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The Clown

The Clown(1953)

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teaser The Clown (1953)

Red Skelton was a very busy man in the early 1950s. He was making feature films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring in his weekly radio series, which had been on the air since 1941. Adding to his workload, his TV series The Red Skelton Show premiered on September 30th, 1951. (His radio series ran through 1953, so for two seasons the comedian did a show in both mediums). Television would prove to be the ideal outlet for Skelton's talents; during the play out of his movie contract with MGM, the studio was increasingly unsure of how to utilize him. One of his last pictures was a definite departure - a drama called The Clown (1953), a remake of an earlier dramatic success for MGM, The Champ (1931).

The Champ, written by Frances Marion and directed by King Vidor, told the story of a prize fighter (Wallace Beery) who is long past his prime and has fallen to drinking and gambling. He is helped along and even looked after by his adoring son, Dink (Jackie Cooper). Writer Martin Rackin had the idea to revamp the story to provide a dramatic vehicle for Skelton. In his book Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes Michael B. Druxman quotes Rackin: "We wanted to do a picture with Red that had a kid in it and utilized the script from Beery's old movie because it seemed to have the same kind of relationship with kids that we wanted to incorporate into our picture. I also thought that a film set against the then-relatively new television industry would be interesting."

Rackin worked with Leonard Praskins to fashion a new screenplay based on the story of The Champ. In The Clown, Dodo Delwyn (Skelton) is a washed-up vaudeville comedian. He had once been a great star for Florence Ziegfeld, but was now given to blowing what little he earns on booze and crap games. His eight-year-old son Dink (Tim Considine) has not given up on him, however. Dink prevails on "Uncle Goldie" (Loring Smith), Dodo's agent from his glory days, to help out with money and minor bookings. Dink's mother Paula (Jane Greer) turns up, now remarried and wealthy. She and her new husband Ralph (Philip Ober) try and persuade Dodo to give up Dink to be raised in their family. After hitting rock bottom, Dodo agrees and in a particularly emotional scene, forces Dink away. On the eve of a new opportunity for Dodo to make a comeback on television, Dink runs away and returns to his father.

Most reviews at the time were lukewarm to the movie, but had praise for Skelton's dramatic turn. As Variety noted, "The presentation is given a sincerity in performances, writing and direction that keeps the sentiment from dipping too far into the maudlin, and while the story has an old-fashioned feel, it is fundamentally okay drama that takes nicely to the updating." Aside from Skelton and Considine, the reviewer also has kudos for Jane Greer, who "...is exceptionally good as the ex-wife, giving the role a warmth that makes it believable." Some welcome and familiar faces appear in The Clown in minor roles, including Billy Barty as a Coney Island performer, Charles Bronson as a gambler, and Frank Nelson as a bombastic hack comic.

Audiences were not keen on seeing Red Skelton in such an offbeat role - The Clown was a money-loser for MGM at the box office. The studio released two final Skelton pictures that same year: Half a Hero (1953) and The Great Diamond Robbery (1953). Following the end of his MGM contract, Skelton's remaining movie appearances were confined to cameos in such films as Susan Slept Here (1954), Ocean's Eleven (1960), and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965).

The Clown was not Skelton's only foray into drama; in 1956 he appeared in an episode of CBS' Playhouse 90 called "The Big Slide," playing a punch-drunk boxer named Buddy McCoy, a role which earned him an Emmy nomination. By that time The Red Skelton Show was a fixture on Tuesday nights on CBS, where it eventually became one of the longest-running series on television. Meanwhile, Tim Considine continued to have a successful career as a child actor, appearing as Spin Evans on the "Spin and Marty" serial seen during The Mickey Mouse Club, then as Mike Douglas, one of Fred MacMurray's offspring on the early seasons of the series My Three Sons.

The Champ went before the cameras again in 1979. Director Franco Zeffirelli adhered closer to the original story for this version, which starred Jon Voight as boxer Billy Flynn and Ricky Schroder as his son T.J.

Producer: William H. Wright
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Martin Rackin, adaptation by Leonard Praskins, story by Frances Marion
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Music: David Rose
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Wade B. Rubottom
Makeup: William Tuttle
Cast: Red Skelton (Dodo Delwyn), Tim Considine (Dink Delwyn), Jane Greer (Paula Henderson), Loring Smith (Goldie Goldenson), Philip Ober (Ralph Z. Henderson), Lou Lubin (Julie), Fay Roope (Dr. Strauss).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.

by John M. Miller

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