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  College Swing Campus Rumpus
Year: 1938
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, Edward Everett Horton, Florence George, Ben Blue, Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan, John Payne, Cecil Cunningham, Robert Cummings, Skinnay Ellis, The Slate Brothers, Robert Mitchell, Jerry Colonna
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two hundred years ago in 1738, this college was merely a single wooden building, modest and graced with a bell. Inside the students would sing as a choir, but this day one of them got into singing in a different style, a swing style, and when the dean (Edward Everett Horton) demanded he stop and asked his name, the reply was "Benny Goodman!" With that distraction out of the way, the only thing there remained to do was to hand out the end of term diplomas, written on sheepskin, and every boy got one. The sole female, Gracie Alden (Gracie Allen), was however not so lucky and when she approached the college board she was told she'd failed to graduate again, which disappointed her so a bet was placed: if she or any of her descendants for the next two centuries could achieve their goal, then they would win thousands of dollars.

College Swing was one of a series of College-based comedies with music that Paramount produced in the nineteen-thirties to promote their up and coming talent, and some of them went on to be household names, while many others, er, didn't. The team of George Burns and Gracie Allen were already established, and had a successful radio career as well as their frequent appearances in comedy movies, so it was they the plot was built around, or what was laughingly called a plot since any storyline was merely the flimsiest of excuses to hang all those variety acts performances upon. The real superstar in the cast, the one who would go on to have a career lasting decades, was Bob Hope, here at the point where he was being teamed with Martha Raye, another star who could sing and dance.

However, seeing as how this was largely an ensemble cast no one player was given the opportunity to steal the film from under the noses of their co-stars, though if this trifle belonged to anybody it was Gracie Allen. She had by now perfected her pixelated persona which entailed her being off in her own world that only had a glancing association with the real one, giving answers to questions that were sort of stupid, but in a weird way kind of inspired as well, and her husband George Burns would play her straight man, feeding her the lines and securing the laughs that way. It was an extremely successful collaboration based on the equality of the performers, a balance that not many male and female double acts could succeed with, which is likely why double acts are usually of the same gender. In this, on the other hand, Gracie had the opportunity to shine on her own, away from George.

She was just at home with Hope or Horton, the latter playing a dean with a terror of women who somehow is brought around by the charms of Gracie, who in the contemporary scenes after that historical introduction is playing one of her descendants but is essentially the same person, and in her last year of potential graduation and winning that bet. She hires Hope to assist her (i.e. cheat) which leads to such scenes as her reading from the laundry ticket he has provided during an exam, only she reads the printing rather than the answers and still manages to pass. Along with the comedy there was music, some so-so tunes sung by Raye and Allen and one supporting actress who was about to become the Forces' Sweetheart in World War II, Betty Grable, singing and dancing up a storm and patently on her way to bigger things. On the other hand, Jackie Coogan was on his way to lowlier things after being the biggest child star of the twenties (sitcom The Addams Family would revive his career decades later), and The Slate Brothers were never going to give The Ritz Brothers sleepless nights. A mish-mash then, but a glimpse into another world: imagine Animal House made in 1938 and you had an idea of its place, albeit a largely forgotten one.

[No extras on the Simply Media DVD, but it looks OK for its age.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Raoul Walsh  (1887 - 1980)

American director with a talent for crime thrillers. Originally an actor (he played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation) his biggest silent movie successes were The Thief of Bagdad and What Price Glory? He lost an eye while directing In Old Arizona, but went on to steady work helming a variety of films throughout the thirties, including The Bowery and Artists and Models.

After directing The Roaring Twenties, Walsh really hit his stride in the forties: They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Gentleman Jim, The Strawberry Blonde, Desperate Journey, Objective Burma!, Colorado Territory and the gangster classic White Heat were all highlights. Come the fifties, films included A Lion is in the Streets and The Naked and the Dead, but the quality dipped, although he continued working into the sixties. He also directed the infamous Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight (which isn't that bad!).

 
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