Early Universal Vol 1: Skinner’s Dress Suit/The Shield of Honor/The Shakedown.

“…Skinner’s Dress Suit is directed by William A. Seiter, who had begun life on the other side of the camera, appearing as a bit player at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios but who was, at this point, not only the principal director of Denny’s hugely popular movies but also the husband of La Plante, and serves almost as a template for the kind of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ Capitalist society domestic comedy that proved effective in cinema right up until the tail end of the twentieth century when it seemed to have found its final home in the world of the TV sitcom. Denny and La Plante star as a young married couple who hope to raise their standard of living. Spurred on by his wife, Honey, to ask for a raise at work, Denny’s Skinner is turned down flat leaving him to resort to falsehoods to keep his wife happy. Overjoyed by her husband’s ‘success’, Honey hits the shops – buying a gown for herself and the titular dress suit for hubby. Next, the couple head to the biggest party in town at the Colby residence. Despite feeling initially out of their depth at this ‘better off’ gathering, the Skinners are a young couple who know how to dance, making them a hit with the partygoers. All is well until the repo men come a-calling…”

“…If The Shield of Honor sounds like pure unmitigated ‘Copaganda’, then that’s because it is. From its earnest opening dedication to “that army of heroic men…often abused, often misunderstood…whose lives are dedicated to the protection of homes, liberty and happiness of the American people” to the Wings-inspired derring do, The Shield of Honor has an unmistakably misty eyed, hard-on for the boys in blue. In pint of fact, ‘Copaganda’ was the stock in trade of Johnson, whose mother Emilie, wrote not only this screenplay but the screenplay of his debut feature, 1922’s In the Name of The Law which had starred Lewis in the lead role. Like that earlier film, The Shield of Honor had a unique marketing campaign that fully employed America’s law enforcement departments in a mutually beneficial manner. Promotion of the film across territories would routinely rely upon free advertising from that city or town’s police department via a series of stunts or celebratory parades. With this invaluable appreciation from local law enforcement, the film secured screenings in major theaters – remember again, Universal did not own any cinemas themselves, their output had to be leased – thanks to the support and backing of the police who would gain both good PR from the film as well as a percentage of the proceeds at the door which would be donated to police causes such as the widow and orphans benevolent fund…”

“…The Shakedown is a pleasant surprise. It’s a surefooted and smooth production that not only evokes the mood of the Depression-hit country at the time and the melodramatic acting styles one expects from this era is mostly lacking here, with Wyler skilfully conveying a more natural series of performances that point towards the changing times within the medium of cinema. It’s a bold gambit to place so much of the film on the shoulders of a child star, but Hanlon is marvellous as Clem and gives as good as those around him. It’s hard not to watch Murray without considering his status as one of Hollywood’s greatest tragedies. After being discovered by Vidor for the lead role as the ordinary joe hero in The Crowd, Murray succumbed to alcoholism and eventually was reduced to walk-on roles and begging on the street. When Vidor came looking for him in 1934 for a new movie, Our Daily Bread, he found him destitute and angry, outright refusing to star in the project. Two years later, Murray drowned in what many suspect was a suicide. The Shakedown is just one of a handful of films in which he took the lead. Barbara Kent’s Marjorie may have little to do other than be supportive and loving, pointing towards the redemptive path for our male protagonist, but she does it extremely well – and let’s face it, fast forward to the late ’70s and ’80s and Sylvester Stallone was giving Talia Shire more or less the same slim pickings in the Rocky franchise…”

Recently released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Blu-ray Early Universal Vol 1. Read my review at The Geek Show

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