About Jnpickens

Classic film lover and reporter in North Carolina.

Musical Monday: Speedway (1968)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
“Speedway” (1968)– Musical #566

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Norman Taurog

Starring:
Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, Bill Bixby, William Schallert, Gale Gordon, Ross Hagen, Victoria Paige Meyerink, Carl Ballantine, Charlotte Stewart, Burt Mustin (uncredited)
Themselves: Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Tiny Lund

Plot:
Steve (Presley) is a successful racecar driver and his best friend Kenny (Bixby) is his manager. Steve frequently tries to help people out of financial jams, from helping a single dad and his family with groceries and a car to helping a young couple get married. But as it turns out, Steve doesn’t have as much money as he through due to gambling and mismanagement by Kenny. IRS worker Susan Jacks (Sinatra) is there to collect the money.

Trivia:
-Race scenes filmed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC. Elvis races in the Charlotte 100 at the beginning of the film.
-Race car drivers Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Tiny Lund are featured in the film.
-The film premiered in Charlotte, NC in June 1968
-The lead roles were originally offered to Sonny and Cher, according to NotStarring.com
-Nancy Sinatra’s role was offered to Petula Clark, according to NotStarring.com
-Nancy Sinatra’s last film

Elvis Presley plays a race car driver driving on the Charlotte Motor Speedway in “Speedway”

Highlights:
-Uncredited role of Burt Mustin as a janitor, who sings a little after Elvis sings

Notable Songs:
-“Speedway” performed by Elvis Presley
-“Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet, Baby” performed by Elvis Presley
-“Let Yourself Go” performed by Elvis Presley
-“Your Groovy Self” performed by Nancy Sinatra

My review:
After more than 10 years in films, “Speedway” nears the end of Elvis Presley’s film career. The formula is similar to other frothy, colorful Elvis musical comedies, but at the same time, it seems a little phoned in.

Elvis Presley and William Schallert in Speedway

The whole point of the film is Elvis’s IRS issues, and that doesn’t come into play until nearly 40 minutes to an hour in the film. For the first 30 minutes, I actually found myself thinking “So what is this about.” While race car driving is Elvis’s career, it isn’t really even the central theme of the film like it is in “Spinout” (1966). Elvis starts race car driving, then we meet Nancy Sinatra, then we meet homeless William Schallert with his four baby daughters and there are cute scenes with Elvis and the children, and then finally we learn of Elvis’s IRS issues.

I love actor Bill Bixby, but his character isn’t terribly lovable in this film. While he as a lot of screen time, I did feel his comedic talents were a bit wasted.

As someone living in North Carolina, my favorite part of this film is that the race scenes are set at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the NASCAR racetrack in Concord, NC. While I never have been to a race on this track, I’ve been to car shows and a 5K at the track.

Despite my criticisms, Speedway is a pleasant film to watch. It’s colorful and I was entertained throughout.

Nancy Sinatra and Elvis Presley in “Speedway”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

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Musical Monday: Sunny Side Up (1929)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Sunny Side Up (1929) – Musical #396

Studio:
Fox Film Corporation

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Marjorie White, Sharon Lynn, El Brendel, Frank Richardson, Jackie Cooper (uncredited)

Plot:
Wealthy Jack Cromwell (Farrell) is fed up with his flirting fiance, Jane (Lynn). One night he drives to New York City and meets working girl Molly (Gaynor), who recognizes him from the society pages. Jack decides to take Molly back to Long Island to make Jane jealous. Jack sets up Molly in an apartment and she poses as a society woman. Molly is in love with Jack, but rumors start that Molly is Jack’s “kept woman.”

Trivia:
-Story and songs written by Buddy G. DeSylva
-The original film had a color sequence, which is now lost
-Fourth film pairing of Janey Gaynor and Charles Farrell, as well as their first sound film together and their first musical together.
-Child actor Jackie Cooper appears in an uncredited role

Highlights:
-Gag with a woman talking about birth control to a woman with at least six children
-A brief appearance by Jackie Cooper

Notable Songs:
-“You’ve Got Me Pickin’ Petals Off a Daisy” performed by Marjorie White and Frank Richardson
-“I’m a Dreamer Aren’t We All” performed by Janet Gaynor
-“Keep Your Sunnyside Up” performed by Janet Gaynor

My review:
As we have noted in previous posts, some musicals of the early struggled with blending music and plot. But “Sunny Side Up” (1929) manages to do a fairly good job of making the music and story make sense. This could be because the songs and story were both written by Buddy DeSylva.

