Ol' King Cole Had a Merry Old Soul
Samantha Kelley | USA | 09/21/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Winfield College is putting on their annual production, but this year their director is really bringing them down. Instead of a fun, modern show, he is forcing them to perform in a play with no laughs and outdated music. A group of kids decide to enlist the help of a former student who has made it big on the Great White Way. Chuck Daly (Dick Powell) has fallen on hard times, and his partner (Ted Healy) forces him to accept the $1000 offered him to fix the college musical. Once there, he realizes usurping the faculty will be much harder than he expected. But that suits him just fine; there is a pretty girl (Rosemary Lane) occupying his time.
Powell and Lane do not have great chemistry together so the love story is quite thin. The plot leaves something to be desired as well, but it isn't the story that makes this film enjoyable; it's the music. The romantic melody "You've Got Something There" is staged simply, but with the lovely lyrics, this is appropriate. "We're Working Our Way Through College" is done simply as well, although the moving camera makes it seem more complex than it actually is. The song is peppy and funny, the perfect college song. "Have You Got Any Castles, Baby" is a very dancable tune which was made into a Merry Melodies short included on this disk. The real showstopper of the film, though, is the grand finale which features several different school songs the formations of the college letters. This number is simultaneously impressive and timeless.
Unfortunately, this print is considerably shorter than the original film which runs for two hours. Perhaps this version of the film was too deteriorated to be considered appropriate for release. There are several spots in this film that appear to have been neglected, so the film quality is not entirely consistent. Still, it is in much better condition than some films of the early 30s, so perhaps it is best not to complain too much. After all, it could be worse; at least the film is available now for viewing."
Fluff but cute fluff
David Smith | Penn Valley, PA USA | 03/29/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The film is very light weight but still enjoyable. The iambic pentameter opening seems very dated. However Dick Powell does a reasonable job. Fred Waring the and Pennsylvanians are in fine voice and the dance numbers still work. The finale is very cute -- particularly as the various levels of law enforcement come into the theater and end up watching the show. Look at the college hazing -- now mostly a thing of the past, curfews, the old cars -- driving to NYC instead of taking the train (at least for the college kids). Most people who buy the DVD will probably watch this film more than once"
There's enough fluff here to make it actually work
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 12/29/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Varsity Show may not be the best movie musical ever made; but it's much better than I anticipated. The plot moves along very well and the acting is convincing. There are several cute, catchy musical numbers and it's a real treat to see Fred Waring And His Pennsylvanians in this picture. Busby Berkeley gives us a finale proving his superlative skill as a choreographer.
The action starts when Winfield College is putting on their annual show--but it is being severely hampered by stuffy Professor Sylvester Biddle (Walter Catlett). Biddle will not allow what was then modern swing music in the show; and the result is that the performance is going to be boring with students who are demoralized. Even Ernie Mason (Fred Waring), the faculty member closely supervising the kids and their show, just doesn't have enough clout to change Professor Biddle's mind.
The students, including Barbara 'Babs' Steward (Rosemary Lane), Betty Bradley (Priscilla Lane) and Cuddles (Mabel Todd), decide to call on Winfield College alumnus and Broadway producer/star Chuck Daly (Dick Powell) to help them in their hour of need. They hope that maybe Daly can use his influence to change Biddle's mind and make the show much better. Daly takes along his sidekick Willy (Ted Healy) when he leaves Manhattan for Winfield College. Unfortunately, what the college kids don't know is that Daly has hit on hard times and that he's considered a "wash-up."
Daly's tries to help the kids but he fails when he goes up against the school board. Daly strikes up a romance with "Babs" but he and Willy return to New York. The college kids come up with the idea to take their show to New York where they can put it on free of Professor Biddle--and prove that Chuck Daly is still a star after all!
Questions still linger, though: Will the kids from Winfield College be able to fight off the New York City theater owner--and law enforcement--when they are being forced out of the theater for not paying the bill? What will happen to Chuck Daly's romance with Babs after he leaves Winfield College to return to New York? Will Chuck Daly be able to regain fame and fortune to be a star again? Watch the movie and find out!
The song and dance routines are not bad at all, actually. One of my favorites is "I'm Working My Way Through College" which is at the beginning of the film; and the elaborate song and dance routine at the end showcases Busby Berkeley's talents as one of the best choreographers the world has ever seen. Look also for some wonderful dancing and singing by John Bubbles and his partner Ford Washington Lee; they play two maintenance men at the college. Their roles are embarrassingly outdated but their song and dance work still shines bright!
