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Shapely burlesque dancer Hot Garters Gertie aka Angela Gardner meets her former teacher John Palmer, now a professor at Midwest State... where she decides to begin her new college career. She rents a room; her new landlady proves to be the professor's wife. Among romantic complications, Angela helps the downtrodden dramatic arts department put on a potentially popular musical show...but someone's discovered her secret past. Does she have an ace up her garter? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
A beautiful Virginia Mayo stars with a future U.S. President in a pleasant musical
I've seen Virginia Mayo in a handful of films, including WHITE HEAT (1949), CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER (1951), and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946). She was always a beauty, but I was blown away by her in this film. She's incredibly gorgeous in Technicolor and she shows off her dancing skills in this starring role. (Her singing was dubbed.) While the movie on the whole is only so-so, Mayo sure is wonderful to look at.
Another interesting reason to see this film is to glimpse Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, in his acting days. Reagan had made dozens of other pictures before this one, but this was my first experience seeing him in a movie. (I was first turned on to this film when a clip was featured in the 1985 Cold War comedy SPIES LIKE US, made during the Reagan presidency.)
In this film, Reagan plays a college professor who struggles to make ends meet. Mayo is a dancer who enrolls at the college to better herself. Mayo's popularity among the boys makes one co-ed jealous enough to dig up some dirt on her. Meanwhile, the scholarly Reagan feels as though he's losing his wife to her old flame, an ex-football star who's back in town for the big game.
SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE (1952) is a musical adaptation of an earlier comedy THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), starring Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland. The story has been tweaked a little, but the inspiration is still pretty clear for those familiar with the original.
Aside from the musical numbers, the big difference is that Ronald Reagan's professor character is in hot water for staging a musical starring an ex-burlesque dancer, while Henry Fonda's professor was in trouble for reading a controversial (communist) letter in his literary lecture series. Some people have noted that SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE is mindless fluff that wipes away the socio-political message of the original story. Well, it is and it does. But the movie is what it is, and that's fine.
I saw THE MALE ANIMAL first (caught it on TCM), and I must say that overall I think I prefer this remake. It doesn't hit the viewer over the head with a message, it's just a lighthearted campus tale. As I said before, Virginia Mayo is stunningly beautiful in a role that was more or less created for this musical version. (Her character's namesake from the earlier film is a different part entirely.) And while Ronald Reagan isn't a top-shelf thespian, I think I prefer his take on the professor character to Henry Fonda's pathetic wimp. I love Olivia de Havilland in most of her films, but her portrayal in the original version made her seem rather unlikeable as a wife all-too-glad to see her ex come into town. (Mind you that I'm trying to recall THE MALE ANIMAL from memory.) One thing I do favor from the earlier film is Jack Carson's performance as the big shot, ex-jock (the role played by Don DeFore in this movie). I think Carson pulled off the "Statue of Liberty play" routine best.
I wasn't a big fan of THE MALE ANIMAL (it had its moments and is an interesting find for film buffs), and on its own merits I'm not a huge fan of SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE. The film's not bad, but it's nothing special. The songs aren't all that memorable and the story isn't anything earth-shattering. (I can't believe a college would want a student expelled for a past life working in a burlesque hall. This is America, darn it.) Of course musicals aren't always my thing. It's a pleasant movie. A likable movie. A neat movie to check out if you get the chance.
One final thought: I was very impressed by Gene Nelson's solo number toward the end of the film. The song ("Am I in Love?") is meh, but Nelson's dance in the gymnasium shows that he is not only a dancer, but a tremendous athlete. The routine involves all sorts of gymnastic feats that Nelson clearly performs himself. The guy had skills.
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