“Sunny Side Up” was the fourth pairing of screen couple Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. It was also their first sound film, as well as their first musical. The story is sweet and cute, and it’s a unique opportunity to hear Farrell and Gaynor sing. While their singing voices aren’t amazing, they are passable.

There are some cute songs and we get the opportunity to see Jackie Cooper in an early, uncredited role. But our leads are better than the supporting cast. El Brendel is in the film, and he’s often quite tiresome. Gaynor’s pal, played by Marjorie White, is cute but when put with her on-screen boyfriend Frank Richardson singing fast talking jazz, it’s rather irritating.

It is unfortunate that the color sequence is missing. I also wish that the sound was better on the print I watched, which could be a result of restoration challenges. For musical lovers, it’s interesting to see how the genre grew and this is a good example.

Cast of “Sunny Side Up”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) – Musical #564

Studio:
Hal Roach Studios

Director:
Paul Landres

Starring:
Jimmy Clanton, Sandy Stewart
Themselves: Chuck Berry, Alan Freed, Ritchie Valens, Jackie Wilson, Jo Ann Campbell, The Cadillacs, The Flamingos, Harvey Fuqua, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Cavalio and the House Rockers

Plot:
Talent scout and producer Alan Freed (himself) is hunting for a new singing star that he will name Johnny Melody. Johnny (Clanton) is an orphan with hopes of becoming a rock star. When he reconnects with fellow former orphan Julie (Stewart), she encourages him to cut a record and send it to Alan Freed. The plot is dispersed with performances of rock-n-roll performances from singers popular in 1959.

Trivia:
-Was filmed in five days
-This is the only film appearance of Ritchie Valens, who died this same year
-Final film of Alan Freed, who also starred in films like “Rock Around the Clock” and “Don’t Knock Rock”

Highlights:
-Seeing Chuck Berry perform and doing his famous duck walk

Chuck Berry in “Go, Johnny, Go”

Notable Songs:
-“Don’t Be Afraid To Love” performed by Harvey
-“Playmates” performed by Sandy Stewart
-“Memphis Tennessee” performed by Chuck Berry
-“Jay Walker” performed The Cadillacs
-“You Better Know It” performed Jackie Wilson
-“Little Queenie” performed by Chuck Berry
-“Ship on a Stormy Sea” performed by Jimmy Clanton

My review:
In the early-1950s, rock n’ roll was a new music form and rapidly gaining popularity. And teenage films were made throughout the 1950s and early 1960s to capitalize off of this.

Similar to films like “Rock Around the Clock,” “Rock Rock Rock!” or “Don’t Knock Rock,” there is a thin plot that is threaded together with 17 musical performances from popular acts of 1959. That’s 17 numbers in only a 75 minute span.

The film is a retrospective story, starting with Jimmy Clanton as Johnny Melody singing for screaming teenagers. In the wings are Alan Freed and Chuck Berry (as themselves) talking about how wonderful he is and remembering his struggles. Alan Freed begins to tell Johnny’s story of an orphan that wanted to be a singer. We see how Johnny was kicked out of a church choir for singing rock n’ roll during a break and then fired as a theater usher for dancing to the music rather than escorting. Rock n’ roll seems to be his downfall until it becomes his saving grace: allowing him to make money and find fame.

“Go, Johnny, Go” has more plot than some of the other teen rock films, but the acting is thin.

While these musicals may seem like fluff now, the were important for shaping the image of rock n’ roll to teenage movie fans, according to American Film Cycles by Amanda Ann Klein. They also serve as an interesting time capsule to see who the top performers were during that time.

Jimmy Clanton and Sandy Stewart in “Go, Johnny, Go”

In the few films he acted in, music producer Alan Freed often served as the adult who liked rock n’ roll, understood teenagers and could help ease their parent’s concern about this new type of music.

I wasn’t familiar with Jimmy Clanton or his music prior to this film. While the two lead performers are bland, the true highlight of this film is getting to see the late Chuck Berry in a film. His “Memphis Tennessee” performance makes the film. I also really loved the performances by Jackie Wilson and Harvey Fuqua -after Chuck Berry, they were my favorites. Sadly, Ritchie Valens who appears in this film died the same year.

