The Shakedown (1929)

This early effort from director William Wyler focuses on Dave Roberts, a handsome young boxer involved in a traveling scam anchored around phony fights. Roberts is tasked with ingratiating himself in a small town before agreeing to challenge a visiting pugilist in a bout that culls bets from local gamblers. Roberts always loses the bout and then exits for another town and a repeat of the cycle.

However, things go awry when Roberts finds himself in a town where he falls in love with a pretty waitress and winds up being the surrogate parent to a homeless orphan. This turn of events changes his sense of self-worth and he questions whether he should continue with the fixed fight racket.

The plot of “The Shakedown” is utterly ridiculous and the viewer’s patience is sorely tested with the obnoxiously rambunctious antics of the orphan, played by the highly resistible Jack Hanlon. But Wyler keeps the film moving at a crisp pace – the film is only 65 minutes long – and there are many inventive camera shots that raise the artistic level of what could have been a quotidian endeavor.

But the best reason to revisit “The Shakedown” is to appreciate James Murray’s performance as Roberts. The actor was elevated to stardom in King Vidor’s “The Crowd,” but struggled to find a suitable follow-up role. In “The Shakedown,” he is a charismatic presence who is both at home in the light comedy segments and the brutal boxing ring scenes. Sadly, Murray’s life would be derailed by alcoholism – by the time he passed away in 1936, he was reduced to panhandling and snagging extra work at the studios where he was once a star.

“The Shakedown” was made in both silent and part-talkie versions. A new DVD and Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber, featuring a 4K restoration, only offers the silent version with a contemporary score by Michael Gatt that doesn’t always enhance the presentation.