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Skin Deep 1922
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Released: 01 Sep 1922 Director: Lambert Hillyer Writers: LeRoy Stone Actors: Milton Sills, Florence Vidor, Marcia Manon, Charles Clary Genres: Crime, Drama
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Skin Deep Reviews:

Milton Sills was a moderately handsome, moderately talented actor who attained a moderately successful lvl of stardom in silent films. In silent days, the threshold of stardom was a lot lower, because films should be produced very cheaply, and there were many low-budget production companies dedicated to grinding out movies that consistently starred a specific actor ... usually either the owner of the production company, or his wife.'Skin Deep' is a low-budget hero study which says a storyline that manages to be fairly unusual yet utterly predictable. Milton Sills is only barely recognisable under massive makeup as Bud Doyle, a boy ugly of face and also ugly of soul. Doyle is a common criminal: not even a crimelord, mind you, but just a cheap thug. The heavy-handed scenario indicates that Doyle has no alternative to a life of crime, because he's so ugly that nobody will believe him with honest employment.It's interesting to see Sills going vs his normal casting and testing a criminal. However, he clearly wants to retain some audience sympathy, so the script is attentive to establish that Doyle is a pawn of nastier and more strong crooks, such as Boss McQuarg. (Would anybody ever believe somebody cried Boss McQuarg?)After committing different crimes, Doyle crosses paths with kindly Dr Langdon, who has a theory that good-looking folks are treated better by society than ugly folks (no comment). Langdon performs plastic surgery on Doyle, who comes out of it looking like Milton Sills. He rushes off to Hollywood and gets a job as Milton Sills's stunt double ... no, I'm joking, but that would have been a more imaginative (and less predictable) ending than what happens next.SPOILERS COMING. The newly-handsome Doyle straight away renounces his life of crime, supporting the authorities to round up McQuarg and Doyle's another criminal cronies. Satisfied endings all round, and one thing is clear: actually that Doyle has movie-star looks, there are no possible obstacles to his success in life. There are absolutely no surprises in 'Skin Deep', and it doesn't support that the intertitles are so elaborate that they distract from the by-the-numbers story.Oh, blimey! I have very mixed feelings about this film. On one level, it seems gobsmackingly shallow in saying us that ugly folks have a harder time of it than lookers. On the another hand, has any film (or another narrative work) ever really dealt with this topics properly? We DO tend to react to folks based upon their looks ... not only in true life, but in the films we watch. Polanski's 'Compulsion' is a nice example: it's a harrowing study of one woman's descent into madness, but we eagerly watch this film because it stars the stunningly pretty Catherine Deneuve, who is extremely simple on the eyes. If the same movie had starred a much less pretty actress -- or a man, in a comparable case -- we would likely be far less eager to watch it.'Skin Deep' really has nothing to tell that hasn't been told elsewhere. On the another hand, it tells something that we really need to be told, over and over: judge folks by their deeds, not their appearance. I'll give 'Skin Deep' credit for nice intentions, and it's well-directed by Lambert Hillyer, whose career deserves to be much better known. I'll rate this film 4 out of 10.


