Friday, January 22, 2016


I briefly mentioned the movie Skippy a couple of times, but I've never done a full-length post on it. It's coming up on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM, so now would be a good time to rectify that.

Skippy, played by Jackie Cooper, is a young boy living in the upper-middle-class part of one of those Anywhere USA towns that populated movies of the 1930s. Think the Hardys' house, only with one young son instead of two teenage kids. Skippy lives with his father, Dr. Skinner (Willard Robertson) who works for the Health Department, and Mom (Enid Bennett). When school is out, he's got the neighbor children to deal with, Eloise (Mitzi Green) and her kid brother Sidney (Jackie Searl). Skippy, however, has a bit of a rebellious streak, combined with a sense of adventure, as a lot of boys his age do. He wants to spend his days over in Shantytown, the part of town on the wrong side of the tracks, and a part of town that Dad is trying to get dismantled for "public health" reasons. (Stick them all in public housing. Brilliant idea.)

It's over in Shantytown that Skippy meets Sooky (Robert Coogan). Sooky is a young boy who lives with his widowed mother (Helen Jerome Eddy) and dog in a woeful little shack. Skippy and Sooky become fast friends, but there's a problem with that dog. It's unlicensed, so don't tell the government about it! Sure enough, Skippy, Sooky, and the dog run afoul of the government when they accidentally break a car windshield. That car just happens to belong to Harley Nubbins, who is the town's dog catcher. Nubbins takes the dog into custody, and demands the princely sum of $3 for the boys to get the dog back. This was the early 1930s, so that $3 would probably translate to the mid-to-high two figures nowadays, which is substantial for a young boy in general, but well beyond the reach of Sooky and his mom, who have to watch every penny. Sooky could probably get the money in an emergency, but in this case, that would require telling Mom and Dad that he was over in Shantytown, and that he actually got in trouble there, which of course he doesn't want to do. Can he get the money?

Well, yes, he has a piggy bank, but in a plot twist Nubbins turns out to be even meaner than when we first meet him. Skipy and Sooky go to the dog pound with their three bucks to pick up the dog, but Nubbins takes the money on the grounds that it'll go to pay for the windshield; the kids need another three bucks to get their dog. (They should have asked for a receipt.) If they don't get the money by the next afternoon, the dog is going to be sent with all the other unclaimed dogs to go wherever it is thta unclaimed dogs are sent. Best not to think about those things. How are they going to get these three bucks? Well, they try a bunch of schemes that seem hare-brained to any adult, but natural and humorous to anybody willing to look at this movie through a child's eyes.

Skippy is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, even though you know it's eventually going to arrive at a happy ending. Jackie Cooper is fun in the lead; Coogan does a good enough job as the emotional Sooky; and Mitzi Green is a hoot in her scenes as the brat next door, especially when she's given awful poetry to recite. There are enough plot twists here to surprise and even shock along the way to that happy ending, although looking at the movie from 80 years later, I did find myself sometimes wondering whether adults really treated kids the way the characters here do back in the day.

I don't know if Skippy is available on DVD; I couldn't find it on Amazon.

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