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Precocious adolescent Skippy Skinner spends most of his time trying to get around doing those things that his parents want him to do (like brush his teeth), while doing those things his parents don't want him to do. Chief among the latter is spending time across the railroad tracks in Shantytown, instead of playing with "clean" neighborhood kids like brother and sister Sidney and Eloise. Skippy's father, Dr. Herbert Skinner, the city's head of the health board, in particular doesn't like Skippy spending time there as Dr. Skinner is a verminophobe, and believes Shantytown is dirty and unhealthy. On Skippy's latest visit to Shantytown when he meets a new friend named Sooky Wayne, he learns that Shantytown is being torn down and its poor residents have to move. And Sooky's mongrel and unlicensed (since Mrs. Wayne can't afford the $3 license fee) dog Penny is captured by the city's dog catcher. As Skippy does whatever he can to raise the $3 to get Penny back for his new friend (which ... Written by
Paramount Pictures was one step from receivership until Mae West and Bing Crosby signed with them during the Depression. But this film I'm sure kept the wolf from the door for a little while. Skippy which is based on a popular comic strip of the day was the career role for little Jackie Cooper while he was a child star.
Cooper was one of the few child stars to have a real career in front of and behind the camera and it was a long one. He also played a wide range of characters. Yet when his name is mentioned today the first thing that comes to mind is the little kid with the knickers and somewhat pouty, but with a good heart and a set of values that he did not get from home completely.
Skippy is the child of town doctor Willard Robertson and Helen Bennett and he's a good kid at heart. But Robertson who's a fundamentally decent man doesn't want him playing with the kids on the other side of the railroad tracks. That's shantytown and there were plenty of them in America in 1931. Skippy is a film of its time although I'll bet that people who lived in those shantytowns did not part with the nickel needed to see Skippy, it was needed for important things like food.
Robertson as director of the board of health also wants to clean the place up. But with scant regard for the people who live there. So when Skippy makes friends with a slum kid who lives there played by Jackie Coogan's brother Robert and his mother Helen Jerome Eddy and their dog it turns out to be a turning point in everyone's lives.
With his decent, but thickheaded father and a mother oblivious to all except what's within the four walls of their home, Skippy grows up with an intuitive sense set of good values. It's what makes Jackie Cooper's character such an appealing one to this day.
Skippy brought home a Best Director Oscar for Norman Taurog and a few other nominations. Taurog gets it for some superb direction for a flock of kid players who are the ones carrying the film. It musn't have been easy, but the results are great.
Skippy is a film firmly within the Depression times it was made, but it has a universal family appeal to this day.
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