The Shakedown (1929) - Blu-ray Review


I have been waiting for this film to get restored and (hoping) a DVD release. I first saw it at the 2010 edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. It was my favorite film of the weekend lineup, and it was part of quite a lineup of films. My recap of that festival is here.

In July 2020 Kino Lorber granted my wish and I could not be happier. I am also happy to report on my second viewing this sleeper of a movie held up and I was captivated once again.

James Murray as Dave

The film is a simple tale, you are introduced to Dave Roberts (James Murray) who is making hay playing and beating all the locals at billiards. He also takes bets that he can’t be knocked off the handkerchief he is standing on, by dodging punches. He lets the locals know he is going to enter the contest to fight a fearsome boxer Battling Roff (George Kostonaros) in a soon to arrive boxing traveling show. What the locals do not know is that the personable Dave Roberts is part of a gang that sets up the fight, sets up local bets and then Dave throws the match and they gang lams out with all the money.

Sent off to the next town, Dave sets himself up as a new man in town and working for the local oil company working on derricks. He, like his coworkers, eats in the local diner and he is sweet on the waitress Marjorie (Barbara Kent). During lunch he foils a pie robbery by a waif. He chases the boy along the railroad tracks where the boy falls and Dave rescues him. Unbeknownst to Dave, he’s made a friend in the scrappy kid Clem (Jack Hanlon) who shows up at his digs. Dave takes pity on the kid and welcomes him since he’s got no other place to lay his head. The kid offers to be his trainer for the upcoming fight. Dave and Clem form a bond and Dave also finds himself falling for Marjorie.

Barbara Kent as Marjorie

The group of charlatans arrive in town to set up for the bogus fight. Dave finds he no longer wants to play the game with them. He instead trains to fight Battling Roff in a real battle. He takes a brutal beating, but, wins both the girl and his honor has been restored.

This is a fascinating early film of director William Wyler, he himself said he benefitted from a form of nepotism in being related to Carl Laemmle. Wyler's third film you can already see a polished and imaginative director at the helm. The real money shot from the film is James Murray rising up through an oil derrick on a cable. It is breathtaking! We are also treated to a rarity in a Wyler film, a cameo by the director, a la Alfred Hitchcock. If you look closely, you can see him during the final boxing match, he is the guy holding up the signs announcing the rounds.

Jack Hanlon as Clem

The story of this film is slight, and predictable. What makes this film so very special is the performance of James Murray. If you know him only from The Crowd, which is nothing less than epic, this film is a charming eye opener. He was a magnetic performer and had tremendous charisma. You can see it here as he reflects and plays off Jack Hanlon as the young urchin Clem. While the scenes with Clem and Dugan (Harry Gribbon) are really nothing but a competition of who can mug more for the camera, the scenes with Murray are touching as their friendship grows. This is a wonderful little film, entertaining, will have you rooting for the good guys and, most importantly, entertain you thoroughly.

KINO has done a wonderful job on the film with a terrific and informative booklet essay Nora Fiore aka the Nitrate Diva (you can follow her on twitter @nitratediva and her blog here), reversible cover art for the DVD clamshell case. I have not listened to the audio commentary as yet. 

It’s the film you are looking at, unlike some of the other Universal restorations that have come out recently, this film does not suffer from a darkening of the image itself. Other restorations have had the outer portions of the frames darkened to the point it almost looks like an iris shot. Not so in this film, the print is clear, light and in very good shape. It’s not perfect, the grain is visible and not all scratches or bits of decomposition have been blotted out.  It is entirely watchable. The jaunty musical score by Michael Gatt moves this brisk 65 minute film along beautifully.

After waiting ten years to see this film again, it was well worth the wait. This Blu-ray has my highest recommendation. I am thrilled to bits to have this in my home library. You can purchase this directly from KINO either as a DVD or blu-ray here.