While this isn’t the best movie, it is a must see for music lovers.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Musical Monday: Balalaika (1939)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Balalaika (1939) – Musical #227

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Reinhold Schünzel

Starring:
Nelson Eddy, Ilona Massey, Charles Ruggles, Frank Morgan, Lionel Atwill, C. Aubrey Smith, Joyce Compton, Phillip Terry, George Tobias

Plot:
Beginning in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914, Lydia Pavlovna Marakova (Massey) is a singer in a cafe and the daughter of a political activist. She meets and falls in love with Prince Peter Karagin (Eddy), who poses as a commoner. World War I begins the same day it’s revealed that Lydia’s family had a plot to kill the prince and his father (Smith). The war seperated Lydia and Peter.

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Nitrate is Hot: First time at the Nitrate Picture Show

Contemporary classic film fans have the luxury of watching older films in many different forms. Stream on Netflix, buy it on BluRay or DVD, watch it on their phone on YouTube, or turn the television to Turner Classic Movies at any point in the day.

But despite all of these options and opportunities, sometimes film lovers want to see the film the way it was meant to be shown—on the big screen. But the real treat is if the movie is projected on film, but not just any film—rare nitrate film.

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Musical Monday: The Perils of Pauline (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Perils Of Pauline (1947) – Musical #127

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
George Marshall

Starring:
Betty Hutton, John Lund, Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest, Constance Collier, Frank Faylen

Plot:
Biographical film about actress Pearl White, who rose to fame during the silent film era in serial where she is constantly in danger.

Trivia:
-The height of the real Pearl White’s career was from 1910 to 1924. She died at age 49 in 1938 in France.
-Actors who performed in real Peril’s of Pauline films were featured in this movie such as; Paul Panzer who was in The Perils of Pauline (1914); Creighton Hale who was in The Exploits of Elaine (1914); William Farnum who played in Riders of the Purple Sage (1918).
-Edith Head designed the costumes for the films. Head copied costumes for Pearl White’s films for historical accuracy, according to Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer by Jay Jorgensen
-Louis J. Gasnier, who directed The Perils of Pauline (1914), was a technical advisor on this film.

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Musical Monday: Anchors Aweigh (1945)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Anchors Aweigh (1945) – Musical #18

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton, Rags Ragland, Billy Gilbert, Henry O’Neill, Leon Ames, Grady Sutton,
Themselves: Jose Iturbi, Carlos Ramírez

Plot:
Two sailors (Kelly, Sinatra) are on leave in Los Angeles when they meet a lost little boy, Donald (Stockwell). When they return Donald home, they meet his Aunt Susan (Grayson), who raises the boy and has dreams of becoming a singer. To impress her, the sailors mislead Aunt Susan and tell her they know famous pianist Jose Iturbi, so she can audition for him. Now they just have to find Jose Iturbi.

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Musical Monday: Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) – Musical #366

Studio:
Universal Pictures

Director:
George Roy Hill

Starring:
Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, John Gavin, Jack Soo, Pat Morita, Beatrice Lillie, Lisabeth Hush, Mae Clarke (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in 1922 New York, Millie Dillmount (Andrews) strives to be a modern woman; dressing as a flapper, becoming a stenographer and marrying her boss. She becomes friends with sweet, naive Miss Dorothy (Moore), who is also new to New York. Millie encounters many adventures along the way, including eccentric millionairess Muzzy Van Hossmere (Channing). She also uncovers a white slavery ring, which kidnaps orphans.

Trivia:
-The 2002 Broadway musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was based on the 1967 film.
-Last film of actress Beatrice Lillie
-Director George Roy Hill’s first musical film
-Director George Roy Hill and producer Ross Hunter butt heads. Hill was removed from the film in post-production and the film ended up being 2 hours and 18 minutes. Some things that Hill would have edited out, like the Jewish wedding scene, were left in. Hunter also added an intermission and brought in Andre Previn, according to the book The Films of George Roy Hill by Andrew Horton
-Music by Elmer Bernstein

Actress Beatrice Lillie in her last film role.

