Showing posts with label Collegiate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Collegiate. Show all posts

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!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sport Parade (1932)

The Sport Parade (1932) was directed by Dudley Murphy and produced by David O. Selznick for RKO.  It stars Joel McCrea, Marian Marsh, William Gargan and Robert Benchley. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Jerry Corwin and depending on the source Corey Ford, Francis Cockrell and Robert Benchley are all credited in some form for the adaptation. I love films from this era that either have a collegiate theme or a sports theme and since this one had both it was natural selection for my next Warner Archive Wednesday.

Brown and Baker, the best of pals

Athletes behaving badly; that’s a hot topic these days. The machinations of Sandy Brown (Joel McCrea) and Johnny Baker (William Gargan), Dartmouth University football stars, are tame in comparison but still make for interesting drama. Brown and Baker have just finished their University careers and are considered sport legends. They are close friends but their lives and careers split as soon as they leave Dartmouth. Brown is dazzled by the prospects of fame and fortune promised to him by Shifty Morrison (Walter Catlett), a promoter whose appearance is reminiscent of Harold Lloyd and whose visions of millions are equally as laughable. Baker is more sensible. He starts a career in sports writing, a good segue from his hey-days as an athlete. Baker helps Brown when Shifty’s promises don’t pan out by offering him a job at the paper. Baker has the clever idea of tapping into their fame as a pair of top college athletes and they co-write a column entitled “Baker to Brown.” Things are going swell until Brown makes eyes at the newspaper illustrator Irene (Marian Marsh). Trouble is that Baker has his eyes set on her too and he was there first! 

This film could have been so good but in the end it just fell flat. The two main characters are only in college for the first few minutes of the film so the focus is primarily on their post-collegiate careers. This makes for an interesting look at what happens after the limelight has dimmed. However, in The Sport Parade the careers of the two college sports heroes is muddled by a romantic triangle. And the lady in the middle of the triangle isn't all that dazzling.

Joel McCrea and Marian Marsh

Joel McCrea and William Gargan. Best buds at the beginning of their troubles.

Marian Marsh, Joel McCrea and Walter Catlett
I found Joel McCrea's character Sandy Brown a bit confusing. We're led to believe that he excels at many sports. In college he and Baker are the top football stars. Brown also plays hockey and baseball, does some road racing and at the end of the film he becomes a professional wrestler. While there are some athletes who have been able to excel at two sports, it's pretty rare. To be really good at a sport you need determined practicing and lots of it. While incorporating some other sports and exercises will help an athlete succeed, the focus should always be on the one sport. Also, the window of time an athlete has to excel at the sport is limited to incorporating other sports doesn't make any sense. It's nice to think that Sandy Brown can do it all with the magic of Hollywood. I also think they just crammed as many sports as possible into the film to give credence to the title The Sport Parade.

Robert Benchley and his good ole Waltham Watch
It's not a complete wash though! There are several things I really liked about the film including Robert Benchley. He plays a befuddled radio announcer who is having a difficult time keeping track of all the plays in the game. He's also even sure where he is. Benchley appears a few times in the film and I wished he was a more substantial character. However, he's one of a trio of ne'er-do-wells along with Dizzy the drunk sports photographer (Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher) and Shifty the unreliable promoter.

The opening scenes take place in Allston, MA at Harvard Stadium (in the film Benchley says they are in Cambridge but the stadium is on the other side of the Charles River and technically in Allston). Dartmouth is playing Harvard and the film has real footage from the stadium and a college football game. By the time I was 3-1/2 minutes into the movie I froze on this shot and proceeded to freak out for about an hour.

Real life shot of Harvard Stadium and Harvard University in the background.
This was very exciting! Real shots of the Boston area don't appear in many films from this era. It wasn't until Mystery Street (1950) that the area was used as an actual filming location. I know this is just sports footage but it made me happy nonetheless. Did you know that the Harvard Stadium is one of four sports arenas to be registered as a National Historic Landmark? It was built in 1903 and is America's oldest stadium. The photo above is a shot of the steel stands. They were removed in the 1950s and now the stadium is U-shaped.

Harvard Stadium - Source

The following is NSFW-ish but my other favorite thing about this movie is seeing Pre-Code Butt. Oh yes, I went there. Pre-Code Butt. Say it with me! "Pre-Code Butt." Pre-Code Butt is elusive and rare. You can only catch a glimpse of it. A glimpse that goes by so quickly you're not quite sure you of what you saw until you play the scene over and over and over again.

You can see the Pre-Code Butt if you look closely enough.

The good folks at Warner Archive have shared a preview clip of the movie which contains some of the shots of Harvard Stadium and the Pre-Code Butt. Here it is for your viewing pleasure!