The DVD comes with two good Vitaphone shorts: A Neckin' Party and the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon entitled Have You Got Any Castles?
Varsity Show is not a film to toss aside and forget. Sure, it's fluffy; but then again there are times when a light fluffy musical comes in rather handy. I recommend this picture for picking up your spirits on a dark and dreary day.
Here's one of your few opportunities to see the work of the
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 10/23/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Why watch Varsity Show? Two words: John Bubbles, the man Fred Astaire said was the greatest tap dancer of his generation. John Sublette (John Bubbles was his stage name) and his partner, Ford Washington Lee, were Buck and Bubbles, with Buck primarily at the piano and Bubbles dancing and singing. They were major stars in vaudeville. I can't explain dancing any more than an infant can explain milk, but I know the good stuff when I see it. John Bubbles combined tap, a sort of fast shuffle and ingenious rhythm into something I wouldn't argue with Astaire about. He has a couple of short numbers in this inane college musical and one Buck and Bubbles short production number to "Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?" They make watching the movie something special.
Among the aged aspects of Varsity Show that you have to get past to enjoy the tap artistry of John Bubbles are...the jokes are so corny even Iowa wouldn't take credit for them...the pacing is just about as matter-of-fact as that bland title...several of the students have long since past their college years...ironically, Dick Powell seems too young for the part...and Fred Waring as the drama teacher is so sincere, so constantly smiling and so solicitous of the students as to be creepy.
Still, the Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer songs aren't bad. "We're working Our Way Through College," sung by Powell and the students as they stride through the campus, is bouncy and funny.
"We're working our way through college
To get a lot of knowledge
That we'll probably never ever use again.
It's swell to tell what parallel and parallax is,
But after graduation will it pay our taxes?"
For those fond of choral music there's Waring and his Pennsylvanians (they're in the movie as college students) doing some fine singing. Aficionados of college pep songs will hear a bunch of them at the big smash close. And for those with a morbid fondness for stories about alcoholics, there's Ted Healy in a major role and Lee Dixon in a minor one. Healy, who's the reason there was a Three Stooges, wound up in Hollywood as one of the highest paid comedy actors. His specialty was the big grump. Let me tell you, he was good. He also was a big-time alcoholic. He got into a drunken fight the night his first child was born (the year Varsity Show was released) and died several hours later. He was 41. Lee Dixon was big and blond, an eccentric dancer in the early Buddy Ebsen style. He was handsome enough with an open, quizzical kind of face. He towered over everyone else. He was 23 when he made Varsity Show and played one of the students, had a few lines and a couple of brief dance steps. By the early Forties he was drinking so heavily no one wanted to take a chance on him. Rodgers and Hammerstein offered him the part of Will Smith in Oklahoma after extracting the promise he wouldn't hit the bottle. He received great reviews with his two numbers, "Kansas City" and "All Er Nuthin'" (with Celeste Holm as Ado Annie). All was well for a year or so, then he started sneaking drinks, then more and more. That was that. He faded fast and died at 39 in 1954. What's the moral to Healy and Dixon? You've got me.
The story? The kids at Winfield College are putting on the annual varsity show but their professor advisor insists that there'll be nothing "swinging" or "modern." A group of them decide to go to New York and ask Chuck Daly (Dick Powell), famous Broadway producer and Winfield graduate, to take over the show. They've got a lot of great songs and ideas. They don't know that Daly has had three flops in a row and is broke. We can skip the next hour. The show is a smash, on Broadway no less, with a Busby Berkeley finale. Chuck wins a co-ed's love with Rosemary Lane the co-ed. She's second billed after Powell. Her sister, Priscilla, is third billed and gets a song to sing and a few dance steps to share with Dixon. Priscilla Lane has never done much for me, but here, at 22 and in her first movie, she's a cutie pie.
College musicals always seem to give off that indulgent condescension that so many adults reserve, usually to their regret, for the young. Still, some can be a lot of fun. There are three I like a lot. Too Many Girls [DVD] - Authentic Region 1 from Warner Brothers with Lucille Ball has a book as inane as Varsity Show, but it has a great Rodgers and Hart score and a terrific Lucille Ball performance. BEST FOOT FORWARD (DVD MOVIE) has a fine Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane score, including that rouser, "Buckle Down, Winsocki," plus Ball again, and a great cast that includes June Allyson and Nancy Walker. Good News is a lot of fun, just as corny as the rest, but June Allyson is appealing, Peter Lawford avoids being appalling, and best of all there's Joan McCracken and Ray McDonald dancing. "Pass that Peace Pipe" is a showcase for both of them, especially McCracken."