If you have the right memories, you'll enjoy meeting Barton
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 04/26/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Say, Jeff," says Frankie (Frankie Darro), a student at Rawley University who is doing some biology homework, "do you know how the head is formed?"
"Well," says Jeff (Mantan Moreland, bugging his eyes and rolling his head), "I'd say it starts at the base of the spine and works its way up to a lump."
That's as good as Let's Go Collegiate gets, folks...except for two things, and one of these depends on how old you are. The movie is a dispensable programmer, one of thousands churned out quickly by studios (Monogram, in this case), which had minimal budgets and shooting schedules and, often, minimal plots. With Let's Go Collegiate, Frankie Darro plays the coxswain on what might be Rawley University's first champion rowing team in 15 years. When Bob Terry, the new star stroke for the team, who hasn't arrived at Rawley yet, gets drafted, Frankie and his pal, Tad, spot a big guy, Herc Bevans, hefting a safe on the street. They immediately decide to recruit him for the team and substitute him for Terry. That way their girls will continue to think they'll be heroes when the team wins the big race. Of course, the big guy is prone to sea sickness, Frankie and Tad may get booted off the team because they're spending so much time coaching Herc that their grades have slipped, their girl friends have fallen for Herc, their coach loses his glasses, and Herc has a secret that's discovered only after the team wins.
As one of several popular movies Frankie Darro starred in with Mantan Moreland as his pal, always named Jeff, this one isn't much. Moreland gets stuck with all the stereotypical mugging and dialect that passed for racial humor back then. The acting is self-conscious. Collegiate movies about the big game were a cliché even in 1940. So what are the two exceptions? First is one excellent song sung at a fraternity/sorority dance by Gale Storm. She plays Midge, seventh billed, and is one of the girlfriends. The song is "Look What You have Done to Me," music by Edward Kay and lyrics by Harry Tobias. It's a bright, swinging song with a smooth melodic line that takes a couple of unexpected turns. It's a quality song and you'll never hear it unless you slog through Let's Go Collegiate.
The second exception depends on how old you are. Barton Yarborough, a journeyman film actor who made 17 movies in the Forties, plays the role of Coach Walsh. For those of us old enough to recall sitting around the radio in the evening, Yarborough was Doc Long, one of the three major characters in perhaps the greatest adventure series on radio...drum roll, please..."I Love a Mystery." It went on the air in 1939, became hugely popular and then sputtered out in 1952 as television took over. Jack Packard was the tough, smart leader of the three, Doc Long was the ebullient one, always ready for a fight or a laugh. Reggie York was big and strong, and fancied himself as much a ladies man as Doc did. They were old friends who started a detective agency in San Francisco. Most of the installments ran 15 minutes and Carlton Morse, the man who also created and wrote "One Man's Family", wrote all. Jack, Doc and Reggie were always getting involved in dangerous adventures and mysteries, with lots of action and vivid situations. If you were sitting around your radio, you didn't need CGI to visualize the worst that was happening. All this was delivered in your home every weeknight. One of the memorable things about I Love a Mystery was the opening theme, Valse Triste, a brooding, foreboding dark melody if there ever was one.
Yarborough was born in 1900 and died in 1951. He played Doc Long until the last year of the show. He also was a key character in Morse's "One Man's Family," playing Cliff Barbour when the series started in 1932 until he died. Yarborough had a distinctive voice that doesn't seem like much when you see him in Let's Go Collegiate. And he doesn't look like how I imagined the young Doc Long. He used his voice memorably as Doc (and as Cliff Barbour). That was the point of radio.
The impression of great adventures brought distinctively to life in "I Love a Mystery" is still vivid in my memory. Another radio highlight for a little kid listening alone one afternoon to, I think, Jack Armstrong, was when a beautiful and evil woman dispatched a victim by taking a hat pin from her hair and driving it into the guy's ear. That sent me out running into the yard, where I stayed until someone came home. I was not about to take the chance that this woman and her hat pin might emerge from a closet and rush toward me. Those are the delights of a person's imagination, free of the can-you-top-this curse of too much CGI. Give me a hat pin in the hand of a beautiful woman any day instead of an enhanced comic book hero flying through mile-high explosions.
Let's Go Collegiate is in the public domain. Don't expect much by way of a DVD transfer and you won't be disappointed."