The Sports Parade (1932) is available from Warner Bros. and the TCM shop

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I rented The Sport Parade (1932) from ClassicFlix.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Brother Rat (1938) and Brother Rat and a Baby (1940)


Many moons ago I caught the tail end of the film Brother Rat (1938) on TCM. I was particularly drawn by the film's youthful cast, the collegiate setting and the slapstick humor. When I went to search for a way to watch this film in its entirety I discovered that the film and its sequel Brother Rat and a Baby were not available on DVD. I immediately went to the Warner Archive Twitter and Facebook pages and asked if these films were going to be future releases but did not get any response in the affirmative.

Fast forward months later and the Warner Archive released both films on DVD-MOD. Boy, was I excited! This was an opportunity to watch both of these films and to add to my repertoire of classic collegiate movies.

Brother Rat was a successful Broadway play written by and about cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, affectionately referred to as the "West Point of the South". The term "Brother Rat" refers to upperclassmen at the school. Freshman are referred to as just "Rats"and it's expected of them to be at the beck and call of the Brother Rats. The young Rats endure hazing and are given embarrassing and menial tasks in order to earn respect when they advance to Brother Rat status. The Broadway play starring Eddie Albert in the title role of Bing Edwards was such a hit that Warner Bros. got rights to the script and acquired Albert to reprise his role. This would be Eddie Albert's screen debut. Warner Bros. also retained Broadway actor William Tracy (or Tracey depending on the billing) for his role of Misto Bottome, a freshman Rat who desperately seeks approval from the older Brother Rats.


The play and the movie have somewhat different story lines. Brother Rat (1938) focuses more on the character Billy Randolph in order to showcase Wayne Morris whom Warner Bros. was grooming to become a big star. Billy Randolph (Wayne Morris), Bing Edwards (Eddie Albert) and Dan Crawford (Ronald Reagan) are roommates at VMI. Billy Randolph is the son of a wealthy publisher who is careless with his money (and other people's money too), is always breaking VMI rules and is completely smitten with the Southern debutante Joyce Winfree (Priscilla Lane). He's tireless in his efforts to woo her even though he's up against her disapproving grandmother and another rival suitor and fellow cadet. Bing Edwards is having much better luck in his romantic life with his sweetheart Kate Rice (Jane Bryan). In fact they are secretly married and expecting a baby! Edwards must keep their marriage and their future baby a secret from VMI until commencement. Edwards is also a talented pitcher and expected to win the big baseball game. He's also expected to pass his Chemistry test so he can graduate. Needless to say there is a lot of pressure on Bing Edwards and he's not handling it all very well.


Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan are the third couple in this scenario. Their real life romance which started with this film and lead to an engagement during the filming of Brother Rat and a Baby, eclipsed the other stars including Wayne Morris and Priscilla Lane who have top billing. Ronald Reagan's Dan Crawford is a level-headed cadet who loves to play baseball and spends much of his time trying to put out the fires started by Billy Randolph. Jane Wyman plays the nerdy and bespectacled Claire Adams. She has a knack for Chemistry and hides the fact that she's really Claire Ramm, daughter of Colonel Ramm one of the superiors at VMI. Claire is smitten with Dan but he's not quite sure about her. However, she wins him over with her tenacity and her clever solutions to his roommates' problems.

Brother Rat (1938) follows the story of Billy, Bing and Dan as they navigate collegiate life in their final year at VMI and also explores their romantic lives and their stints as top level Brother Rats and talented college level baseball players. It's interesting to note that the focus here is on baseball whereas so many collegiate films before and after this one have showcased football as the ultimate college sport.

Brother Rat (1938) was so popular that it spawned an original sequel. While listening to the Warner Archive podcast, I learned that sequels during this time era were very rare. Productions either resulted in stand-alone films or serials. Warner Bros. must have seen a really good opportunity to bring back all the top stars of their box office smash and gave birth to Brother Rat and a Baby (1940).

The cast of Brother Rat and a Baby (1940) Source

Brother Rat and a Baby picks up the story several months after the three roommates graduate from VMI. Billy Randolph is at his dad's publishing company and getting into problems with the law. Dan Crawford is working hard and trying to keep out of trouble so he can have a bright future. Bing Edwards is a baseball coach whose new baby is causing him and his wife Kate much joy and consternation. Their baby was named Commencement because of the key moment in Bing's life in which he was born and also upon Dan Crawford's suggestion. Commencement (played by infant actor "Peter B. Good") is a happy little boy who loves shiny objects and has a propensity to swallow them. Quarters, diamond rings, etc. He causes much chaos which only exacerbates the chaos already being created by Billy Randolph.

It's difficult to explain the plot of Brother Rat and a Baby because it's all over the place! Billy Randolph is still trying marry Joyce and Claire is still after Dan. Billy gets Bing an opportunity to be a baseball coach at VMI but the baby and Billy cause a lot of problems along the way. It's definitely not a collegiate film which may be a reason why it wasn't as popular as Brother Rat (1938). The plot is unnecessarily complicated and feels rushed. Some of the dialogue is delivered at such a rapid pace that I had to rewind and play key moments again in order to hear everything that was said! This film tries very hard to be a screwball comedy.

