Wednesday, June 28, 2017


The students as Winsocki Military Academy are getting ready for senior prom and graduation exercises, but cadet Bud Hooper (Tommy Dix) is in a pickle: he sent movie star Lucille Ball (playing herself) a fan letter and asked her to be his date at the prom, never dreaming that she might accept. But she has, egged on by her agent (William Gaxton) who is worried that her career has hit a slump and that this could be good publicity. The problem is that Hooper also asked his longtime girlfriend Helen (Virginia Weidler), and she accepted as well. Hooper tells Helen that he's sick and not to come, but he feels bad about the subterfuge. Ball arrives on a train, expecting a big fanfare welcome, but Hooper and his pals have decided that the best solution to his predicament is to pass Ball off as Helen. (Did it not occur to them that Winsocki might benefit from a movie star appearance, and keep everything above board? To me, this is a major narrative stumbling block, but I was not asked to contribute to the screenplay.) Good-naturedly, Ball agrees to the plan, but who should show up later that day but Helen, come to minister to her sick boyfriend. From here, the complications pile up, leading to a mob scene the night of the prom during which Ball's adoring fans rip her clothes to shreds trying to get some souvenirs.

If you can get past the irritating plot mechanics (the decision not to exploit Ball's presence at the academy, the constant fluctuations of Helen's and Bud's moods, the threat of expulsion for Hooper and his friends), this has a number of enjoyable elements. Ball is great fun, gamely playing herself as a star in decline when in reality, she was just the opposite. Nancy Walker provides several bright spots (singing, dancing and clowning) as a plain-Jane blind date. The production numbers are bright and colorful, especially "The Three B’s" (not Beethoven, Bach & Brahms but barrelhouse, boogie-woogie & blues), and Harry James and his band provide fun versions of "Two O'Clock Jump" and "Flight of the Bumblebee." However, the acting in general is B-movie level. Tommy Dix (pictured with Ball), who was brought in with a handful of others from the original Broadway stage show, is not lead material—he has pretty much one look, glum resignation. Weidler was 16 and at an awkward stage between child actor (THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) and grown-up starlet, and she doesn't quite know which direction to take here—this would, in fact, be her last film, though she managed to appear in over forty films beginning at the age of 4. Gaxton was a big stage star, but his charisma does not translate to film. Fine in smaller roles are June Allyson (in her first movie), Gloria DeHaven, Jack Jordan (another transfer from the stage who, despite pleasant looks and decent acting, never made another film), Chill Wills, Sara Haden and Henry O’Neill. Colorful and glossy and generally fun, but not in the top rank of Arthur Freed's MGM musicals. [TCM]

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