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Brother Rat, a successful Broadway play about the misadventures of some
cadets at Virginia Military Institute, had a two year run on Broadway
of 577 performances. In bringing it to Hollywood, I only wish the
brothers Warner had gotten George Abbott to come over from Broadway as
well as Eddie Albert from the original cast. I think the film would
have been far the better for it.
As it is it's not a bad comedy at that. Wayne Morris who Warner Brothers was trying to build up at the time plays the lead, taking over from Frank Albertson on Broadway. But I did a double take when I saw that Ronald Reagan had taken over from Jose Ferrer on Broadway, ten years before Ferrer made his screen debut. Imagine Reagan and Ferrer playing the same role, I never would have dreamed it.
Reagan isn't bad though as the voice of reason of the three cadets, having to contend with Morris's schemes and Albert's lovesickness. In fact they all aren't bad.
On the distaff side Priscilla Lane does well as the object of Morris's affection and this was the film that introduced Ronald Reagan to the woman who could have become First Lady, Jane Wyman.
William Tracy also came over from Broadway playing the ever flustered plebe who is at the beck and call of the three upper classmen. Tracy took over the part on Broadway from Ezra Stone who went on to play Henry Aldrich on radio and film. Tracy steals every scene he's in.
Brother Rat is a funny film, but something tells me that the George Abbott stage production was a whole lot better.
The misadventures of three VMI roommates during the latter part of their final year in school forms the backdrop for a round of typical 1930's type problems, most caused by the devil-may-care attitude of the cadet played by Wayne Morris. The other two roomies are played by Ronald Reagan, who tries very hard to be the voice of reason and Eddie Albert, having problems throughout the entire film. It's kind of fun watching these three get in and out of jams with their superiors. But, one word of caution: If whining annoys you (as it does me)you may have a little problem with Eddie Albert because, except for the very first scenes, his dialog for the remainder of the movie consists of whining that would do a 5 or 6 year old child proud. However, overall, if you want a few laughs and like happy endings, this film is for you....
Military schools are not exactly known for madcap antics. Here there's
a great deal of fun and delight in breaking the many rules in whirlwind
fashion. I suspect those shenanigans came across much funnier in 1938
than they do now. The comedy antics revolve around Wayne Morris's cadet
Randolph. The trouble is that Morris and/or director Keighley seem to
think that there's something automatically funny about being loud and
obnoxious, such that one particularly lengthy scene is almost
exhausting in pretended hilarity. William Tracy's sadsack new cadet is
funnier, but then Tracy is a comedian by nature.
Unfortunately, this is not a movie that takes advantage of Ronald Reagan's natural charm and easy smile. His cadet Crawford is something of a sober-sides and is clearly a secondary role to Morris. Actually, it's Jane Wyman who I think comes across best. Her Claire Adams may be a plain-jane bookworm, but when she takes off her glasses the screen really does light up no wonder Reagan married her. On the other hand, Eddie Albert is really good at looking confused or perplexed. The trouble is that his dour cadet appears to be in a more serious movie than the one here. I expect one reason the film has lost impact is a shift in public mores over a 70-year period. I doubt that audiences find the various boy-girl situations as scandalously funny now as they did then. Anyway, regardless of comedic skills, the real-life Wayne Morris was a distinguished military man and authentic war hero, making his role here rather ironical. Too bad that today he's almost totally forgotten.
These Warner Brothers players are always fun to watch. Anyone who
hasn't seen this sort-of-classic movie really should watch it.
In Ronald Reagan's first autobiography -- "Where's the Rest of Me?" -- he tells the story of a staff meeting or perhaps dinner gathering during World War II.
Lt. Reagan says to the commander, We've got something in common, sir: You attended Virginia Military Institute and I was in a movie about the school.
The commander, possibly a colonel, maybe a general, replied to the effect, That was one of the silliest damn things I ever saw.
It was. Pretty darn silly.
But fun in spots, and, as Reagan said, Eddie Albert was "discovered" and became a major star, although that doesn't explain "Green Acres."
All in all, with this collection of major stars -- although with some, stardom came later -- any movie fan, and especially any film historian, really ought to see this. At least once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is awfully good comedy with Wayne Morris stealing the show as a
Virginia cadet who leads Eddie Albert and Ronald Reagan into one
situation after another.
The Albert character is too dull here. I expected him to break out. Henry O'Neill is excellent as the corporal up to his neck with the wily three.
Nice to have scene Ronald Reagan and future wife Jane Wyman in several scenes as lovers.
The scene studying for the chemistry final at night was absolutely hilarious.
EDDIE ALBERT plays a hapless Virginia Military Institute cadet who gets
into all kinds of scrapes because of his brash friend, WAYNE MORRIS, an
actor Warner Bros. was grooming for stardom. Albert is so professional
that he's a pleasure to watch as he goes from one zany situation after
another accompanied by Morris and Reagan.
Way down in the cast credits are JANE WYMAN and RONALD REAGAN, still up-and-coming future stars developing a light touch for comedy. PRISCILLA LANE and JANE BRYAN play the other two gals who get entangled in all the farcical situations involving the cadets.
It's typical broad comedy material from a successful stage play with Albert repeating his Broadway stage role and showing what a fine comedian he could be, his genial personality supplying most of the laughs. WAYNE MORRIS is a bit strident as the top-billed lead, but PRISCILLA LANE does a nice job as his wholesome girl friend.
It's strictly fluff, '30s style, and passes the time without being anything you're likely to remember too fondly unless you love this type of screwball comedy directed by William Keighley.
While this is far from a must-see film, it is a lot of fun. This is due
to the intense energy in the movie and the cute chemistry between the
cadets. Wayne Morris, Eddie Albert, Ronald Reagan, Priscilla Lane, Jane
Wyman and the rest really try hard! While it is entertaining, I also
must admit that this is a pretty insignificant film--fun to watch but
not one to change your life. It's sort of like a really really good
B-movie with a lot of up and coming actors. Plus, if you think about
it, considering how young and inexperience these mostly future stars
were, this is sort of like a YOUNG GUNS movie of the late 1930s. A cute
UPDATE--I saw this film again recently and have a rather different reaction. Instead of enjoying it, I now saw the film as more ponderous and limp. In particular, Wayne Morris' character was so obnoxious and totally unlikable I wonder why I didn't hate the film the first time I saw it. Perhaps I am more of a grouch these days, but I really hated him and think his character was not a 'lovable rogue' but an irresponsible idiot!! And why would Reagan and Albert listen to such a sociopath?! And, more importantly, why would VMI allow such a jerk to graduate from the school? Heck, I'm a little surprised that VMI didn't sue because of this film!
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