18 September 2003 | lugonian
Modern Greek History
COLLEGE HOLIDAY (Paramount, 1936), directed by Frank Tuttle, is the third installment, following COLLEGE HUMOR (1933) and COLLEGE RHYTHM (1934) to the many "College" musicals Paramount distributed during this period. COLLEGE HOLIDAY, in fact, is an entirely different college musical by not being set entirely on a college campus and avoids the usual cliché football game finale with those "rah-rah" cheers from the bandstand. Instead, there's a large-scale minstrel show where the co-eds gather together to help save a failing hotel resort from financial ruin. Adding to the lineup is a recent Paramount recruit named Jack Benny, who, with this and his subsequent Paramount comedies, was starting to find his comic persona, and in this instance, playing "Love in Bloom" on the violin in his most screechy-ating style that would become his trademark.
As for the plot, it's basically a simple one, revolving around a young girl named Sylvia Smith (Marsha Hunt) who aids her father, in the process of losing his hotel, assuming the title as manager and hires radio performer J. Davis Bowster (Jack Benny) for guidance. Professor Hercules Dove (Etienne Girardot), an ancient Greek mythology enthusiast who happens to hold a mortgage on the hotel, uses Carola P. Gaye (Mary Boland), a middle-aged heiress, to convert the hotel into a sexual laboratory for express purpose of mating the perfect specimens for both sexes. Bowster recruits college co- eds as prospects, but instead of having a Greek pageant as planned, he decides to save the hotel by having the students perform in a staged musical minstrel show.
More on the lavish scale than Paramount's previous college outings, and a little over the standard 75 minutes, this 87 minute production has a large cast consisting of George Burns as George Hymen; Gracie Allen as Girardot's hair-brain daughter, Gracie "Colliope" Dove; with Martha Raye (Daisy Schloggenheimer of Corn City); Olympe Bradna (Felice L'Hommedieu); Ben Blue (The Stage Hand); Louis DaPron (Barry Taylor); Jed Prouty (Sheriff John J. Trimble, an officer of the law who tries to close down the hotel but agrees to give it another month to make good); and the California Collegians. The comedy team of Burns and Allen show up a little late in the story but make a grand entrance in style riding down the street on a chariot, ala Ben-Hur. To add to the confusion, they do find time in inserting their usual comic routines into the plot.
With music and lyrics by Ralph Freed and Burton Lane, the musical soundtrack listing is as follows: "The Sweetheart Waltz" (sung by chorus during opening credits/ then by Leif Erickson and Marsha Hunt); "Our Alma Mata" (sung by students); "Just a Rhyme for Love" (tap danced and sung on train by Johnny Downs and Eleanor Whitney); "So What?" (sung by Martha Raye); "The Sweetheart Waltz" (reprise by chorus); "I Adore You" (sung by Leif Erickson and Marsha Hunt); "The Minstrel Show is in Town" (sung by chorus); "I Adore You" (reprise by Erickson and Hunt); "Love in Bloom" (by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, violin solo by Jack Benny); "Just a Rhyme for Love" (instrumental tap dance number with Downs and Whitney); "Who's That Knocking at My Heart" (sung by Martha Raye); and Pateranski's "Ah Latinque" (instrumental dance number with Ben Blue, Gracie Allen, others, followed by untitled jive number performed by collegians).
With a handful of songs, the best is the romantic ballad, "I Adore You," introduced by master of ceremonies Jack Benny during the Minstrel Show segment as "Enchantment," as sung by Leif Erickson as Huntg's love interest, Dick Winters. "I Adore You" is such a pleasing song, it's a pity it's constantly interrupted by spoken dialog and never heard straight through. Those with sharp hearing will take notice a goof made by Jack Benny introducing, in a hesitant manner, the song, "Enchantment" as sung and performed by MR. Sylvia Smith and MISS Dick Winters. Listen for it. "The Sweetheart Waltz" is another love ballad that is plugged a couple of times during the story, and sung by chorus, especially during one memorable but far-fetched sequence where the lovers (Erickson and Hunt) jump from the diving boards from opposite sides of the swimming pool, and join together as they swim parallel upwards, embracing to a kiss while still under water. Another good number here is "Who's That Knocking at My Heart," a true show stopper performed by the surprisingly loud and effective Martha Raye in black-face. The segment in which Jack Benny does his violin solo to "Love in Bloom" is played for laughs when it has its share of constant interruptions with the sounds of hammering, pipe organ music playing Stephen Foster's "Swanee River," as well as stage hands yelling back and forth at one another.
Unseen on television since the 1980s on public broadcasting channels such as WLIW, Channel 21 (Long Island City, N.Y.), COLLEGE HOLIDAY came to cable TV on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: June 28, 2014). Once scene, many may consider it to be, at best, delightful nonsense that plays like a series of acts from a vaudeville show, with George Burns playing it straight Gracie Allen as her usual self with all the silly responses, getting most of the laughs. In conclusion, Jack Benny steps out of character addressing the movie audience (not the audience in the movie), "Ladies and gentlemen. I hope you notice our attempt in this picture to maintain the spirit of classic Greek tragedy throughout. Whenever the story interfered with art, we did not compromise. We gave up both." After a few more lines, Benny closes the story as he would do in his future TV show, "Goodnight folks." "Goodnight, Jack!" Next installment in Paramount's college semester, COLLEGE SWING (1938). (**1/2)