Highlights:
-The first few minutes of the film where Julie Andrews transforms into a flapper
-Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews dancing in the elevator
-When two of the actors see each other for the first time and “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” starts playing
-Silent film jokes where Julie Andrews looks at the camera and a silent film card with her thoughts pop up
-When Julie Andrews meets her boss and the Hallelujah choir

Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews dancing in an elevator to make it go up and down.

Notable Songs:
-“Thoroughly Modern Millie” performed by Julie Andrews
-“The Tapioca” performed by James Fox
-“Do It Again” performed by Carol Channing
-“Jazz Baby” performed by Carol Channing
-“Baby Face” performed by Julie Andrews

James Fox and Julie Andrews dancing the Tapioca

My review:
By the time “Thoroughly Modern Millie” was released in 1967, musicals had mostly lost their popularity in Hollywood. But while “Millie” comes at the end of the bright musical era, it still serves up the same breezy good time like a 1951 MGM Technicolor.

While it’s hilarious and fun, director George Roy Hill said the film was meant to be a farce, according to The Films of George Roy Hill by Andrew Horton. He said he wanted to be a light film, “I wanted it to be a souffle.”

I knew of the play, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” but was surprised to learn that it was based on the film, since generally films are inspired by the stage play. Admittedly, it’s an odd little plot with the “white slavery” aspect, but it is still extremely entertaining.

Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Julie Andrews plays Millie hilariously, trying to be a modern flapper. She uses words like “terrif” or “stenog” (for stenographer), rouges her knees, and marvels at the glamour and independence of free women, like Muzzy (Carol Channing).

Mary Tyler Moore plays Miss Dorothy, a demur, naive young woman. Moore looks lovely in her costumes and with long curls. Moore dances, but it is disappointing though, that Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t get to sing her own song. She actually has very few lines.

Filling out the supporting cast is Carol Channing, John Gavin, James Fox and Beatrice Lillie. Channing is entertaining to watch, as always, James Fox is a likable leading man and John Gavin is as handsome as ever. This is 1930s’ actress Beatrice Lillie’s last film. Lillie focused more on the stage than on film and she’s always a delight. It’s a real treat to see her here.

The songs are fun. There are only a few large dance numbers, like “The Tapioca,” which are very entertaining. A running joke throughout the film is that everyone has to tap dance to make the elevator go up and down. It’s fun to see what sort of dance steps they will do each time they get on the elevator. The highlight is Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrew’s dance on the elevator going up to the 12th floor.

This film runs at 2 hours and 18 minutes, which is rather long. Director George Roy Hill wanted to cut the Jewish wedding dance and song, which is an unnecessary scene. Regardless, this lengthy musical moves quickly and I never found myself bored or distracted.

This is one of Julie Andrews’ last major films of the 1960s, and I think it’s one you should definitely give a chance.

The cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie: John Gavin, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Julie Andrews, Carol Channing, Beatrice Lillie

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Attending the Nitrate Picture Show 2017

This week, Comet Over Hollywood is attending the Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester, NY, which is Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7.

Presented by the George Eastman Museum, this is the third year of this festival that focuses on film conservation. All of the films screened are on nitrate film from the George Eastman Museum.

For the past four years, I attended the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). However, due to a scheduling conflict I was unable to attend this year.

Because of this, I decided to try something new, and I heard good things about the Nitrate Picture Show.

This is my first time at the Nitrate Picture Show so I’m not sure how it all works. The film program is not released until Friday, May 5, when the festival begins.

My boyfriend is also attending the Nitrate Picture Show for his first time as well. In addition to this page, here are other ways to follow us during our adventures:
Twitter: @HollywoodComet or @ImBrandonBrown
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cometoverhollywood
Instagram: @HollywoodComet

Musical Monday: Varsity Show (1937)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Varsity Show (1937) – Musical #99

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
William Keighley

Starring:
Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane, Priscilla Lane, Ted Healy, Walter Catlett, Sterling Holloway, Johnnie Davis, Lee Dixon, Ford Washington Lee, John William Sublett, Mabel Todd, Edward Brophy, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, Carole Landis (uncredited)

Plot:
Winfield College students (Lane, Lane, Healy, Holloway, Davis) need a successful varsity show. The last few years have been a flop and the old-fashioned staff is ready to outlaw swing in the shows. The students try to get alumnus Chuck Daly (Powell), who is now on Broadway, to stage their show. While they think he’s a New York success, his shows have been flops.