There is an interesting appearance by Humphrey Bogart's third wife Mayo Methot has a small role in Brother Rat and a Baby as a sour-faced woman on a bus whose diamond ring is swallowed by Commencement. Those of you familiar with Bogart's life will know that his relationship with Methot was very volatile.

There are a couple of rather risque moments in the films which I found to be welcome curiosities. In the first film we find out that Kate and Bing are expecting a baby. We immediately assume they are unmarried. However, it’s only a good 10 or so minutes later that we find out that Kate and Bing were secretly married. My mind was reeling the entire time wondering how they got this past the censors. The delay of information proved to be quite titillating and a clever way to be both Hays Code friendly and suggestive. In the second film, there is a scene in which Claire’s father Colonel Ramm interrupts couples Billy and Joyce and Dan and Claire in what seems to be a more sexually suggestive situation that it really was. In fact, Dan and Claire (Reagan and Wyman) come out of a bedroom with their hair and clothes in disarray after playing with baby Commencement. However, Colonel Ramm interprets this as something very different which adds some spice as well as humor to the scene!

I made the unfortunate decision to watch both of these films right after watching a film noir masterpiece.  I still had the noir in my mind and started to have unrealistic expectations. I set the Brother Rat films aside for a few days and then picked them up again. They were much more enjoyable on my second viewing.

Brother Rat and Brother Rat and a Baby are light comedic fare. They are perfect for anyone who is a fan of the era, a fan of any of the cast members and Brother Rat especially should be a must-see for anyone who likes collegiate films.

Brother Rat (1938) and Brother Rat And A Baby (1940) are available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. You can also purchase them at the TCM Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received the Brother Rat movies from Warner Archive to review.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Campus Rhythm (1943)

Campus Rhythm (1943) is a Pathe and Monogram picture that belongs to one of my favorite sub-genres of classic film: the collegiate film. It stars Gale Storm as Joan Abbott, a famous radio performer sponsored by the cereal company Crunchy Wunchy. Joan has been in show business all her life and she's sick of it. She dreams of going to college and experiencing campus life. She's underage and still under the control of her uncle Willy (Douglas Leavitt) who just renewed her contract with manager J.P. Hartman (Herbert Heyes) for another 6 months. Joan runs away and joins Rawley University under the assumed name Susie Smith, a moniker she borrowed from her manager's new secretary.

Even at Rawley she can't escape performing life because music just happens to be very much a part of campus life. She finds herself surrounded by talented people. Buzz O'Hara (Robert Lowery) is the head of the fraternity, leader of the campus band and known prankster. Scoop (Johnny Downs), the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper and Joan/Susie's new love interest. Scoop is as stiff as a freshly starched shirt and is opposed to anything but serious studies on campus. There is always one of those types in a collegiate movie! There is also Harold (Candy Candido) a humorous voice artist and Babs Marlow (GeGe Pearson) a budding singer. Writers, dancers, singers, voice artists, the campus is full of talent just waiting to be discovered.

Susie is always at risk of being found out as Joan Abbott. Her father and manager are on the search for her but Joan is hard to find under her very common assumed name. They come up with a publicity stunt to encourage college students around the country to find Joan Abbott if she is hiding at their school. Most people don't know what she looks like so it's a fun challenge for the students. Another nation-wide college contest seeks to find the next big band.

How long can Joan hide under assumed name when it seems like everyone is looking for her? Especially when a jealous sorority girl is on to her scheme and will do anything to expose Susie as Joan.

The premise of Campus Rhythm is very similar to that of Dancing Co-Ed (1939) starring Lana Turner. Both feature a performer hiding in a college campus under an assumed name and a nation-wide collegiate publicity stunt. In the case of Campus Rhythm, the protagonist's intentions are always genuine.

The plot can be considered rather weak but that didn't stop me from enjoying this film immensely. I liked it so much I started watching again immediately after my first viewing. There are some great songs including "But Not You", "Swing Your Way Through College" and "You Character".  Hollywood seems to love a good yarn about a fake college student or one incognito. The new person dynamic in these cases really shakes things up on campus in a very entertaining way. And what is it with nation-wide collegiate contests? Was this a thing? I'd love to learn more about the collegiate life of early to mid-twentieth century America.

Gale Storm is a delight to watch and she's one of three talents to take note of in this film. There is also Candy Candido who was famous for his ability to effortlessly switch between three different octaves. He was already a well-known radio star, was establishing himself as a voice artist and bass player in film and went on to become a voice actor for animated film. I enjoyed watching radio actress and singer GeGe Pearson who plays campus singer Babs Marlow and performs a few songs in the film.

Also watch for prolific character actor Tom Kennedy who has a small but funny role as a Police Seargant. He's a favorite of mine and I was glad to see a familiar face in the movie.

I wasn't expecting much from Campus Rhythm and was pleasantly surprised. If you love 1940s music, radio culture and collegiate films, this is definitely one to add to your repertoire. It's available on DVD through the MGM Limited Collection. I rented it through ClassicFlix only to discover I had it available to me this whole time through Netflix Instant. Oh well!


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