College Swing (1938)
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With songs by Frank Loesser, Burton Lane, Hoagy Carmichael and Manning Sherwin, the motion picture soundtrack includes: "Ding Dong," (sung by Boy Choir); "College Swing" (Betty Grable and Skinney Ennis); "What Did Romeo Say to Juliet?" (John Payne and Florence George); "I'm Tired" (comedy act performed by The Slate Brothers); "How 'Ja Like to Love Me?" (sung by Martha Raye and Bob Hope); "Please?" (Jerry Colonna); "I Fall in Love With You Every Day" (Florence George and John Payne); "You're a Natural" (sung by Gracie Allen); "Irish Jig" (danced by Gracie Allen); "What a Rumba to Romance" (sung by Martha Raye, with Ben Blue); and "College Swing" (finale/ cast). With Raye hogging most of the songs, Gracie comes off best with her pleasing vocalization, even in character, and dancing wonderfully for no apparent reason.
In between the flimsy storyline are song and dance numbers with an assortment of characters whose roles are not fully developed. There's doses of comedy acts including the Slate Brothers (a cross between the Three Stooges and the Ritz Brothers) as slapstick waiters. In the tradition of the Three Stooges, there's eye-poking involved by the Slates, Martha Raye giving one to Bob Hope and Ben Blue (the latter in his usual interpretation of a confused individual). Jerry Colonna, the one with the large mustache and big round eyes, does one of his scream song signatures impersonating Bing Crosby. Look fast for Robert Cummings in a bit as a radio announcer; band-leader Skinney Ennis singing and dancing with Betty Grable; and Cecil Cunningham as Dean Sleet.
Of the "College" Paramount musicals, only COLLEGE SWING made it to video cassette in 1993 and later DVD as part of the "Bob Hope Signature Collection," double featured with Hope's feature debut, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938. Both musicals have one thing in common, each containing a plot without a plot, relying mostly on old-fashioned vaudeville routines inter-wined with songs passing as a story. While not the best of its kind, COLLEGE SWING is good enough entertainment to pass along the time of 87 minutes, redeemed by familiar faces and future stars in so-so material and fine songs. A pity Burns and Allen didn't get to interact more together with their familiar routines. "Good Night, Gracie." .(**1/2)
"College Swing" is one of numerous entertaining musicals set on campus that were popular in the 30s. Including this one, there were also "College Humor"(1933), "College Rhythm"(1934), "Old Man Rhythm" (1935),"College Holiday"(1936), and "Pigskin Parade"(1936) among others. These are feathery, inadvertently escapist froths that are generally characterized by zesty songs, funny one-liners, and implausible boy-meets-girl romance.
I tend to agree with the other users that plot of "College Swing" is inordinately silly and weak; however, that doesn't make it unwatchable. The songs and dance numbers have their own peculiar excitement. The number in the beginning featuring the young, up-and-coming Betty Grable and fellow students dancing at a pub is particularly delightful. I also liked the funny scenes between Bob Hope & Martha Raye. Florence George & John Payne make nice young romantic couple. Gracie Allen & George Burns continue their raucous shenanigans, though their comic acts tend to slow down the plot as much as enliven it.
Worth seeing if you like this sort of fluff.
Fast-talking agent Bob Hope has convinced Gracie to hire him as a tutor of sorts; as his fee depends on her successfully graduating, Hope naturally sets out to prepare her for the exam by stealing a copy of the test questions.
Martha Raye is on hand as a would-be professor with a ridiculous phony French accent. She and Hope quickly strike up a romance and the chemistry between the two lights up their scenes together.
Soon enough, Edward Everett Horton returns to the action, this time around as an eccentric millionaire whose fear of women has kept him as far from civilization as possible. He is back at Alden College to monitor Gracie's exam and is accompanied by wry assistant George Burns.
George and Gracie have a good scene together during the examination: "What is it that runs across the floor like a goldfish?" she asks. (We never find out the answer.) Gracie also has some sweet scenes with Horton, who is charmed by her in spite of himself and his woman-phobia.
John Payne and Florence George play the handsome young romantic couple (and sing "What Did Romeo Say to Juliet?"). Betty Grable and Skinnay Ennis supply some swinging tunes and a great dance ("College Swing"). Hope and Raye also do a great duet—"How'dja Like To Love Me" is cute, bouncy, and really sweet, a highlight of the picture.
