Way back in the day when comics were new to the Sunday newspaper one of the biggest was a little comic called “Skippy.” Starring the title character, the comic was pretty much about a smart alec kid with a heart of gold. The film is essentially the same thing with Jackie Cooper playing the lead role (in an Oscar-nominated performance, making him the youngest Oscar nominated actor at the age of 9; a record that was held for over fifty years until Justin Henry received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the age of 8 for “Kramer vs. Kramer”). Since movies were still maturing in the old days the film version of “Skippy” is undeniably flawed. It’s easy to understand the charm from the time period, but I don’t feel the film really holds up that well in the long run.
Most of the reasons the film does work is because of Copper’s performance as Skippy. As mentioned before he was the kind of smart alec kid you wanted to know growing up in this time period. He delays getting out of bed, is not above making petty bets on fights, and even openly questions if his dads job is ethical (something that was practically unheard of back in those days, so just tell your kids to remember that when they complain about not being able to have a voice in the house). At the same time he did respect his father, he would stand up for bullied kids, and he is largely selfless. Take an example where a friend of his has just had his dog taken away by the pound. The pound wants $3 for the dog back or he’ll be shot (remember kids, $3 was the equivelant of $30 back then).
Although most kids would probably write this off as a lost caus, Skippy does what he can to raise the money and save the dog for his friend. This is what drives most of the conflict in the second half of the film. The first half largely revolves around Skippy questioning what it is his dad really does at work all day, and whether or not the things he is doing make him a bad guy or not. Even though we can see that Skippy comes from a rich family and his friends come from poor families (the same families who ironically pay Skippy’s dad for the privileges he enjoys) it’s nice that Skippy himself doesn’t seem to realize this. He’ll be friends with anyone and he cares not about their wealth, social status, or even the color of their skin (especially unheard of at the time).
Still, the fact that our main hero is likable does not make “Skippy” worth viewing as a whole. I do admit that all the elements of the film do come together in the end to connect in a satisfying ending, but before we get to that point the film seems to jump from one story to the next without an endgame in mind. Skippy worries about his dad’s work until he moves on and worries about his friend’s dog. He worries about the dog until he has to move on and worry about the money. He worries about the money until he needs to worry about his bike. It does come together, but more than once I felt as if the film was just stringing me along for several rides with no destination in mind. Amazingly this is the only movie based on a comic book to be nominated for Best Picture in the entire history of the Academy Awards. My how innocent we were back then.
Film Availability: Though the film appears to be in the public domain, it has never been released on DVD. Netflix streamed it for awhile but then stopped. Poke around the internet though and you should be able to find a copy of it somewhere if you're interested.