Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sorority House (1939)

Sorority House (1939)


Alice Fisher (Anne Shirley) and her father Lew (J.M. Kerrigan) live simple lives. Mr. Fisher runs a humble grocery story and his bright daughter helps him with the ins and outs of the business. Attending Talbot University is a pipe dream for Alice until her father surprises her with a selfless gift. He sacrifices what little money he has for two years tuition so Alice can fulfill her dream. Once at college, Alice immediately gets caught up the social politics of sorority culture. Being part of a good sorority, like the Gamma House, ensures a proper standing in campus culture.

Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan
"I'll miss your brains." - Mr. Fisher to his daughter Alice

Alice rooms with two very different coeds. First there is Dotty (Barbara Read), a wise-cracking dame who befriends Alice and rejects sorority culture because she's been rejected herself. She refers to fellow rejects as dreeps (a dreary college girls who weep). Then there is Merle (Adele Pearce, later known as Pamela Blake) who has drunk the sorority Kool-Aid and wants nothing more than to be a member of the Gamma House. Alice and Merle soon discover the downside of sorority rushes. Merle becomes the target of powerful Gamma sorority ice queen Neva (Doris Jordan, later known as Doris Davenport). Alice gets a boost from medical student Bill Loomis (James Ellison), a big man on campus who has a lot of sway with the Gamma girls. However, Alice starts to lose sight of her values and the simple lifestyle her father taught her, as she gets caught up in the tangle of campus life.

Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake

"That doesn't sound very democratic to me." - Alice
"Whoever told you college was democratic? - Dotty

Directed by John Farrow, Sorority House (1939) is a collegiate drama released by RKO. Based on a story by Mary Coyle Chase, the script is injected with a poignant social message by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. As I do with many of Dalton Trumbo's works, I had quite a strong reaction to the story line and characters. At one point I felt the urge to slap Alice across the face and burn the Gamma House down to the ground. The story hooks you from that initially emotionally heartwarming scene so when the kick in the butt comes at the story's climax you feel it. Sorority House isn't just your run-of-the-mill collegiate fluff. It's a story with an important social message. It warns against the dangers of groups like sororities that do a lot of damage when they exclude or try to control others behaviors. The moral of the story: "live and let live."

"The essence of success is a good start." - Mrs. Scott (Elizabeth Risdon)

I particularly enjoyed the performances by J.M. Kerrigan and Anne Shirley. Poor James Ellison has a rather weak role as Alice's boyfriend. He's really there for the plot and doesn't add much more to the movie which is unfortunate. Actresses Veronica Lake and Marge Champion have bit roles as coeds. I wasn't able to spot them but maybe someone with a sharp eye can. Chill Wills has a brief role at the start of the film.

Anne Shirley and James Ellison

1930s era Sorority House
The Gamma girls


I have absolutely no interest in modern collegiate life so I live vicariously through these old movies. Sorority House has it's silly and somewhat backwards moments (like Mr. Fisher telling Dotty she might not become an Abe Lincoln but she could be the mother of a future president). However, I loved it's overall message. If you're looking for a good double bill, I recommend Sorority House (1939) with RKO's Finishing School (1934), both available from the Warner Archive Collection.



Sorority House (1939) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!


 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Sorority House (1939) to review!

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