Thursday, December 06, 2007


This is one crazy piece of filmmaking--it has surfaced on Turner Classic during its Oscar month because, against all logic, it was actually up for two awards, best song and best score. It's only about 50 minutes in length, an attempt by producer Hal Roach at making a new kind of movie called a "Streamliner" which was intended to be longer than a short subject and shorter than a feature film. Perhaps for this reason, its plot suffers something fierce, as though it were written as a full-lengther and then chopped down for release; very little of it makes any narrative sense, leaving only the low-budget musical numbers and the bemusing performances to enjoy. And, despite this, it is enjoyable, though not something I'd care to sit through too many more times. The film opens with a drag number performed by the manly boys of the Zeta Fraternity at Quinceton--and just to prove how manly these frat boys are, we see a page of the program which features a picture of lead drag star Johnny Downs in a rough-and-tough boxing pose. Suddenly, we're at Mar Brynn, an all-girl agricultural school. President Esther Dale has cooked up a scheme to boost enrollment by offering a scholarship contest to state fair beauty queens and calling them the "Most Likely to Succeed," and at the same time, taking the opportunity to get more publicity by bashing the Zeta men as "least likely to succeed." Naturally, the Zeta men get furious, and their answer is to send Downs to Mar Brynn, in drag, under the name Bobbie DeWolf, to win one of the scholarships. In a scene on the train to Mar Brynn that feels like it came out of SOME LIKE IT HOT, Downs struggles in his small upper berth to change into full drag while the girls prance around the train singing "Up at the Crack of Dawn." At the school, Downs lives a double life as Bobbie and as himself, more or less (he claims to be Bobbie's music teacher) and winds up helping the contestants put on their talent show and falling in love with co-ed Frances Langford (who looks just a tad long in the tooth to be a co-ed).

The plot gets fairly complicated with some truly dumb plot twists, and it doesn't bear continued relating except to say that Downs and Langford wind up together in the end. The highlights of the film are the musical numbers, notably "Out of the Silence" (the Oscar nominee) and the wacky "The Poor Farmer's Daughter" which has girls dressed up as watermelons, carrots, and corn! Downs is energetic and attractive (he bears a passing resemblance to Jim Hutton) and was in several "Our Gang" shorts in the late 20's; almost equally cute is Kent Rogers, a Zeta man who does impressions of Gary Cooper and James Cagney--Rogers seemed full of talent and promise, but sadly only made a handful of movies before dying in a plane accident during WWII. Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) has a small role as a hayseed frat boy, playing straight man to Noah Berry Jr. Also with Marie Windsor (as a carrot), Allan Lane (later known as Rocky Lane in a series of B-westerns), and Lillian Randolph. Directed by LeRoy Prinz, better known as an Oscar-nominated choreographer. See this loony novelty if you get a chance, but don't worry about putting it too high on your list. [TCM]

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