All in all, it's not much of a plot, but who cares? The songs are catchy and the entire cast is so much fun to watch: Hope is at his sharpest. Edward Everett Horton is perfect. Gracie is hilarious, Grable is lovely, and Raye is in superb voice. And that's not even mentioning supporting bits from Ben Blue as a mischievous "gym instructor," or the Slate Brothers as singing-and-dancing waiters. (Their "I'm tired" bit is another highlight.)
Mostly just silly stuff—but what fun.
A superb cast of comics and musical talent explode on screen, including Edward Everett Horton (as the original school master and his descendant, a girl-shy alumnus who creates the test for Gracie to take), George Burns as his acid tongued assistant, Martha Raye as a "romance teacher" with a fake French accent, and Cecil Cunningham as the dean of women, plus cameos by diminutive Ben Blue (as the new phys-ed instructor) and Jerry Colonna as the Air-Raid sound-alike music professor.
A young love story isn't as interesting as the comedy, but their love song ("What did Romeo say to Juliet?") is sweet and amusingly staged. Raye and Hope go wild with "How'd you like to Love Me?" while Allen shows off a fine light voice singing "You're a Natural" to the reluctant Horton. The highlight, however, is the title song, lead by a young Betty Grable who has stardom written all over her.
Headed in this case by Burns and Allen, the talent procured for this film is priceless. Director Raoul Walsh who normally does more serious action/adventure stuff got a whole group of people in a film barely over ninety minutes, to all get a significant turn at displaying their talents. John Payne and Florence George sing nicely even if with some unmemorable songs, then husband and wife Jackie Coogan and Betty Grable do a nice swing dance number, Edward Everett Horton is his usual puritanical fuss budget, and comedy stylists Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Ben Blue, and Jerry Colonna all have memorable bits. The cast even includes in bit roles Bob Cummings and Richard Denning. And of course one of the best swing bands around in Hal Kemp with Skinnay Ennis as vocalist.
Usually Burns and Allen were rarely asked to carry a film. The only time they ever did was in Here Comes Cookie. They are top billed here, but they sure have a lot of support as you can see.
I've said on previous reviews of other films of their's that the comedy of George Burns and Gracie Allen is almost Monty Pythonesque in its humor. In fact the plot such as it is is laid out in a prologue. 200 years earlier Gracie has failed for about the 10th time to graduate college in the Class of 1738. She's hopelessly dumb and her grandfather Tully Marshall makes a bet with the head of the school that if in 200 years no female member of his family ever graduates from college, this college will get the clear title of his fortune which they will hold in trust until then.
Wouldn't you know it, 200 years later a female descendant also Gracie Allen does graduate and she inherits the college. Like she did in Here Comes Cookie, Gracie makes some interesting changes in the faculty and curriculum of the school. Of course it's with a little chicanery she does graduate and that's a problem too.
College Swing is one of those madcap films typical of the Thirties that is the very definition of escapist entertainment. No themes, no messages, just a lot of good laughs.
Many big names of entertainment and the silver screen are in this film, most credited but some not. Films like this let the public see and hear a variety of otherwise unknown talents and groups perform. The band at the heart of the review numbers in the film is Skinnay Ennis. He didn't achieve the big-time fame of the likes of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, or some others. But his orchestras was a regular feature of Bob Hope's radio show, and later the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello radio show. His popularity from those led to solid bookings on the road circuit during summers.
Gracie Allen is the principal comedy character in "College Swing," followed by Martha Raye who also has some good musical numbers. Bob Hope's role was more as an emcee, although his character, Bud Brady, cooks up most of the shenanigans that provide some of the laughs. This film has a great supporting cast as well as some younger stars in small roles, such as Betty Grable and Jackie Coogan. This is a good film for those who enjoy swing music, especially as it was played and performed in its heyday.
The "story" (what there is of it) focuses on Gracie Alden (Gracie Allen), who will inherit Alden College, which was founded by her ancestors, if she can pass an exam and graduate after nine years as a student there. Of course, Gracie's doing her classic dumb-as-rocks-girl comedy routine that she did so well.
