Married coaches Slug and Bessie find hillbilly football tosser Amos and the team gets invited to the Yale Bowl.Married coaches Slug and Bessie find hillbilly football tosser Amos and the team gets invited to the Yale Bowl.Married coaches Slug and Bessie find hillbilly football tosser Amos and the team gets invited to the Yale Bowl.
I've seen Hollywood musicals that bored the hell out of me. I've seen musicals where the songs were lifeless and dull, and the musical numbers put you to sleep. I've seen musicals where the acting in between the musical numbers was sheer cinematic torture. I've seen musicals where the performers seemed to be sleepwalking through the movie, and where the characters they were playing were so brain-dead and annoying that you just wanted to whack 'em upside the head with a tube sock full of wood screws! "Pigskin Parade" is silly and corny, but it is never boring. The musical numbers are not great, but they are always fun to watch. The characters are stereotypes, but the cast plays them with such enthusiasm that you can't help liking them.
The plot: Bessie and Winston "Slug" Winters (Patsy Kelly and Jack "Tin Man" Haley) arrive at Texas State University to coach the football team. Although they spend most of the movie arguing with each other in Ralph-and-Alice-Kramden mode, they make an effective coaching team. Their big success comes when they discover Amos Dodd (Stuart Erwin), a country bumpkin farmer who can hurl a melon with missile-like accuracy. They immediately sign him up as the new quarterback for the football team.
Texas State is mistakenly invited to play in a charity football game against Yale. (They wanted the University of Texas, but sent the invitation for the game to the wrong university.) Will the Texas State team win the game? Will Amos Dodd score a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of play? What do you think? This is one of those "college musicals" where all the college students look as if they are about thirty years old. Most of the songs are sung by a nutty quartet of "sophomores," played by the Yacht Club Boys. They look old enough to be visiting their kids at the college on Parents Day. (One of them even admits that he has been in college for seven years -- beating John Belushi to the movie line by 42 years.) The musical numbers are not great, but they are a lot of fun to watch. There is one called "You're Slightly Terrific," which pretty much describes the entire soundtrack. The songs are "slightly terrific," but not overly so.
The songs written and sung by the Yacht Club Boys have a great satirical edge to them. They sing "We'd Rather Be In College," in which they admit that, with the Depression raging, they are better off in college than they would be in the current job market; "Down With Everything," a *wonderful*, vigorous musical number that satirizes college revolutionaries, sung to a would-be college Trotsky. And "We Brought The Texas Sunshine With Us," which the Yacht Club Boys sing in the middle of a snowstorm at the Yale football game.
And then there is Judy Garland in her feature film debut, playing Amos Dodd's country-bumpkin sister. The first time we see her in the movie, she is barely recognizable, wearing overalls and sporting pigtails, and using a phony Texas accent. ("Hey, yuh wanna buy a melon?") Within a few scenes, however, she has been transformed (offscreen) into a college girl/young starlet. In her first few scenes, she tells everybody, "I can sing. Wannuh hear me?" It takes a few scenes before someone lets her sing -- and *dammit,* can she ever sing! Her first big-screen musical number is the tail-end of the song, "The Balboa!"--a rather rocky (har!) college dance number, sung at the TSU Homecoming Dance. ("The Balboa" was no "Carioca" or "Continental," although it tried to be.) From there, she sings "The Texas Tornado" and "It's Love I'm After." And if you saw this movie in 1936, you just *had* to know that Judy was going to be a major star! To quote the great Roger Ebert, "I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's godawful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie? Godawful and boring, *that* would be a reason." Well, I *could* recommend "Pigskin Parade." It's not exactly "godawful," but it *is* lousy. But despite the lousiness, you will have a good time watching it. You won't love it the way you love "Wizard of Oz" or "Singing in the Rain." But you will like it -- as long as you accept the lousiness of the movie and go with it.
- Jun 23, 2008