Thursday, July 30, 2015


College students Leif Erickson and Marsha Hunt meet at a dance (and whatever happens below the waist as they dance makes her slap him), but before he can get very far, she is called away to be with her ailing father who is in the midst of a nervous breakdown because of his failing resort hotel. The holder of the mortgage is the eccentric Mary Boland who, influenced by her beau, a eugenics professor named Hercules who dresses in ancient Greek togas, decides to use the hotel as a sort of lab for experimenting on how to better the human race through selective breeding. (Yes, to us, this concept is forever tainted by the Nazis—among other reasons—but  this was filmed three years before WWII.) PR man Jack Benny crosses the country by train, gathering college students to partake in the experiment, who are told they are heading west to produce a musical revue. Boland has the even more eccentric Gracie Allen use her talent for reading people’s "vibrations" to pair up the students, who promptly ignore their assigned partners to pair up with others they spark with. Leif goes looking for Marsha and finds her, and soon Benny and the kids are pulling strings to put on a minstrel show behind Boland's back to raise money so Marsha's father can save the hotel.

The eugenics subplot may make viewers nervous, but the way it's presented here with a supernatural element minimizes the uncomfortable racial and social elements—and given the era of the movie, the kids are all the same race and class anyway. The blackface in the climactic minstrel show was more problematic for me, but if you can get past those issues, the movie is fairly bubbly, with good performances by Benny, Boland and Allen dominating the almost slapstick proceedings. Martha Raye, a Midwest virgin who keeps belting boys who get close to her—her mother has told her not to put up with any "radikazoo" from boys—is amusing and gets a couple of fun numbers, and the handsome Johnny Downs (pictured to the left of Erickson) has a cute song about finding words that rhyme with "love." Raye's blackface is accomplished by means of a light filter that makes her look alternatingly light and dark. Also with comic Ben Blue, who actually winds up in a liplock with George Burns during one number. [TCM]

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