Boy, what a novelty this is. Skippy is evidently based on an old newspaper comic strip, and it shares the distinction of this adaptation source with no other Best Picture nominee (or none that I can think of). Really, though, I’m not quite certain why this was nominated for Best Picture at all, unless the Academy really wanted a quote-unquote comedy in the running, even though The Front Page also got a nomination, but I digress. Had I been a member of the Academy in 1931, or whenever the ceremony actually was, my vote would not have gone to Skippy, as aside from the novelty of the film itself, it is not well made, not well acted, and not well directed, and falls flat on its face more often than almost any other film of its kind.
Jackie Cooper is the titular Skippy, the young son of a doctor and his wife, who both try and straighten Skippy up to be an upstanding member of society like his dad. Of course, Skippy, being the precocious child he is, spends his time doing whatever he wants, mostly crossing the tracks to hang out in the town’s slums, known as Shantytown, with all the dirty impoverished kids that live there. There, he meets Sooky, a child who somehow manages to be a worse actor than any of the other kids, and the bulk of the film is Skippy getting to know Sooky and trying to help his new pal out when Sooky’s dog is caught by the mean local dogcatcher. Even with my somewhat tawdry plot synopsis, it was probably more detailed than the film itself is worth. Most of the film consists of Skippy being Skippy, the rascal child that he is, and other grown-ups trying to keep him from being the rascal that he is, mostly his parents, and of course they don’t succeed, because Skippy’s just such a lovable rascal. Really, every character is just that: a character, and little more than that; the only person who changes even a little bit is Skippy’s father, and only to lampshade his old character with the new one the script commands he become at the end of the film, so it’s not like an actual character arc has taken place. Even with the lack of worthwhile characters, that the film focuses on a bunch of kids is ultimately its Achilles’ heel, as none of the kids save Cooper can act their way out of a wet paper bag. Even Cooper’s acting amounts to being as showy as he can be with his voice, which admittedly does work, as well as a bit near the end of the film where he acts a couple scenes through crying and sobbing, which did work well, but given how director Norman Taurog managed to get Cooper to do these scenes, is a little undermined when one pulls back the curtain on it, as it were. Really, I can’t see how Taurog won the Oscar for Best Director, aside from working with a bunch of kids; the film wasn’t very well put together or structured, and it was fairly evident it wasn’t the editor or screenwriter’s fault, so that leaves basically him.
I don’t really know what my expectations were regarding this film, but they evidently were not met. I can say, I did expect to get something faintly humorous or amusing out of Skippy the motion picture, given that it was based on a comic strip, but I didn’t get that at all. Aside from being mildly affected by Cooper’s crying scenes, there was almost no worth to this at all. I don’t know yet whether or not the films of late 1930/early 1931 were really not as good as this one manages to, um, be, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t a few more worthy possible nominations of the big prize than this. As I’ve often said after a particularly disappointing film excursion: Oh well. Onto the next one.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10
Post-Script: I had tried to find this on my own and was unable to, but I received a copy (along with East Lynne) from Chip Lary of Tips From Chip, who somehow manages to have everything I’ve been unable to find over the years. I learned last night, though, that Chip has passed away from health problems, and I’d wanted to acknowledge just how much Chip and his contributions to the community have meant. You will be missed, Chip. Goodbye… and thanks.