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:
Pigskin Parade (1936) – Musical #179
20th Century Fox
Stuart Erwin, Jack Haley, Patsy Kelly, Johnny Downs, Arline Judge, Betty Grable, Dixie Dunbar, Judy Garland, Tony Martin (billed as Anthony Martin), Grady Sutton, Julius Tannen, Fred Kohler, Jr.
Themselves: The Yacht Club Boys
Texas State University is accidentally picked as the team to play against Yale in a big football game. When new coach Slug Winters (Haley) and his wife Bessie (Kelly) realize the football team is hopeless, they look for an answer. That comes in the form of hillbilly Amos Dodd (Erwin), who has never played football but can kick and throw like a dream. The only issue is getting Amos and his sister Sairy (Garland) enrolled in the college.
• Judy Garland’s first feature film. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer loaned Garland to 20th Century Fox for five weeks.
• The Yacht Club Boys wrote their own songs that are performed in the film.
• University of Southern California students worked as extras in the production.
• Filming locations included Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Rose Bowl in Pasedena, and Occidental College in Eagle Rock.
• Stuart Erwin was in the first group of actors nominated for a supporting Academy Award. Walter Brennan won this year.
• The song “Hold that Bulldog” was supposed to be performed by Judy Garland, but it was cut from the film. A reprise of the song “It’s Love I’m After” performed by Betty Grable and Johnny Downs was also cut from the film.
• Early roles for Judy Garland and Betty Grable
• Young Elisha Cook, Jr.
• Stuart Erwin at the dance not knowing how to do the Balboa
• “You’re Slightly Terrific” performed by Tony Martin, danced by Dixie Dunbar
• “T.S.U. Alma Mater” performed by a the chorus
• “Balboa” performed by Judy Garland, Dixie Dunbar, Betty Grable, Johnny Downs
• “The Texas Tornado” performed by Judy Garland
I am a sucker for collegiate musicals, and PIGSKIN PARADE (1936) is no exception.
Much of the plot hinges on a mistake that is made. Students at Yale are picking a team for who they will play their big game against. But instead of selecting the University of Texas as planned, they invite Texas State University, a small rural college with a losing football team. The team has just gotten a new coach, Slug Winters (Haley) who is accompanied by his wisecracking wife (Kelly). The two realize their team is hopefully, especially when the quarterback (Kohler) breaks his leg, so they go on the hunt for a replacement and they find a miracle: farm boy Amos Dodd (Erwin), who may not be a football expert but has an amazing throw. The only issue is that Amos needs to somehow get into college to play. Amos is enrolled under another name along with his sister Sairy (Garland).
For Judy Garland fans, she doesn’t appear until 42 minutes into the film as the sister of Stuart Erwin. While this whole film is great fun, Stuart Erwin is the stand out performer to me. I love Erwin in general, but he’s also just hilarious and adorable. One moment I particularly love is the impressive dance number “Balboa.” When you catch Erwin on camera during this time, he isn’t flawlessly dancing with his peers. He’s tripping and confused about how to do the dance—I felt like this dancing detail really added to his inexperienced character.
There is also an excellent running joke where Judy Garland keeps saying, “I can sing! Want to hear me?” and Stuart Erwin always replying, “Not right now.”
Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly play off each other well as husband and wife, especially as Kelly seems better suited for being a coach, as she has better ideas than her husband.
You also spot a young Elisha Cook and Johnny Downs in one of his biggest roles. Betty Grable and Dixie Dunbar are also fun co-eds.
Watching this film, it’s interesting knowing how many of the careers of the actors later escalated. Many were on the brink of stardom. In addition to Judy Garland, Tony Martin would be on his way after he was signed to MGM. Betty Grable would find more fame once she went to 20th Century Fox.
I hadn’t watched “Pigskin Parade” since I checked it out from the library as a teenager. For some reason, I didn’t remember liking it, but I thoroughly enjoyed this revisit.
My only complaint? I could’ve done without The Yacht Club Boys, but they are better than the Ritz Brothers. Did they really need to sing five songs?
However, this is a great, fun time. Especially if you are a sucker for harmonized collegiate songs like I am.
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