12 December 2002 | lugonian
Department Store Co-Eds
COLLEGE RHYTHM (Paramount, 1934), directed by Norman Taurog, marks the feature film debuts of radio personalities Joe Penner and Lanny Ross. As the title indicates, this is a college musical, one of many churned out by almost every movie studio in Hollywood during the 1930s, and if not a college musical, then a backstage musical. Musicals by the millions, in all categories, good bad or indifferent, but only a few have lived on to become classics and frequently revived on television. However, COLLEGE RHYTHM, while not a sequel to Paramount's previous rah-rah production, COLLEGE HUMOR (1933), it does have Jack Oakie making a return engagement playing an over-aged but slightly overweight alumni, with Lanny Ross stepping in for Bing Crosby in the vocalizing department.
COLLEGE RHYTHM begins predictably with a college football game taking place with the score of 6-0. Francis J. "Love 'n Kisses" Finnigan (Jack Oakie), an All-American halfback, is about to kick his field goal, but is superstitious. He doesn't want to do it without his mascot, Joe (Joe Penner), because his team has never won a game without him. Aside from football, Finnigan's other goal is women, particularly June Cort (Mary Brian), who happens to be engaged to his roommate, Larry Stacey, affectionately called "Piccolo Pete" (Lanny Ross) because he plays the piccolo in the band and sings in the glee club. Finnigan and Stacey are roommates, rival roommates for that matter, but they are complete opposites. Finnigan is outgoing who not only loves himself too much but enjoys playing practical jokes, especially on Stacey, who is sort of "square" who not only sings, but falls victim to Finnigan's jokes, and quips in his droll manner of, "very funny." In spite of their differences, Stacey knows that Finnigan's fame will not last forever, and offers him a job in his father's department store after graduation, which Finnigan laughs off and declines. The next scene finds the once popular Finnigan a homeless tramp, sharing the camp-side with other bums. He soon thinks about the offer and accepts the job at Stacey's Department Store in Los Angeles. Once there, Finnigan takes charge into changing things around for the better as Stacey's Department Store competes against it rival competition, Whipple's Emporium. Aside from singing and dancing department store employees staging shows to promote its products, the story later returns to where it started, with a football game as the rival department stores try and prove one superiority over the other.
The musical program, with music and lyrics by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon include: "We're Here to Stay" (sung by chorus during opening credits); "Stay As Sweet As You Are" (sung by Lanny Ross); "That's College Rhythm" (sung by Lyda Roberti, Jack Oakie and participated by Joe Penner at the closing); "Three Cheers for Love," "Three Cheers for Love" (reprise, both sung by Lanny Ross); "Goo-Goo" (sung by Joe Penner) and "Take a Number From One to Ten" (sung by Lyda Roberti).
In the supporting cast are Helen Mack (co-star of THE SON OF KONG (1933)as Gloria Dayham; George Barbier as J.P. Stacey; Robert McWade as Herman Whipple; Franklin Pangborn as Peabody, the Stacey Department Store floorwalker; Bradley Metcalfe as the bratty boy, Sonny Whipple; and future Academy Award winner and TV actor, Dean Jagger, as a football coach. Look quickly for future film stars Ann Sheridan and Dennis O'Keefe in brief bits.
Lanny Ross has a pleasing singing voice, but never rose above the popularity of Bing Crosby. He does sing a good tune, "Stay as Sweet as You Are," with reciting lyrics as, "Night and day I pray, that you'll only stay, as sweet as you are." His second solo number, "Three Cheers for Love" is sung twice, first in its entirety, and secondly heard in background as Oakie converses with Helen Mack. Also given two song numbers to sing is the "hot and ready" Lyda Roberti, and like Ethel Merman, this blonde Polish bombshell's voice carries from one side of the room to another. The first, "That's College Rhythm" is performed in the department store. Her second, "Take a Number From One to Ten" is takes place in the grand stand prior to the big football game. This production number is well produced and memorable, with the co-eds dressed in black and white dancing, doing and spelling out formations like a Busby Berkeley number, but this time, the choreography is directed by Leroy Prinz. And let's not forget Joe Penner preferring to sing his signature title song, "Goo-Goo," to his duck ("Lover come quack to me") instead of to Mimi (Lyda Roberti). At one point, in order to please her, he changes the song's title from Goo-Goo to Mimi, but as he's singing to her, he forgets himself by keeping the same lyric about her rosy beek (instead of her cheek), which causes Joe to get pushed into the lake, splashing water over Goo-Goo.
For all its worth, COLLEGE RHYTHM is a fine little musical programmer. Sadly this is an overlooked item. To date, not even respected movie critic Leonard Maltin has given this a review in his annual "Movies and Video Guide Book", although COLLEGE HUMOR (1933), COLLEGE HOLIDAY (1936) and COLLEGE SWING (1938) do get printed space availability. One thing all three COLLEGE movies from Paramount have that COLLEGE RHYTHM doesn't, and that's the support of the husband and wife comedy team of Burns and Allen. But COLLEGE RHYTHM does stands on its own merits. It may not win any scholarships or awards for best college musical of the 1930s, but it does pass the time for good old-fashioned entertainment. (**1/2)