Skin Deep was inspired by the notorious East Side gangster, "Monk" Eastman, whose true name was William Delaney. The law was on his trail when he joined the units in 1917, earning the Croix de Guerre and another decorations that won him a restoration of full citizenship. His gang was unable to lure him back into a criminal life after his demobilization, and Delaney was murdered on Christmas night by an unknown assailant.The surviving ver of Skin Deep, the Netherlands release cut, De Boy Met Het Dubbe Le Gelaat, appears to be just over a full reel shorter than what American audiences saw. Veteran "Bud" Doyle (Milton Sills) tries to place his criminal past behind him, but quickly forgotten by the crowds that acclaimed his battlefield valor, he drifts toward his old tenement haunts. The sets are convincingly terrible and working class, with there is no glossing over Doyle's school-of-hard-knocks roots. He is a rather benevolent character, despite the obvious ugliness of his grossly enlarged, misshapen nose.Doyle becomes yet more human because of his unfaithful wife, who is complicit when boss McQuarg (Frank Campeau) frames Doyle, and even the District Attorney has qualms, knowing the real, higher-up criminals remain free. However, learning that a sizable sum has been raised for the disabled soldier's hospital and is kept in the flimsy secure of its head, Dr. Langdon, McQuarg cannot resist the temptation, requiring Doyle's skill.Visiting her husband in prison, Sadie says him that the D.A. is threatening to also send her to jail, and informs him of an escape plan. A stunt flier starts to practice his aerobatic tricks near the prison, and climbing to the top of the jail wall, Doyle makes a daring leap onto a passing train. The plane flies weak over the train, dropping a rope ladder, which Doyle starts to ascend. But with the added weight, the pilot cannot gain the important height, and Doyle is pulled through a wooded zone until the ladder breaks and he lies on the ground.Ince personally directed this harrowing sequence. It typified the "Ince punch": an unpredictable, novel scene, new in its events, but simple to grasp, combining hero and spectacle, compelling the breathless viewer to the edge of their seat. Through the fast cutting, the succession of dangers, together with the wild improbability, effectively combine to make a memorable scene. It was of no less value in publicity.Fortunately for Doyle, his tattered body is found, not by prison guards, but by a passing motorist—Dr. Langdon (Winter Hall). A plastic surgeon, he takes Doyle, whose face has been slashed by the tree branches, back to his sanitarium for an operation. The unmasking of Doyle is predictably suspenseful, and in a reverse of the cliché, Doyle actually has the natural visage of the actor who plays him, Milton Sills, rather than garbed in grotesque make-up. The shock for Doyle to see a fresh face in the mirror brings about a reawakening of his soul, and no less significant is his first sight of his lovely nurse, Ethel Carter (Florence Vidor).Returning to the city, police realize Doyle cannot possibly be their man—or so they think. Sadie gotta endure her own, personal moment of realization. Not recognizing her husband, he shows her an old tattoo. However, she realizes that with a fresh face has come a fresh man. He suggests her next stop could be Reno—for a divorce.The last sequence has intercut shots of wheelchair bound veterans listening listlessly to patriotic speeches. They need more; the soldier's home is crowded with those who need its services. Their storyline has become one with that of Doyle. The closing game of the film in America made clear the message it was intended to convey. "'Doyle made his war and won. But there are thousands of another men, not ex-criminals or gangsters, but boys who need a supporting hand. They do not seek charity, but only ask to be remembered by a land to which they offered their bodies and blood.'--Thomas H. Ince".Skin Deep was the first film to test the fresh science of plastic surgery as a theme, with medical validation. (Similar plot ideas, given less emphasis, appeared in two another movies at the same time or months later, Universal's The Boy Who Married His Own Wife and Marshall Neilan's Minnie.) When the bandages are removed, Doyle is no longer driven to behavior that is expected because of the criminal visage he had.As Photoplay summarized, "Hokum, certainly. But so well constructed, so well directed, that almost any audience will applaud at the proper times. There are moments of suspense that bring out the perspiration—and what melodrama can do more?" Lambert Hillyer directed the seven reel production of a scenario by LeRoy Stone from a short story, "Lucky Damage," by Marc Edmund Jones. Skin Deep was produced for $179,384, grossing $422,704 after 15 months in release, as detailed in my biography of Ince.The American Legion received 10% of the profits as the effect of a special contract whose arrangements needed they take no action to publicize the movie, only to agree the gift. However, Ince did mention the Legion, and the Legion in turned thanked Ince for his cooperation in their campaign for films that would inspire better citizenship, sponsoring screenings of Skin Deep at different meetings of chapters of its organization. Adding to the publicity was the labeling of Skin Deep as entertainment, not a fight picture, a factor for audiences eager to return to normalcy, but who might yet realize some lessons from the fight if framed properly.



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