Musical Monday: College Humor (1933)

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:
College Humor (1933) – Musical #612

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Director: Wesley Ruggles

Bing Crosby, Jack Oakie, Richard Arlen, Mary Carlisle, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Mary Kornman, Joe Sawyer, Lona Andre, Grady Sutton, Jimmy Conlin, James Burke, Bruce Bennett (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited), Marjorie Reynolds (uncredited), Frank Jenks (uncredited)

The film follows Barney Shirrel (Oakie) who starts at his freshman year at MidWest University. His roommates are gruff Tex (Sawyer) and Mondrake (Arlen), who drinks too much. Professor Frederick Danvers (Crosby) is an alumnus of MidWest and now teaches there as a popular music professor. Barney is initiated into a fraternity and joins the football team, paying less attention to Amber (Kornman). Barney’s sister Barbara Shirrel (Carlisle) starts at the college the following term, and while she is dating Mondrake, she falls in love with Prof. Danvers. This causes Mondrake to drink more, getting him kicked off the football team so that the school is at risk of losing the big game.

Richard Arlen and Jack Oakie in “College Humor.”

• University of Southern California Howard Jones co-stars in the film
• Only Bing Crosby’s second full-length film.
• Part of Paramount’s publicity for the film involved holding a beauty competition to crown Miss College Humor. The winner was Bessie Patterson from Tucumcari, NM. Patterson later married lyricist Johnny Burke, according to Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – The Early Years 1903 – 1940 by Gary Giddins
• Originally to be titled “Bachelor of Arts.”

Notable Songs:
• “Down the Old Ox Road” performed by Bring Crosby, Richard Arlen, Jack Oakie, Mary Kornman and chorus
• “Learn to Croon” performed by Bing Crosby and students
• “Moonstruck” performed by Bing Crosby

Mary Carlisle and Bing Crosby in “College Humor”

My review:
In an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” Beaver quips that everyone is singing in college movies. I kept thinking of that as I watched “College Humor” (1933).

“College Humor” is what I wish my college days were like – lots of singing and dancing by young people. This is a fun and energetic collegiate musical filled with catchy songs and the shenanigans of young people.

However, it does also include some serious themes – Richard Arlen’s character drinks too much which comes with consequences: losing his girl and ending his football career.

While it is a light film, “College Humor” (1933) was important to the careers of most of its stars. This was only the second or third full-length film for crooner Bing Crosby, and an early top billing role. The film also helped make Mary Carlisle (who died at age 104 in Aug. 2018) a star. Carlisle isn’t the star here though, she appears in the film 20 or 30 minutes into the story.

“College Humor” also includes husband and wife comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen in an early full-length film for the duo. However, they aren’t on screen very long – perhaps five or 10 minutes at most.

Jack Oakie is the true star of the film, playing the lead character, who is so focused on studies and football, that he isn’t as interested in parties and girls like the rest of the students. Oakie sometimes can be irritating to me, but he’s funny in this film, and also has some heartfelt moments.

Richard Arlen’s character may have the most depth, but Arlen, in general, is more handsome than interesting.

This pre-code musical has several fun tunes, but I think my favorite is the lengthy “Down the Old Ox Road,” which features most of the cast singing a few lines. Even Richard Arlen sings! It displays the perfect aspect of these collegiate musicals – young students dancing across campus and falling in love.

“College Humor” isn’t an award-winning movie, but it sure is fun. If you are feeling down about the back-to-school season, this will lift your spirits!

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