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PIGSKIN PARADE (20th Century-Fox, 1936), directed by David Butler, the studio's answer to the wide range of college musicals made popular in the 1930s, contains its own assortment of comedy, songs and a football game finale (hense the title) all told in 93 minutes. With a credit list of staff and actors listed on a rolling football, Stuart Erwin, who appears late into the story, heads the cast, though the real leads are Patsy Kelly and Jack Haley in that order. By today's standards, its sole interest is on future musical film stars in smaller roles: Betty Grable (in 20th-Fox debut) and Judy Garland (on loan from MGM), resulting to one of the most musical college movies up of that time.
The slight plot begins in a conference room where a deliberation meeting at Yale University as the board of directors select for its charity game the football team from the University of Texas to play against them in New Haven, Connecticut. A clerical error between Freddie (George Offerman Jr.) and Sparks (Eddie Nugent) has them getting the team from Texas State University in Prairie, Texas, instead. Winston "Slug" Winters (Jack Haley), a coach from Flushing, Long Island, arrives by train with his wife, Bessie (Patsy Kelly) to his new assignment in shaping up the team. "Biff" Bentley (Fred Kohler Jr.), the football captain chosen to lead the team to victory, meets with an accident of a fractured leg, forcing Winters to find an immediate replacement. Hoping to acquire Stanley Russell, Bessie, accompanied by fellow students, Chip Carson (Johnny Downs) and his girl, Laura Watson (Betty Grable), encounter Sairy Dodd (Judy Garland) whose older brother, Amos (Stuart Erwin) is seen tossing melons long distances into a basket. Impressed by his accurate throw, Amos is chosen as Bentley's substitute, acquiring a college scholarship for both he and his sister in the process. All goes well until the unexpected occurs.
Taking amiable support for Arline Judge playing Sally Saxon, the college vamp; Elisha Cook Jr. as Herbert Terwillinger Van Dyke, the wimpy socialist; Dixie Dugan (Ginger Jones); Grady Sutton, and Sam Hayes playing himself as the radio announcer of the football game. Look quickly for future leading man, Alan Ladd, in a minor bit as one of the students.
Along with Patsy Kelly's antics and sarcasms, and Jack Haley's bit of confusion, there's time for songs, lots of them. Composed by Sidney Mitchell and Lew Pollack, song interludes include: "T.S.U. Alma Mater" (sung by students); "You're Slightly Terrific" (Sung by Anthony "Tony" Martin, danced by Dixie Dunbar); "Woo-Woo" (written/performed by The Yacht Club Boys); "T.S.U. Alma Mater" (reprise); "We'd Rather Be in College" and "Down With Everything" (The Yacht Club Boys); "Balboa" (sung by Dixie Dunbar, cast members/Judy Garland); "You Do the Darndest Things" (sung by Jack Haley); "The Texas Tornado" and "It's Love I'm After" (both sung by Garland); "The Football Song/Texas Sunshine" (written and performed by The Yacht Club Boys) and "The Texas Tornado" (sung by cast). Although all the musical interludes are delivered in a very entertaining manner, the true musical highlight is unquestionably 14-year-old Judy Garland's rendition of three lively songs, much of them forgotten. Garland's scenes are limited but makes the most of it with her singing ability and transformation from barefoot hillbilly gal in pig-tales to talented singing teenager. The Yacht Club Boys as 14 year career students, are an interesting foursome of comic strip-type faced characters. They perform their specialty numbers well, never missing a beat. Interestingly, Betty Grable, singer and dancer in her own right, doesn't get a solo number to herself. As for Stuart Erwin has the distinction of being the only actor to head the cast and earn an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. If anyone deserves an acting honor in the supporting category is Patsy Kelly, who, in true form, is very funny as the assertive wife who calls the plays for her husband.
Television revivals for PIGSKIN PARADE have been few and far between over the years. In 1996, American Movie Classics selected PIGSKIN PARADE as part its annual film preservation series. Availability on home video came about that same time. The names of Grable or Garland, mostly Garland, are the reasons why this routinely done musical has been kept from oblivion.Clam shell video boxes with Garland's face on the cover might have made this an easy sell, but disappointment for those expecting her to be the lead. Later placed on DVD with Garland, Erwin, Kelly and Haley on the cover, Fox Movie Channel along with Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: January 7, 2011, as part of its Betty Grable tribute) have also taken part of cable television revivals.
As silly as it appears, PIGSKIN PARADE is the kind of college musical made watchable for Depession era audiences, a sort of reminder of how films of this nature have proved successful with an assortment of stars working with limited plot material. (*** touchdowns)
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