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A young city girl from a poor family is invited to spend the summer at a camp for girls from wealthy families. At first made fun of and ridiculed because of her background, she determines to show the snooty rich girls she's just as good as they are. Written by
It's understandable why this movie, Gloria Jean's first, is also her personal favorite.
That Gloria Jean Schoonover even made it to motion pictures is a tribute to her abilities as an actress and singer. When longtime Universal producer Joe Pasternak announced a talent hunt audition to be held in New York for the purpose of finding a female child singer, Gloria Jean's teacher, Leah Russel, decided to take her young charge to it. At the audition were hundreds of talented young girls in pretty dresses, looking much like Shirley Temple replicas. It wouldn't seem that a short, cutesy girl in blue jeans with slightly crooked teeth would have much of a chance, nor would it help when she refused to audition until the piano was tuned. But Gloria was ultimately the one selected, and a career was born.
In the Under-Pup, Gloria is introduced to the movie-going world a few seconds into the opening credits in a head-and-shoulders closeup, wearing a white satin dress and looking very cherubic, singing a short sequence of coloratura runs and arpeggios, and landing solidly on high C. One could argue Universal was showing off a bit, but as it turned out, they had a lot to show off in Gloria.
The story is one that was used often: a tomboyish city girl from a poor family is invited to a camp for rich and mostly snobbish girls. She's initially shunned and ridiculed, but she eventually wins the girls over and manages to play Little Miss Fixit for various situations. While the idea is well-traveled, it's played out in a refreshing manner. There's actually a well-constructed plot, an intelligent storyline, and realistic dialog. A few viewings reveal many niceties in continuity that are usually lacking in "B" pictures. As is the case in most Grover Jones screenplays, there are no gaping holes in "The Under-Pup", no inexplicable characters or situations that pop up out of nowhere. New elements show hints of their existence at earlier points in the story. The characters in the story are very believable; the viewer is spared the plastic types who normally frequent such movies. The main character of Pip-Emma is far from a Miss Perfect; she's surprisingly vulnerable and real, with an upside and downside. Like most kids, she succumbs to temptation, gets into her share of mischief, and wrestles with the choices of good and bad. At each moment of truth, she ends up doing the right thing, but most of the time, an adult needs to steer her along the right path.
The acting is superb. The idea, as was customary in those days, was to surround the new and/or inexperienced star (re: Sonja Henie, Jascha Heifetz, and even her studio mate Deanna Durbin) with veteran talent. And Universal did so with established players such as C. Aubrey Smith, Nan Grey, Bob Cummings, Beulah Bondi, Ray Walburn, and the wonderfully wacky Billy Gilbert, plus child stars Virginia Weidler (in one of her few non-bratty roles), Shirley Mills, Dickie Moore, and Butch and Buddy (Billy Lenhart and Kenny Brown). Ginny Weidler's character is as well-acted as that of any of the adults.
There was no need to cover for Gloria Jean, though. She did slightly overdo some of her scenes, understandable for a (then) novice, but she showed that she could run the range of emotions when needed, and she did so with a maturity that belied her thirteen years (Universal listed her age as eleven, feeling it would sell more tickets).
Of course, her main reason for being in the movie was to sing---and sing she did. Her voice, while not projecting in the dynamic way that her idol Deanna Durbin's did, is (in my opinion) purer and more lilting. In layman's terms: Durbin's voice is richer, and Gloria Jean's is sweeter. Gloria sings all or part of five songs, including a lyrical version of Mozart's "Shepherd Lullabye", the first two verses of Lady John Scott's well-known "Annie Laurie", and some scales to accompany a sort of fight song for the girls' Penguin Club in the movie, the music of which comes from John Phillip Sousa's "High School Cadet" march. Interestingly, Gloria repeats the "Penguin" song in what was essentially a sequel to this movie: "A Little Bit of Heaven", which is a must-see if you like "The Under-Pup".
All in all, this is an excellent movie. Unfortunately, it's also a movie that hasn't been aired often in the last three decades. Perhaps one of the classic movie cable channels can be convinced to show it. The movie may also be bought directly from Gloria Jean on her website. While IMDb policies forbid the posting of URL's, you can find the site name by using your favorite search engine and her full name of "Gloria Jean Schoonover".
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