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The Duke Steps Out
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MGM silent. 62 minutes (6 reels).
US release: 3/16/29.
Not available on VHS or DVD.
Cast: William Haines, Joan Crawford (as "Susie"), Karl Dane, Tenen Holtz, Eddie Nugent, Jack Roper, Delmer Daves, Luke Cosgrave, Herbert Prior.
Credits: From the story by Lucian Cary. Adaptation: Raymond Schrock and Dale Van Every. Director: James Cruze. Camera: Ira H. Morgan. Titles: Joe Farnham. Editor: George Hively.
Plot Summary: Directed by James Cruze, this silent drama stars William Haines as Duke, a wealthy young heir who takes up prizefighting in order to prove that he doesn't need his father's money to make it in life. However, when he meets a beautiful college co-ed named Susie (Joan Crawford), he decides to halt his boxing plans and enroll in college. Most of the co-eds' curiosities are piqued by their new student's chauffeur and house full of servants, but Duke (Haines) is only interested in Susie. Despite her initial dislike, the feeling eventually becomes mutual. Unfortunately for the both of them, Duke's trainer falsely informs Susie that Duke is dating a New York chorus girl. Things come to a head when Duke emerges victorious from a highly-anticipated San Francisco fight, and Susie learns that the student Duke is actually the boxer Duke--and that there is no chorus girl. ~ Tracie Cooper, All Movie Guide
Production began November 1928.
Total Gross: $920,000 ($343,000 profit) (Eddie Mannix Ledger)
Although the film is regarded as lost, sound discs exist at the UCLA archives. (Arne Andersen's Lost Film Files)
Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times
April 15, 1929
The irrepressible William Haines is to be seen cavorting, kissing and fighting in a picture called "The Duke Steps Out," which, except for synchronized orchestral and sound effects, is silent. It is an amusing chronicle in which Mr. Haines is permitted to do pretty much as he will, and now that he is not impersonating an army or a navy cadet one can pardon his interpretation of the Duke, whose last name is Wellington, for this character happens to be the scion of a wealthy family who is supposed to know how to use his fists. While he may devote a certain amount of thought to uppercuts and jabs, his brain apparently refuses to function over higher mathematics, Greek, Latin or modern languages.
The Duke is at his best, however, when confronted by a pretty girl. So infatuated is he with Sue Corbin that he gives his trainer and his Swedish valet a worrying time by insisting on entering the co-educational institution of Sierra as a student. Sue is the fairest and the most popular of the co-eds and her chief pursuits are going to football games and dances. She at first rebuffs the Duke, then smiles and, just before Sierra and the rest of the world learn of the Duke's pugilistic ability she becomes indignant because she believes that young man is not serious in his suit.
James Cruze, producer of "The Covered Wagon" and a number of other film achievements, directed this subject. His skill with the camera and his keen sense of humor help as much as Mr. Haines's grimaces and gestures to make this an entertaining feature.
It begins with an inspiring sight of a vast throng at a football game and toward the close there are splendidly filmed scenes of a prize-fight, which are shrewdly spliced in with stretches of William Haines as the Duke giving and taking punches in the squared ring.
This Duke Wellington first looks seriously upon the captivating Sue, impersonated by Joan Crawford, in a train. His method of approach might sound the knell of any future flirtation in everyday life, but here merely irritates the girl. Persistence is evidently a sound quality in the Duke's nature, for despite Sue's aloofness and the frowns of other admirers the fighting son of wealth not only wins favor but he does so without permitting any of Sierra's young men to know how handy he is with his fists.
During a sequence when Sue and other students are listening over the radio they hear that the challenger for the pugilistic lightweight championship is none other than Duke Wellington, and more than one of the male students thank their lucky stars that they did not attempt to carry out some of the threats they made against the Duke.
Mr. Cruze finishes his picture in a happy fashion. In the ringside seats, while Duke is battling, are aged Professor Widdicomb and Sue's father. They arrange that there's a happy ending.
A laughable episode is that dealing with the Duke's training, when he has to look at his trainer and valet enjoying huge steaks while he, after a hard day's grind on the road and in the gymnasium, is permitted only a tiny lamb chop, which he likens to a necktie pin.
Karl Dane and Tenen Holtz contribute to the fun in this film. Miss Crawford is engaging and competent.
Harry Mines in the Los Angeles Daily News (1929)
Haines, always a charming and breezy comedian, outdoes many of his past efforts in this clever tale of a pugilist who falls for a college beauty. He scores tremendously in every sequence, particularly in those with Joan Crawford. Miss Crawford is as gorgeous as ever, and offers a vivid performance.
Another cream puff for the antics of the Metro-Goldwyn playboy Billy Haines.... A lightweight, friends, but amusing.
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Above: US window cards.
Below: US (left) and French heralds.
Below: Novel cover, Australian daybill, and US sheet music.
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