31 July 2010 | lugonian
The Courtship of Billy's Father
PECK'S BAD BOY (Fox Studios, 1934), a Sol Lesser production directed by Edward F. Cline, is more of a reworking of an old script brought up to date suggested on a series of magazine articles by George W. Peck rather than the film and stage play that preceded it. For the 1921 First National Pictures silent screen adaptation directed by Sam Wood, the cute and funny story, dealt mostly with the misadventures of the troublesome youngster named Henry Peck (wonderfully played by seven-year-old Jackie Coogan), and his best friend, Buddy (Charles Hatton) as they get into one jam after another, much to the displeasure of his stern father, George W. (James Corrigan), understanding mother (Lillian Leighton), and caring older sister, Letty (Doris May). Anyone expecting this sound version to be a frame by frame remake would be surprised to see how much this one differs from the original. First off, Jackie Cooper's advanced age of 13 would be unlikely to match the hilarious antics of little Coogan's. Secondly, this Peck's bad boy is renamed William while his father, a widower, is called Henry (could this be Henry Peck now an adult raising his very own "bad boy" many years later?). Overall, William, called Bill mostly, isn't as mischievous as the earlier Henry Peck, only a problem child unable to cope and resolve whatever's bothering him. What are Bill Peck's problems? Let's summarize the situation leading to his troubles at hand.
Set in the town of Pleasonton, the starts off happily with Henry Peck (Thomas Meighan) fishing by the lake with his boy, Bill (Jackie Cooper). Next scene encounters the Pecks at a father and son banquet as the neighboring participants are singing, "Father and Sons Together." Bill Peck is then awarded a plaque for his well-written composition titled "My Father," with each ending the evening with a speech. A big change occurs for the Pecks as Mr. Peck receives a telegram from his late wife's sister, Lily (Dorothy Peterson), a recent widow, that she and her son, Horace (Jackie Searle), are accepting his invitation to stay with them. After their arrival by train, things look promising for them until Aunt Lily and Horace prove meddlesome by taking over the household. Not only does Aunt Lily switch bedrooms on the boys, giving Horace the better and larger room, but takes it upon herself by having the family friend/ storytelling handyman, Duffy (O.P. Heggie), who takes up residence in a shack in the woods, fired; and their feisty maid, Martha (Gertrude Howard) to nearly quit. To please his cigar smoking father, Bill makes every effort on becoming friends with his cousin by renaming Horace "Butch" in order to win acceptance with his friends and initiated member of their Excelcier Boys Club. When all else fails, the boys begin fighting, causing Bill's school grades to suffer. Tension builds as Horace spitefully tells Bill he's adopted, causing the boy to act bitter towards his father.
A fine blend of comedy and sentiment in the tradition of Cooper's earlier 1931 successes of both Paramount's SKIPPY and its sequel, SOOKY, each bearing the theme of son hoping to win back father's affection when feeling he's lost it, PECK'S BAD BOY is acceptable story obviously geared towards the matinée crowd. Aside from Bobby Coogan (Jackie's younger brother) enacting the role of Skippy's pal, Sooky, in the aforementioned films, one guess who plays Skippy's the instigating neighbor, none other than Jackie Searle, typecast as the boy worthy of a black eye and sock in the nose. As traditionally found in his MGM features, a crying scene performed by Cooper is thrown in for good measure. The only thing the 1921 and 1934 PECK'S BAD BOY have in common is one where young Peck's ant collection, he keeps in a test tube, turns up in his father's shirt (compliments of Horace), causing Mr. Peck to jerk about before leaving church service a little earlier than anticipated.
Rarely shown on television, PECK'S BAD BOY was presented in both VHS and DVD formats, the latter compliments of Alpha Video, a reissue 66 minute print with Ace Pictures listed as its presenter during the opening credits, with some missing material shorting its original length of 70 minutes, noticeable during its near conclusion, which appears rushed and choppy. As much as this PECK'S BAD BOY presentation might have been the introduction to a new film series featuring its principal leads of Cooper and former silent screen actor Thomas Meighan (whose last film this was), the only other edition to the "Peck's Bad Boy" stories presented by Sol Lesser was PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS (RKO Radio, 1938) starring Tommy Kelly as the teenage Billy Peck, with Grant Mitchell and Nana Bryant as his parents, thus concluding the adventures of Peck's Bad Boy on screen. While this particular Peck may not be so bad after all, neither is the film itself. And yes, the capital of Oregon is Salem. (***)