We’re here to start off the month of March with an early film from this month’s Star, Bing Crosby! That film, of course, would be the 1933 movie College Humor, also starring Jack Oakie, Richard Arlen, Mary Carlisle, George Burns and Gracie Allen!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Chew-Chew Baby (1945)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 57 seconds)
Wally Walrus kicks a very hungry Woody Woodpecker out of his boarding house (for nonpayment of rent). Looking in the newspaper, Woody finds a personal ad for Wally, and decides to answer it disguised as a woman. This one was fun, as we had more back-and-forth between Woody and Wally! Woody’s antics in disguise were quite funny, but things were even funnier once Woody was no longer in disguise, and we got a quick series of gags as Wally tries to get rid of Woody! I know I had fun with this one, and certainly look forward to revisiting it in the future!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Star high school football player Barney Shirrel (Jack Oakie) has come to Mid-West University, where he plans to study engineering (instead of going to work at his father’s big creamery). He quickly becomes friends with his new football teammates/roommates Mondrake (Richard Arlen) and Tex Roust (Joseph Sauers), who invite him to join the Omicron fraternity. Tex ends up leaving the college before the end of the term to get married. As a parting gift, he gives Barney his helmet, and advises him to keep Mondrake away from booze and women. When the next term begins, Barney has changed his focus to law, and is joined at Mid-West by his younger sister, Barbara (Mary Carlisle). She quickly becomes Mondrake’s girlfriend, but she also catches the eye of the drama teacher, Professor Danvers (Bing Crosby). With her spending a lot of time with Danvers, Mondrake becomes jealous and starts drinking heavily. On the day of the big game against Nebraska, Mondrake gets so drunk that he ends up in jail. At Barbara’s insistence, Professor Danvers helps get him out to play in the game (which they win). Even though the win nets the college a big game with another big college, Mondrake gets expelled and Danvers is forced to resign. When the big game finally arrives, Barney is nervous at having to lead the team without the aid of either of his friends. Will he be able to pull himself together in time to help the team, or will he fall completely apart?
College Humor was Bing Crosby’s second starring role in a full-length movie, following The Big Broadcast (1932) (alongside his appearances with the Rhythm Boys in various films, plus some of the two-reelers he did for Mack Sennett). And, quite frankly, it feels like it. Compared to some of his later films, he really isn’t quite a natural fit as an actor yet in this film (and it seems like the filmmakers thought the same, for, although he was the top-billed star, it feels more like he is a secondary character to Jack Oakie’s Barney Shirrel). While I don’t think his acting was as strong here as it would later become (at least, in my opinion), he still handles the singing chores well, singing along as part of the group for the sexual innuendo-filled “Down The Old Ox Road,” as well as handling the songs “Moonstruck” and “Learn To Croon.” Of course, “Learn To Croon” comes out as the song with the most lasting impact here, as it seems to be fairly well-associated with him (although, if you don’t care for the song, it will be that much harder to like the movie, as he sings it several times, and the music itself can be heard in the background throughout the movie). Now, I first saw this movie about ten years ago. I had previously seen the same year’s Going Hollywood for a number of years before that, and I had heard Bing sing part of the song “Just An Echo In The Valley” as part of the big “Going Hollywood” number in that (but I had thought it was part of THAT song, as opposed to being part of a different song entirely). When I first saw College Humor, I recognized the lyrics (when it was used as part of a medley when he is “teaching” his students), and figured that it must have been a hit song for him (which then-modern audiences would have recognized). In reading up on it for this post, I found out that “Just An Echo In The Valley” was apparently the closing theme for a radio show he was working on for the period of January to March 1933, which makes it that much more interesting and enjoyable to me! Like I said, though, Bing is not a great actor here yet, but he is still one of the film’s biggest strengths.
Now, I more or less commented briefly on this film a few years back when talking about the screen team of George Burns and Gracie Allen, in which I more or less stated it was not that great of a film (and that was originally all I had intended to do as far as commenting on the movie). I decided, in planning to feature Bing Crosby as my Star Of The Month for March 2022, that I should at least try to revisit it and elaborate a bit further. I will admit, this time around, my opinion of the film did improve a little bit, but most of my prior assessment is still the same. I think the biggest problem for me is Jack Oakie. As I commented when I reviewed The Eagle And The Hawk (1933), I just don’t care for the actor at all, and with him essentially in the lead role here, that is a big strike against the movie. What’s worse, I don’t think his character’s relationship with Amber (Mary Kornman) works very well, as very little screen time is devoted to it. They meet at a party and go out (although, when he drops her off back at her place, he ends up chasing another girl). The rest of the time, he seems to neglect her for football and his studies (and yet he needs her support for the big game several years later). As I mentioned in my post about George and Gracie, their presence here is little more than a couple of quick appearances (they’re funny for what screen time they do get, but it’s just not enough). Plain and simple, I think the bad stuff is represented too much here, and the good not enough. My opinion of this movie has improved a little with time, but I’ll still go on record stating that this film is still mainly for completists for any of the cast and crew involved. In short, I still can’t bring myself to recommend it.
This movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios, either as part of the six film set The Bing Crosby Collection or as part of the twenty-four film set Bing Crosby: The Silver Screen Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 21 minutes
My Rating: 5/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
King Of Jazz (1930) – Bing Crosby – Going Hollywood (1933)
Mary Carlisle – Kentucky Kernels (1934)
George Burns/Gracie Allen (screen team) – We’re Not Dressing (1934)
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