|The Shakedown (1929)
Run time: 70 min | Drama
Director: William Wyler
Writers: Albert DeMond, Charles Logue
Stars: James Murray, Barbara Kent, George Kotsonaros
Budget: $50,000 (estimated)
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THE SHAKEDOWN, restored to 35mm by George Eastman house, shown in 1998 in Pordenone, and in 1999 at Telluride, is a superb action-comedy about a boxer whose life changes when he meets up with an orphan boy. Love interest is provided by Barbara Kent, who may be remembered from her winning performance in LONESOME and later sound films.
Wyler was not thought to have made any great silents, but this one is a classic, with fine camerawork, a captivating cast, a dynamic story, and an uplifting feeling. Audiences who saw this film in Pordenone and Telluride cheered and leapt to their feet at the end of the film.
A two-piano score has been created for THE SHAKEDOWN and was premiered by Neal Brand and Donald Sosin at the Telluride Film Festival in September 1999. Plans are underway to tour this film around the US under the joint auspices of the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy and Telluride
I'd never heard of this one prior to the announcement just a couple of weeks back of its screening on late-night Italian TV but, obviously, I become interested in it because the film represented the earliest facet of director Wyler's career I'd ever come across; actually, while it was supposedly a part-Talkie, the version I watched was completely Silent!
Anyway, the resulting effort is charming and reasonably stylish (even at this stage, Wyler was experimenting with deep-focus photography) but hardly the masterpiece as described by a commentator on the IMDb following its recent restoration and screening in film festivals. Interestingly, the film shares most of its plot line with two famous tearjerkers Charles Chaplin's THE KID (1921) and King Vidor's THE CHAMP (1931) being the adventures of a con-man boxer reformed by a spunky homeless boy; however, the latter (played by Jack Hanlon) isn't very sympathetic and displays little of either Jackie Coogan or Jackie Cooper's talent!
Incidentally, THE SHAKEDOWN features the same leading-man as Vidor's masterpiece THE CROWD (1928) the tragic James Murray; Barbara Kent, then, who had starred in Paul Fejos' LONESOME (1928) another highly-regarded 'city' film appears as the female protagonist here (but isn't given much to do). For what it's worth, the boxing sequences (as well as a fist-fight between the kid and another boy) are quite well-staged; however, the film's highlight has to be the remarkable scene early on in which Murray and Hanlon get caught on a railway track between two speeding trains!
Love and Boxing
Sunday July 18, 12pm, The Castro, San Francisco
An itinerant boxer "on the take" gets a taste of family life and re-sets his moral compass. Dave Roberts (James Murray) arrives in Boonton ahead of his gang to set up the con. After falling for Marjorie (Barbara Kent), a kindhearted waitress and saving a freckle-faced urchin (Jack Hanlon), he fights on-the-level, to the consternation of his associates.
Based on a story by Charles A. Logue and directed by William Wyler, The Shakedown is a hard edged story that is realized with skill and aesthetics, beautifully highlighted by startling imagery, while remaining pleasantly understated. Originally released as a silent film with a Movietone score and sound segments, it suffers unjustly as a victim from that period of transitional obscurity. While the boxing itself is technically a bit myopic, the emotion surrounding it has wonderful depth. Triumphant in its simplicity, The Shakedown is entirely satisfying as an early opus of this emerging master.
Whilst viewing this relic from the silent feature vault i could not help but to think of the now lost art of silent film acting. Without words the actors had to be thespian-plus and gesticulate with machine gun rapidity . A far cry from sly- stallone who also never found the art speaking. This feel good yarn let me down with its predictable finish but the rest packed a punch – on me – and the villian.