Musical Monday: Good News (1947)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Good News (1947) – Musical #70

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Charles Walters

Starring:
June Allyson, Peter Lawford, Patricia Marshall, Joan McCracken, Ray McDonald, Mel Tormé, Robert E. Strickland, Donald MacBride, Tom Dugan, Clinton Sundberg, Loren Tindall, Connie Gilchrist, Jimmy Lydon (uncredited), Tommy Rall (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in 1927 at Tait College, all of the boys are falling for new student and sorority girl, Pat McClellan (Marshall) – including football star Tommy Marlowe (Lawford). Gold-digging Pat doesn’t want anything to do with Tommy, finding him unrefined. To show her he can be worldly, Tommy heads to the library to learn French and meets student Connie Lane (Allyson), a sorority sister of Pat. Tommy and Connie fall for each other, but soon Pat turns her attentions to Tommy.

Trivia:
• Director and choreographer Charles Walters’ directorial debut with a full-length feature film.
• “Good News” was a Broadway play that opened in 1927. It was first seen on screen with Good News (1930), which starred Bessie Love and Cliff Edwards, also released by MGM.
• Originally considered by Arthur Freed as a film vehicle for Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. It was then considered as another pairing for June Allyson and Van Johnson. However, by the time filming began, Van Johnson was unavailable, according to the book “Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance” by Brent Phillips.
• Gloria De Haven was originally cast Pat McClellan, the female antagonist, but she turned down the script, according to Brent Phillips’s book.
• The song “Pass the Peace Pipe” was originally written for the film “Ziegfeld Follies,” according to Phillips’s book.
• June Allyson wrote in her autobiography that Peter Lawford had to teach her all the French she is supposed to teach him in the film.
• First film of Patricia Marshall. She wasn’t in another film until 1975. Marshall was one of the original cast members of the Broadway play “Pajama Game” and was married to Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, Larry Gelbart.
• Second film of Broadway performer Joan McCracken
• Last film of Georgia Lee Settle

June Allyson and Peter Lawford in “Good News”

Highlights:
• “The Varsity Drag” dance number
• Costumes by Helen Rose
• Technicolor cinematography by Charles Edgar Schoenbaum
• Joan McCracken and Ray McDonald’s dancing in the “Pass the Peace Pipe” number

Notable Songs:
• “The Varsity Drag” performed by June Allyson and Peter Lawford
• “The Best Things in Life Are Free” performed by June Allyson
• “Good New” performed by the cast
• “Be a Ladies Man” performed by Peter Lawford and male cast
• “Lucky in Love” performed by Peter Lawford, June Allyson and cast.

Hollywood newcomers Patricia Marshall and Joan McCracken with June Allyson

My review:
When I first became interested in musicals in middle and high school, I watched as many as I could. There were some musicals I was bursting with excitement to watch — especially films that starred my favorite actors. June Allyson quickly became a favorite, and I couldn’t wait to see the collegiate MGM musical, “Good News” (1947).

But for some reason, when I was 14 years old, I was disappointed by “Good News” (1947). So when I revisited the film, I started it with some apprehension … and was thrilled to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Good News” is a joyful college musical set in 1927. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 still hasn’t happened, so the only problems these co-eds have is if they win the big football game if they pass French class, and if they are “Lucky in Love.”

June Allyson plays Connie, a girl working her way through college by helping out around the sorority class, grading papers for the French teacher, and working in the library. Peter Lawford plays popular football star Tommy Marlowe, who usually never has any trouble with girls until he meets gold-digging transfer student Pat McClellan, played by Hollywood newcomer Patricia Marshall. To impress Pat, Tommy tries to learn French by going to the library. There he meets Connie, who he never noticed before and he falls for her.

On the comedic side, Joan McCracken plays man-hungry Babe Doolittle. Her boyfriend is a protective and strong football player, Beef (played by Loren Tindall), who says he will kill anyone who as much looks at Babe. The problem is Babe has been making eyes at benchwarmer football player Bobby Turner, played by Ray McDonald.

“Good News” (1947) was the directorial debut for Charles Walters. While Walters was nervous about his first major musical picture, it ended up a great success and “made nothing but money,” he is quoted as saying in his biography “Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance” by Brent Phillips.

Before coming to screen, the film went through some transitions cast wise. Frequent co-stars June Allyson and Van Johnson were set to star in the film as Connie and Tommy, and Gloria DeHaven was cast as the stuck-up Pat, which would reteam them again for the first time since “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), the film that made Allyson, Johnson and DeHaven stars. However, DeHaven didn’t like the part and turned it down, putting her in hot water with MGM.

Betty Garrett was initially slated for the comedic role of Babe Doolittle but was replaced by Joan McCracken.

As a Van Johnson fan, I do mourn the fact that he didn’t star in this film. Johnson was replaced because he was tied up in another film.

June Allyson is one of my favorite actresses, and my complaint when I first saw this movie as a teenager is that there wasn’t enough June. I know many people don’t care for Allyson, but I’m a fan and like her unique way of speaking and singing. Now, I find that there is and also leaves room for those newcomer highlights.

Patricia Marshall and Joan McCracken may not be names known even to the biggest movie buff (particularly Marshall), because they both came from Broadway. McCracken was in the original 1943 Broadway cast of “Oklahoma” and was married to Bob Fosse, who she influenced to become a choreographer. “Oklahoma” gained her a Warner Bros. film contract, but other than “Good News,” McCracken only appeared as a specialty dance number in “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and “Main Street to Broadway” (1953).

Patricia Marshall was also better known for her work on Broadway, and later was the replacement for the lead in “Pajama Game” in 1954. Other than “Good News” (1947), she wasn’t in any other acting film or TV projects until 1975, though she occasionally sang on television. Marshall was married to Larry Gelbart, who developed M*A*S*H for television, and was nominated for Academy Awards for his writing for the films “Tootsie” (1982) and “Oh, God!” (1977).

While I would have loved to see Gloria DeHaven and Betty Garrett in the film, it’s interesting to see Marshall and McCracken, who we otherwise wouldn’t have much film footage of.

One highlight McCracken and Ray McDonald’s dancing in the “Pass the Peace Pipe” number, which takes place in a soda shop.

Singer “the velvet fog” Mel Tormé also appears in a minor role of the film. While he doesn’t have any songs to himself, he has a few featured spotlights in some of the musical numbers, particularly “Lucky in Love.”

My favorite musical number is the finale, “The Varsity Drag.” It’s such a vibrant and fun number filled with great dancing and is how I wish all of my school dances were.

What really makes the film is the vibrant Technicolor cinematography by Charles Edgar Schoenbaum and the 1920s-style costumes designed by Helen Rose.

It’s funny when you revisit a film that you didn’t remember enjoying. If you start the film with some trepidation, you may come out enjoying yourself 100 percent. I was ready to purchase “Good News” (1947) on DVD after this revisit! This is a joyful romp that will make you wish your back-to-school days were this entertaining.

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