.  Rooney plays Dan Brady, a mechanic who manages to talk the hot new waitress at a nearby café into going out with him.  The only problem is that he doesn't have any money, and can't borrow any.  He decides to take $20 out of the till at work.  The accountant comes once a week to count the money, and that's days away.  He'll be able to put it back before then.
He has a great time with Vera (Jeanne Cagney, James Cagney's sister) but the next morning he finds out that the accountant is going to come early.  Instead of days he only has hours to get the $20 back.  This leads to events spiraling out of control as he starts to commit larger and larger crimes in the hopes of covering up the previous one.  All the while he's egged on by Vera, who seems less and less stable as the film goes on.
Rooney gives a good performance in this taught thriller.  The script unfolds very nicely, with each crime being a logical extension of the previous one.  Peter Lorre has a supporting role as a slimy arcade owner who Vera used to work for.  This is a very good film that's one of this set's highlights.  Unfortunately it's missing a few seconds worth of footage during the chase scene at the end.
Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971):  This is a really bad cute animal movie.  A female dog, Mooch, hops off of a freight train in Hollywood and according to Zsa Zsa Gabor who narrates, is looking to break into movies.  The bitch runs into some famous people (Vincent Price, Jill St. John) and visits some of the sites (The Brown Derby, Grumman's etc.) while trying to make it big.  This film shouldn't even be in this Mickey Rooney set.  He's only in the film for about 10 frames.  He doesn't speak and he's not credited.  The only thing he does is smile and wave outside of a porno theater.  (I kid you not.)  It was fun to see some of the Hollywood attractions circa 1971, but aside from that this film is a dog.
The Manipulator (1971):  This is the worst movie I have ever seen.  EVER.  If someone offered me $100 to sit through this again I'd laugh as I turned them down.  It's that bad.
The movie starts with Rooney walking through an old warehouse filled with cobweb-covered movie props.  He has conversations with himself, nonsensical rambling stream of consciousness mumblings spill out of his month constantly (I'd bet money nearly all of it was ad-libbed... I doubt there was a script) while imagining old naked people dancing around him.  Based on his insane nearly incoherent dialog it emerges quickly that Rooney is playing B. J. Lang, a onetime famous movie director who has fallen on hard times.  And gone totally insane.  After about an hour and a half of this (though the timer on my DVD player said it was only 18 minutes... it sure seemed much longer than that) Lang pulls aside a curtain to reveal a woman he has kidnapped (Luana Anders).  Her dialog for the first five minutes consists of her repeating "Mr. Lang, I'm hungry.  I'm hungry Mr. Lang" over and over and over again and again and again.  Softly, loudly, pitifully, angrily, every emotion she could remember from high school drama class.  Lang then dresses himself up in several horrid costumes (including wearing woman's makeup which by be the most horrific thing I've ever seen...  I mean I really need counseling.) and makes his captive perform scenes for the movie he's filming (only in his mind of course) all while rambling incoherently.
Basically the director and 'writer' Yabo Yablonsky (if that is his real name) basically tried to create a movie from a mad man's point of view.  I get that.  The thing is that this is boring, boring, boring.  Way past avant-garde, he seems to have thought that he could film just any weird stuff and he'd be the next David Lynch.  Well it doesn't work that way.  This was his only directorial effort.  (Thank God.)  Just skip this movie.
Disc 6:
Find the Lady (1976):  This movie was a surprise.  I had not heard of it, but it stars a young John Candy, has an appearance by Peter Cook, and of course Mickey Rooney.  Unfortunately what was so surprising was just how bad it was.  This slapstick comedy was filled with jokes, but none of them were remotely funny.
Candy plays Kopek, a bumbling detective who is partnered with Broom (Lawrence Dane) and has to solve several crimes including a kidnapping.  Rooney is the notorious gangster Trigger, who recently arrived in town.  
