Friday, January 14, 2011

1930/31 - Skippy

Yesterday morning, I diligently researched how to get to UCLA before embarking on my journey. The bus schedule informed me that the No. 2 bus leaving at noon would take me from Sunset & Gower (which is near the Hollywood apartment in which I am staying thanks to Aussie friends Steve & Josh) all the way to the UCLA campus in Westwood. Like clockwork, the No. 2 bus arrived precisely on time and I happily hopped on board. About fifteen minutes later, with UCLA still about five miles away, the bus driver notified the remaining passengers that the current stop was the last that this bus would make. Apparently, I had hopped on the wrong No. 2 bus. This No. 2 bus, the driver explained, only went as far as West Hollywood. To get to UCLA, I needed to catch the No. 2 bus that terminates at Pacific Palisades ... Wait. So, there are two different bus routes that call themselves the No. 2? ... Well, that's perfectly reasonable. Nobody will ever be confused by that...

I did eventually make it to the stunningly beautiful UCLA campus where I visited the equally stunning Powell Library. Inside, I found the Film and Television Archive and viewed East Lynne and Skippy, both nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1930/31. Later that afternoon, I stopped by the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre and found the hand and foot prints of Jackie Cooper, the young star of Skippy. Mysteriously, though, there appears to be an error in his age or the date of the signing. Cooper was nine years old on December 12, 1931. (I also realise now that I should have asked someone else to take the photo so that I could appear in it as proof of my presence. Oh, well. You'll just have to believe me.)

Even though I actually watched East Lynne first, I will save that for the next post, which means our first Best Picture nominee from 1930/31 is...

Norman Taurog
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Don Marquis, Norman Z. McLeod, Sam Mintz
(based on the comic strip by Percy Crosby)
Jackie Cooper, Robert Coogan, Mitzi Green, Jackie Searl, Willard Robertson, Enid Bennett, Donald Haines, Helen Jerome Eddy
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
1 win, for Best Director

Skippy (Cooper) is a precocious little rascal, constantly disobeying his parents (Robertson & Bennett). Despite being told that he must never venture to the other side of the tracks, Skippy spends most of his time there, befriending a poor boy named Sooky (Coogan). When Sooky's dog is taken away by the local government (of which Skippy's father is the health supervisor), the two boys attempt all sorts of crazy schemes to make enough money to buy the required dog license. Skippy is also dismayed to hear that his father plans to tear down the shanty town where Sooky and his family live.

Today, most comic book adaptations are of the large-scale superhero blockbuster kind. Not so in 1931. Skippy is light entertainment that could easily be written off as a piece of fluff. Most of the characters are one-dimensional caricatures. And the simple plot hides the fact that the story is merely a whole bunch of comic strips strung together.

However, with four-time Oscar-winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz as a co-writer, the script remains clever and witty. For example, in response to Skippy asking him what his father does, Sooky states, "He just stays where he is. He's dead." As an Australian, I was also enamoured with the conversation about kangaroos, but slightly mystified by Sooky's mother feeding the children bread and brown sugar.

Norman Taurog garnered the Best Director Oscar, probably due to his fine work in guiding the young stars to such impressive performances. With the comic timing of a seasoned comedy performer, Jackie Cooper (pictured) is particularly compelling. Not only does he still hold the record for the youngest Best Actor nominee (he was nine years old!), but his nomination is the earliest of any living Oscar nominee in any category.


  1. As previously mentioned, I will not be able to add my reviews of 1931s nominated films for a while. Skippy will be seen on TCM on Feb. 22 and Trader Horn on Feb. 7. I've got Cimarron coming by mail and The Front Page by Library. East Lynne is unavailable. I'll add my comments as I see them.

    There's been quite a bit of talk among people following this years Oscar race as to which category 14 yr. old Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit will be placed - lead actress or supporting actress. Most who have seen the film, view her performance as lead. I do as well. However, historically, there have been only two performers under the age of 21 that have been nominated in the lead category. The first was, as you have mentioned, Jackie Cooper for Skippy. In as much as this occurred before the establishment of a Supporting Actor/Actress category, it isn't a strong indicator. 13 yr. old Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for lead actress for her 2003 work in Whale Rider.

    On the flip side, Tatum O'Neal, Timothy Hutton and Haley Joel Osment were nominated in supporting categories for what many felt were leading roles. My guess is that Hailee Steinfeld will end up in the Supporting Actress category.

    From The Wrap here are some guidelines:
    The note [from AMPAS president Tom Sherak] tells actors to place each performance into the category in which they “genuinely believe it belongs,” and includes two notes in red: “You are not obligated to place a performance in a category because ‘for your consideration’ ads have been suggesting that it belongs there,” and “You are not obligated to place a performance in a category because another organization that presents motion picture awards has placed it there.”

    And then there’s this: “If you think that a performance occupies a middle ground between leading and supporting, you may list it on your ballot in both categories.” If a performance receives enough votes to be nominated in both categories, the letter says, PricewaterhouseCoopers will record a nomination “in the category in which it received the most support.”

    I'm not entirely clear what "most support" refers to. Is it simply most votes or does it mean the category where it stands the best chance of not being eliminated.

  2. Yes, I imagine Steinfeld will be placed in the Supporting category. It seems everyone else has put her there, so I don't see why Academy members would think any differently.

    As for the Academy's rule about not nominating the same performance in two categories (which I believe was introduced after Barry Fitzgerald's double nomination), I'm pretty sure if a performance received enough votes for both Lead and Supporting, it would just come down to the number of votes. So even if Steinfeld gets enough votes to be nominated in the Lead category, my guess is she will get more votes in the Supporting category, so that is the one that will stand.

    But Jennifer Lawrence has a good shot at the Best Actress category. She's only 20.

  3. You're right about Jennifer Lawrence, and no question she's the lead. I didn't research the females very well. Isabelle Adjani, Keira Knightley and Ellen Page all were nominated for Best Actress at age 20. Not really children, but not officially adults either.

  4. Skippy just aired on TCM, so I can now comment. It was nice to see a film devoted to a child's point of view, and the young cast did a pretty nice job, especially Cooper and Coogan. The story, though slight, was engaging and touching. I did think the demise of Penny was handled rather frivolously, but I guess with the depression ongoing, killing off a dog wasn't such a big deal. Today, of course, pets in films usually are treated more delicately.

    Now that I'm done with all the nominees, all I can say is I probably will not revisit any of the films, but I'm glad I saw them.