When she passes the exam through sheer luck, Gracie sets about making "Gracie"-like changes at the college. ("I'm going to appoint myself as the new Dean of Boys." "But the Dean of Boys is someone who watches the boys at the school, and looks after them." "Exactly. I'm an expert at watching the boys.")
The movie is a rapid-fire mashup of comedy sketches, musical numbers, and Big Band "Swing" dances strung together over 86 minutes. It moves quickly from sketch to song to dance number, as if it's afraid the plot will catch up with it. But the lack of plot is an advantage with this type of movie. If they stopped the routines long enough to develop the plot, it would probably get boring.
As usual, George Burns is on hand to give Gracie her college exam, and to feed her the straight lines, and Bob Hope serves as Gracie's tutor. The cast also includes Edward Everett Horton as the college's stuffy benefactor; Martha Raye as a "love professor" who takes up with Hope; Ben Blue as an inept Phys. Ed. professor; Jerry Colonna as a music professor; John Payne ("Miracle on 34th Street") and opera singer Florence George as the "Young Lovers" stock characters; and the Slate Brothers (a "Three Stooges" comedy group) as a trio of bumbling waiters at the local college hangout (which is called, what else, "The Hangout"). Skinnay Ennis and his band provide the "Swing" music, and Betty Grable and Jackie Coogan (who were married at this time) do the "Swing" numbers. It's a pretty routine film, meant to capitalize on the "Swing" craze. It's not very memorable, but at least, it never gets boring.
"College Swing" was an attempt to capitalize on the "Swing" dance craze, which was popular with college kids in the late 1930s. (Hollywood is still doing this today, with movies like the "High School Musical," "Pitch Perfect," and "Step Up" series.) If you enjoy 1930s comedy and "Swing" music, you'll like this one. It's not a very good movie, but at least it's entertaining, and never dull.
Betty Grable sings beautifully and sparkles as always. And it is fun to see her do some steps with Jackie Coogan...who doesn't utter one single line! It's a waste of big talents for both of them. A shame! Bob Hope, usually good, is plain boring in that movie. Just the same for Ben Blue, usually funny but here just plain unfunny and uninspired.
George Burns is very low-key and not very important in the plot. Gracie Allen has her moments but, be careful, her voice gets on your nerves. She does one dance sequence very well executed and funny at the same time...but it fades out before it ends properly! For those who don't know her, she's a strange mix of Mary Pickford and Fanny Brice...though I much prefer those last two than Gracie Allen! Edward Everett Horton is rather good while John Payne, besides being very handsome as usual, is not used very effectively here.
In fact, besides Betty Grable, the only one that fares well and much saves the picture all to herself is Martha Raye, always so game to do anything, not bashful for one penny, energetic, brassy, ugly if required...well, a real entertainer! And watch for her song with her mouth full of banana...it had my only laugh for the entire picture.
That pretty much says it all.
It begins in the 18th century. A group of students are graduating but Gracie Alden (Gracie Allen) is not one of them. For the 9th straight year, she has failed and her being addle-brained means it's likely she'll never graduate. Frustrated by this, her grandfather announces that if Gracie or any of her female descendants EVER graduate that he'll will the school to her. But, in the meantime, the school belongs to the school.
The film now switches to the 20th century. And, like you see in many old films, Gracie Allen plays a contemporary Gracie--as if, by magic, an identical is produced generations later. The same can also be said for Edward Everett Horton, as he, too, has an 18th and 20th century double.
Gracie #2 is determined to finally graduate and hires Bob Hope to "help her" (cheat). Everyone is shocked when she actually does pass and the school becomes hers. Immediately she begins making lots of staff changes and totally ruins the once-proud school.
Along the way, there are lots of side stories of moderate interest at best. The problem, however, is that everyone sings so darn much that these side stories never seem to be developed. In fact, I found it a chore watching the film and the talents of Gracie Allen, Bob Hope and the rest were completely lost in the process. As for poor George Burns, he probably got the worst of it, as you barely notice he's even in the film and he just seems to be there for no particular reason. So, despite a very good cast and a silly plot that could have been a lot of fun, the film is a real chore to watch thanks to almost non-stop god-awful singing. My advice is look for another Gracie Allen or Bob Hope film...almost ANY other!