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

Warner Brothers

William Keighley

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)

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”

-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.

-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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Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”


Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.


Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.

The Varisty Drag from Good News:

Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

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