The plot plays second fiddle to the slapstick gags which are frequent and painfully dull.  While looking for a pencil Kopek gets his tie caught in a desk drawer, chokes himself, and starts an wild series of events that demolishes the whole police station!  Kopek gets lost trying to find a concert hall, unfolds a map on his trunk and then turns around.  He's right in front of the place!  If those descriptions of two scenes gives you fits of laugher, than check out this film.  Otherwise, just avoid it. 
Show Business at War (1943):  A 17 minute newsreel that was made with the cooperation of several studios.  It shows how vital the movie industry is for the moral of the troops.  They show stars at USO dances, selling bonds, and even enlisting.  The message is clear:  Hollywood's product is very important, so don't ration film stock.  Pretty please. It's a neat short, but I couldn't spot Rooney in it.
Golden Gold Awards Clip (1958): A funny clip from an awards ceremony.  Ronald Reagan introduces Jayne Mansfield who is supposed to give a special award to a foreign actor.  He wasn't present, so Mickey Rooney jumps up on stage, unscripted, to accept.
Playhouse 90 - The Comedian (1957):  I was really looking forward to this live TV show from television's golden age.  It was written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer, and stars Rooney as a famous comedian with a highly rated TV show who is cracking under the pressure of coming up with a hilarious show each and every week.  The show won two Emmys and it sounds great.  Unfortunatley I couldn't get through it... the video copy is unwatchable.  This was tapped off a monitor, and for some reason the tape speeds up for just a couple of words every minute or so.  All of a sudden people move faster and then slow down again.  What's worse is that you can't understand what they're saying since the words are squeezed together and go up a couple of octaves in tone.  It happens on a regular basis, quite frequently too, and is incredibly distracting.  I couldn't watch it.
The Mickey Rooney Show - The Executive (1954):  This is an episode from Rooney's first TV show.  It only lasted 33 episodes and was broadcast at a time when most homes didn't have television sets.  Rooney starts as Mulligan, a young office boy (which was a stretch since he was over 30 at the time).  In this episode Mulligan realizes that his small stature might hamper his prospects of becoming a big time exec. 
It was an amusing show that was better than I was expecting.  I'd like to see the rest of the run sometime.  The image on this show is excellent... probably the best picture in the whole set.
The DVD:

These non-restored movies arrive on six single-sided DVDs (thankfully!  Some public domain companies save nickels by releasing their collections on double-sided discs).  They are housed in a double sided case with overlapping discs on the front and back flaps and one disc on each side of an inserted page.  It also comes in a slipcase that reproduces the artwork on the DVD case itself. 

There is a surprising lack of attention to detail present through this set.  One movie has the run time listed as the year it was made (1941) and another gets the title of the movie wrong on the DVD menu.  Oddly there's no movie list on the case either.  I can't imagine why.
Just about all of these are in mono, and being public domain offerings the quality varies but rarely reaches the 'average' mark.  There's frequent background noise, pops, and some distortion in most of these films.  Just about every audio flaw you can think of appears somewhere at some point in this set, but in general they are all acceptable (unless noted above.)
Like the audio, the full frame image quality is a mixed bag but it's generally not too good.  The images are very soft as a rule and scratches and spots are frequent.  None of these look great, which is why it's so surprising that the entire set includes a "Hollywood Select Video" water mark in the lower right hand corner.  I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to copy films of this quality, and if they do, so what?  Just about all of these are available from one source or another.  Even if they weren't, I can't see a release of Officer 13 by another company cutting into sales on this set very deeply.  I can see people on the fence about buying this avoiding it because of the water mark.
The only extras are a set of Mickey Rooney trailers sprinkled across the discs.  Unfortunately each disc's offerings are run together on one reel so you can pick and choose which one you want to see.  There's not even a list of trailers, which is a shame.
Final Thoughts:
This is a hard one to judge.  There were some great films included, along with some horrible ones.  The image quality isn't that great though, and they added a water mark to every movie, which is horrible.  Overall I'd give this a rent it though you may be able to pick it up cheaper than renting the 6 discs.
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