Awards and Nominations:
-Busby Berkeley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction. Hermes Pan won for “A Damsel In Distress

Carole Landis as an uncredited chorus girl dancing with Sterling Holloway in the finale of “Varsity Show”

Trivia:
-Priscilla Lane’s first film.
-Sisters Rosemary Lane and Priscilla Lane co-star in the movie. However, they do not play sisters and do not have many scenes together.
-The closing finale number was choreographed by Busby Berkeley
-Busby Berkeley apparently picked Carole Landis as one of the chorus girls for “Varsity Show,” according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak
-Reissued in 1942 and was cut to 80 minutes. The edits were cut to the original film and the original cut film was discarded. At least four songs are missing from the Turner print because of this, according to Spivak’s book.

Highlights:
-Busby Berkeley choreographed finale
-Priscilla Lane singing
-Buck and Bubbles tap number

Notable Songs:
-“Old King Cole” performed by Johnnie Davis
-“We’re Working Our Way Through College” performed by Dick Powell
-“I’m Dependable” performed by Priscilla Lane and Fred Waring
-“On with the Dance” performed by Rosemary Lane and Buck and Bubbles

My review:
“Varsity Show” (1937) is a special subset of musicals that mainly were made in the 1930s: the collegiate musical where co-eds happily sing, rarely study and put on a wham bang finish of a show.

I wish college really was like “Varsity Show” and other collegiate musicals. A whole group of students (not just theater majors) putting on a musical production, singing from class to class, boys and girls serenading their love interests, and the school’s fate sits on the success of a successful musical show. Alas, my college experience was nothing like that, but maybe your’s was.

Fred Waring as a professor directing Dick Powell and Ted Healy, and students played by Priscilla Lane, Johnnie Davis, Sterling Holloway, Mabel Todd and Lee Dixon

The collegiate musicals weren’t just making higher education look glamorous and fun, it was showing the ideal youth: smart, fun and popular.

“Varsity Show” comes at the end of Dick Powell’s crooner films, which kicked off in 1933 as the show’s juvenile in “42nd Street” — he was in films prior to this but “42nd Street” sparked his fame. By the late 1930s, Powell’s musicals were slowing down and he eventually switched to film noir, dramas and westerns in the 1940s and 1950s (his last major musical was in 1944 with Meet the People). Don’t worry, 33-year-old Dick Powell isn’t a college student but an alumnus of the college who is trying to make it on Broadway. He comes back to help the students…and his career.

Sisters Priscilla and Rosemary Lane in “Varsity Show” (1937)

Sisters Priscilla and Rosemary Lane star in the film together and are as lovely as ever. But where they have scenes and lines together in films like the “Four Daughters” series, they don’t in this film. They don’t exchange lines with each other or sing duets. However, they are both charming and we get a rare opportunity to hear lovely Priscilla Lane sing.

The cast is rounded out with energetic and entertaining cast members that were seldom seen in films after the 1930s. Long-longed dancer Lee Dixon, who was only in nine films or shorts, is a likable young man. Johnnie Davis is an energetic, raspy-voiced jazz singer whose film career spanned from 1936 to 1944. Davis was even the voice of “Owl Jolson” in the cartoon “I Love to Singa.” And then there’s Mabel Todd, who generally plays “nerdy” young women who chase men. Bandleader Fred Waring also plays a professor in his only acting role. And then of course there’s Sterling Holloway, with his unforgettable voice and prescience.

While none of these players became large stars, each of them has a great deal of screen time. Dick Powell is the lead, but this is very much an ensemble piece. Even Powell’s love interest, Rosemary Lane, doesn’t have that much screen time.

Busby Berkeley didn’t direct this film, but he choreographed the closing number of the film. It’s not as impressive as his work in films like “Footlight Parade,” but it is still visually pleasing. The finale is an ode to collegiate life, including “Boola Boola” and other college fight songs, while the chorus forms the initials of the school.

“Varsity Show” is an entertaining and energetic little film. While it isn’t one of Warner Brothers’ best musicals of the 1930s, it’s still enjoyable.

Actors as students studying in “Varsity Show” (1937)

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