Sunday, August 30, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Shakedown (1929) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The last few years I've made many wonderful discoveries at the Cinecon Classic Film Festival, held in Hollywood every Labor Day weekend.

The decades-old festival won't be held this year, for what I'm sure are obvious reasons, so it was very nice to instead be able to revisit a film I especially enjoyed at the 2018 Cinecon Fest, THE SHAKEDOWN (1929).

This silent movie, directed by the great William Wyler, was recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

THE SHAKEDOWN, which runs a brisk 65 minutes, is the story of Dave (James Murray, THE CROWD), who's part of a boxing scam which moves from town to town. Dave will briefly take a job and settle into each place, presenting himself as a hardworking young fellow as he gets to know his new neighbors, but then he always ends up challenged to box with Battling Rolf (George Koltsonaros); the townspeople are then so excited to see "one of their own" in the boxing ring that the con artists rack up massive ticket sales and bets for a rigged match.

In a story which I noted at the time was reminiscent of John Ford's JUST PALS (1920), Dave arrives in the town which is the latest "mark" and unexpectedly finds himself taking in an orphan named Clem (Jack Hanlon). He also falls hard for pretty Margie (Barbara Kent, LONESOME), a waitress at the diner next to the oil field where he gets a job.

Jim finds he doesn't want to let down either Clem or Margie and tells his manager (Wheeler Oakman) he's through...then is forced to fight Battling Rolf "for real."

This is a heartwarming story with an excellent performance by Murray, who's simultaneously an appealing all-American type and a real jerk; the film's main theme is essentially which side of Dave's soul will win the day. This is nowhere better depicted than in a scene where he saves Clem's life; initially he's heroic, risking his own life to save the little boy, but then the calculating "salesman" emerges, wondering if anyone saw the act, which would increase his local popularity. After all, his manager did tell him to try to do something dramatic like saving a life in his new town!

Murray is terrific depicting Dave's inner conflicts, ultimately winning audience sympathy, and Kent is as charming as she was in LONESOME. Hanlon does a good job in a role which could be outright annoying, given Clem's bratty tendencies, but he ultimately wins the viewer over with moments such as his struggle to form his hands into the proper position to say a prayer for Dave.

The movie has some marvelous photography by Jerome Ash and Charles Stumar. A sequence where Dave rides a piece of oil rig equipment down to the ground is as thrilling for the audience as an amusement park ride, as we see it from a first-person viewpoint. Later there's a great scene with an actual amusement park ride, as Dave and Margie ride a Ferris wheel and Dave steals a kiss. The shots of the various riders spinning by the camera are dizzying.

I loved the scenes in the oil field diner and wondered if it was an actual location or shot on the Universal lot. It feels very authentic -- all the more so when Margie is left to wash a mountain of dishes after the lunch crowd leaves.

A fun side note: Look for director Wyler in a cameo, holding a "Round 3" card during the final boxing match.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print is terrific. There are a few lines here and there but it's entirely what one would expect from a film which is close to a century old. How wonderful this piece of film history has been preserved and made widely available thanks to this excellent Blu-ray! The Blu-ray print has an electronic score by Michael Gatt.

The Kino Lorber case has reversible cover art, with the choices at the top and bottom of this post. There's a glossy illustrated booklet with a thoughtful essay by Nora Fiore, aka The Nitrate Diva. I especially liked her line that the film "moves fast enough to outrun its own treacle." True! A commentary track by Nick Pinkerton completes the set.


Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Wyler rarely put a foot wrong for this fan and you have made me excited to add this to my movie library.

5:28 AM  
Blogger john k said...

A wonderful review Laura and it's really fine that Kino are giving films of this vintage such beautiful restorations. I must admit James Murray is new to me but his real life story is heartbreakingly sad. One thing I do have a guilt complex about is my more or less total lack of knowledge regarding pre code and indeed classics from the late silent era. I did however get the recent Blu Ray of AMERICAN MADNESS (1932) which is a pristine restoration and this early Capra film is incredibly fast moving. I found this tale of a "Peoples Banker" very involving and Walter Houston,Pat O Brien and Constance Cummings on top form.Thanks again for your great review of THE SHAKEDOWN certainly one to add to my ever growing shopping list,if only James Murray's story had ended out happier in real life.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I'd love to know what you think when you're able to catch it!

John, thanks also for your thoughts on the movie. I first learned about Murray's life when I saw the film at Cinecon -- really was sad. I'd love to know what you think if you see THE SHAKEDOWN.

You're ahead of me I've not seen AMERICAN MADNESS, so was quite interested in your take.

I'd suggest don't have a guilt complex on films you've not yet seen -- just look at it as so many more interesting things ahead of you to explore and discover for the first time! :)

Best wishes,

1:40 PM  

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