• Red Hand Gang – The Complete Series



    Released by:
    VCI Entertainment
    Released on: September 18, 2012.

    Director: Various

    Cast: Matthew Laborteaux, Johnny Brogna, JR Miller, Jolie Newman, James Bond III

    Year: 1977

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    The Series:


    A series that was originally shown on NBC in 1977, The Red Hand Gang lasted only one season but has retained a loyal cult following over the years. The series was released on DVD in the UK a couple of years back and now American distributors VCI Entertainment unleash it on its home turf of North America (though shown on NBC, the series was produced in Canada). The series debuted on September 10, 1977 and finished on November 26, 1977, it’s early death likely the result of an oddball 12:30pm time slot on the network.


    The series follows a gang of five kids – Frankie (Matthew Laborteaux, who some may recognize from his stint as Albert on Little House On The Prairie), his younger brother Lil’ Bill (Johnny Brogna), token tomboy Joanne (Jolie Newman), and JR (JR Miller) and the brainy Doc (James Bond III of Spike Lee’s School Daze) – who cruise around their town along with their loyal dog, Boomer, and unwittingly solve various crimes. Their name comes from their habit of leaving a red hand print to mark where they’ve been, something that most would consider vandalism, but that never seems to be much of an issue here.


    The series was shown with some tight continuity and most episodes ended with a cliffhanger. Given its premature death, there were only three storylines completed and the episodes break down as follows:


    Storyline #1:


    Lil’ Bill hears about a local boy who has been kidnapped and thinks he has figured out where he’s been hidden. He and the rest of the gang go to the cops but without any evidence, there’s nothing they’ll do. Joanna decides they should tail one of the kidnappers and Frankie finds out that they’re hiding out in a haunted house! Frankie teams up with a local bum for some reason but the kidnappers have got their ransom plan underway and aren’t about to let some meddling kids wreck it for them.


    1. The Face at the Window / 2. The Spooky Hideout / 3. The Search / 4. Beware the Red Hand Gang / 5. The Mystery Boat


    Storyline #2:


    The second story finds the gang trying to meet famous football player OK Okins, but his behavior seems odd to them and so they start investigating only to uncover a plan to rob a jewelry auction. They try to get Joanne’s uncle, Fred, a security guard, to help them but no dice! The gang take it upon themselves to break into the venue where the action is being held to stop the crooks before they can make off with the loot, but things get complicated when circumstances arise to make it look like Uncle Fred and the Red Hand Gang members themselves are the true culprits!


    6. The Man in the Mask / 7. The Missing Jewels / 8. Search and Rescue / 9. Doc's Big Idea


    Storyline #3:


    The final storyline, the shortest of the three, finds the Red Hang Girl hanging out with their deaf friend Holly at an animal farm and are impressed to meet a chimpanzee named Maxwell who knows sign language. It turns out he was taught this skill by some bad guys planning to use him to rob a museum. When the kids try to stop the crooks from taking the monkey on their devious mission, Doc gets trapped in a cage and the gang have to save him. It works, but they’ve still got to stop the thieves from getting away with things and on top of that, they have to save their new monkey friend too!


    10. The Photo Clue / 11. Monkey Business 12. Devil's Canyon


    How does this series hold up more than thirty years since it was created? It’s goofy. Not goofy in a bad way, mind you, but goofy nevertheless. JR wears a shirt that says JR on it. The kids all wear tube socks pulled up as high as they’ll go. They ride around on old school chopper bikes and zip around on seventies style plastic skateboards and they solve crime with help from a dog and occasionally a monkey. When they’re not taking down jewel thieves and saving kidnapping victims they’re returning empty soda bottles for the refund change and the kids never once change their outfits, they wear the same clothes, day in, day out – the only exception being when they occasionally need to put on a disguise. The adults in the show are all fairly mindless. Most of them show no interest in helping the kids and the grown up bad guys are clueless. If you want to hide from one while he’s chasing you, just stoop over behind a big plant, there’s no way he’ll see you!


    But if you throw logic out the window and don’t try too hard with this stuff, it’s relentlessly goofy but a fair bit of fun. Logic isn’t really ever an issue here, the series isn’t concerned with that, rather, the focus is on some mild kid friendly suspense and a fair bit of adventure and comedy. Very much a product of its time, the series will appeal more to nostalgia buffs than a modern day kids’ audience but it’s mildly amusing in small doses.


    Video/Audio/Extras:


    Each and every episode of this goofy (there’s that word again) show is presented fullframe, as you would expect it to be. Some minor motion blurring indicates that maybe these transfers were sourced from some sort of PAL master but it’s all watchable enough. It doesn’t look like much restorative work has been done here so sometimes the colors are slightly faded and the image is almost always soft. Don’t go in expecting miracles or anything, but yeah, it looks okay for something that appears to have been taken from tape masters, which comparatively speaking isn’t really that great by most standards.


    The English language Dolby Digital Mono track is on par with the video quality. Levels are okay but clarity sometimes suffers, there’s a bit of muffle in the mix and some fairly consistent hiss. Overall though you probably won’t have any issues following the dialogue or understanding the characters. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided here.


    Extras are slim, limited to a still gallery, the original American commercial break card, episode synopsis’ and a series synopsis. Animated menus and episode selection are also included on each of the two discs that house the complete series.


    The Final Word:


    The greatest seventies kids show ever made? No, not even close, but The Red Hand Gang is still a lot of good, quirky fun, the kind that could have only come from the decade in which it was created. Kind of a mix between The Little Rascals and The Hardy Boys, the short lived series is entertaining enough. If it’ll appeal to modern kids is debatable but nostalgia junkies ought to get a good fix from this release, even if the audio and video quality is less than amazing and the extras are slim.