Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Mokey (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Warner Archive recently released three varied movies showcasing actor Robert Blake, including the '50s prison drama REVOLT IN THE BIG HOUSE (1958) and a '70s racing film, CORKY (1972).

The earliest of the three releases is MOKEY (1942), featuring 8-year-old "Bobby" Blake.

Blake had a long career as a child actor, including many appearances in the "Our Gang" series, where he was billed as Mickey Gubitosi. Blake's older siblings James Gubitosi and Joan Blake (also known as Giovanna Gubitosi) were also child actors, but their careers were much more limited.

Blake had been in the movies for three years at the time MOKEY (1942) was released in April 1942, and it was with this film that he was billed for the first time as Bobby Blake, a name he would use until switching to Robert in the '50s.

Ironically his title character of Mokey presages some of Blake's later real-life issues, as he plays a troubled young boy who has run-ins with the law.

Blake was teamed in MOKEY with two up-and-coming MGM actors, Donna Reed and Dan Dailey, then billed as Dan Dailey Jr. This was Reed's sixth feature film, while Dailey had already put in appearances in over a dozen MGM films between 1940 and 1942.

Widowed Herbert (Dailey) brings home a nice new wife, Anthea (Reed), but she is ill-equipped to deal with her holy terror of a new stepson, Mokey (Blake). Mokey can be sweet and desperately yearns for his stepmother's love, but he never makes a good choice when a bad one will do.

Herbert spends most of the time working on the road, leaving Anthea to struggle as a new single parent. Almost immediately Mokey gets in legal trouble and ends up on probation for the better part of a year. Mokey also runs away for some weeks, and when he returns and accidentally dumps his new baby sister out of her cradle, Anthea has had enough. Horrified by the danger to the baby, Anthea slaps Mokey and tells him not to call her Mother again, precipitating Mokey having another runaway episode as well as another run-in with the law.

I love Donna Reed and was glad to see the film for her sake; she was especially effective conveying embarrassment in a wordless scene leaving the courthouse. Dailey was hardly in the film long enough to make an impression, other than his character being fairly clueless about his son and his wife's struggles.

Although it's somewhat interesting for its place in the careers of the three lead actors, it must be said that this is simply a very sad film, and as such I didn't find it very enjoyable entertainment. Mokey's in desperate need of a therapist, and his new mother could use help trying to figure out how to cope with an unresponsive child who seems to have no inhibitions or common sense.

At the end of the film Mokey and Anthea have a touching rapprochement and pledge to try again, but given all that's happened before, it feels hollow. When I turned the movie off I couldn't help exclaiming "Well, that was a downer." All the more so as I was expecting something more typical of MGM's "B" family fare. Andy Hardy it's not!

Etta McDaniel plays the family housekeeper, and her brother Sam is also in the cast. Cliff Clark and Mary Field have nice roles as a farming couple who take in Mokey the second time he runs away. Blake's "Our Gang" costar, Buckwheat Thomas, plays Mokey's friend. The cast also includes George Lloyd, Frank Faylen, Addison Richards, Cordell Hickman, Marcella Moreland, and Matt Moore.

This 88-minute movie was directed by Wells Root, based on a screenplay by Root and Jan Fortune. Root only had two directing credits, but he had a long screenwriting career, including writing for numerous '50s Westerns such as MAVERICK.

The screenplay was based on a book by Jennie Harris Oliver which was loosely inspired by real people and events. A comment on IMDb by the real Mokey's son gives some additional background.

As is usually the case, the Warner Archive DVD is a fine-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger KC said...

I felt a little more charitable towards Mokey--I think he just needed more guidance--but we're pretty much in agreement here. It is a sad film. Not what I expected though Blake sure was a cute kid.

2:12 PM  

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