“Star Of The Month (March 2022)” Featuring Bing Crosby in… College Humor (1933)

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 CrosbyGoing Hollywood (1933)

Mary Carlisle – Kentucky Kernels (1934)

George Burns/Gracie Allen (screen team) – We’re Not Dressing (1934)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Kentucky Kernels (1934)

Today’s movie is the 1934 RKO comedy Kentucky Kernels, featuring the comedy team of (Bert) Wheeler and (Robert) Woolsey! But, of course, we have three shorts to precede it, all of which are included as extras on the Blu-ray release of Kentucky Kernels from Warner Archive Collection!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Buddy’s Circus (1934)

(Length: 6 minutes, 31 seconds)

Buddy runs a circus as a baby gets into the mix. Can’t say as I have any prior experience with this “Buddy” character, since I mainly know the Looney Tunes era that features the likes of Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, etc. It’s an interesting cartoon, certainly done in a similar style to most cartoons of this era. It has its flaws, mostly revolving around some racial stereotypes of the time that make a few brief appearances here. Like I said, it’s interesting, but hardly worth many viewings.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Dance Contest (1934)

(Length: 6 minutes, 54 seconds)

Popeye competes with Bluto for Olive’s affections in a dance contest. First chance I’ve had to see one of the earlier Fleischer cartoons with Popeye in quite some time, and I’ve gotta say this one was fun! Sure, it was Popeye vs. Bluto, but it feels so fresh compared to some of the later cartoons! Of course, it’s fun seeing what Popeye did for dancing here (maybe not so much with Bluto, who was a little violent in his dancing with Olive, but then again, we’re cheering for Popeye, not him)! All in all, a fun cartoon to get the chance to see!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Sock-A-Bye, Baby (1934)

(Length: 6 minutes, 22 seconds)

Popeye is babysitting, but the sounds of the city won’t let the baby sleep. A lot of different noise-related gags here, which are different than I’m used to with Popeye. Which is NOT a bad thing! This cartoon was fun! Admittedly, Popeye seems to have the same reaction, whatever the noise: to destroy/ beat up whatever is making the noise (but it’s fun seeing some things try to keep going until he finishes them off)! I certainly enjoyed this one!

And Now For The Main Feature…

(Host): Magician Elmer Dugan (Robert Woolsey), also known as “The Great Elmer,” is down on his luck. He is living with his buddy Willie Doyle (Bert Wheeler) in a shanty under the bridge. One night, their fishing nets catch the suicidal Jerry Bronson (Paul Page). They pull him out of the nets, and try to convince him his life is worth living by suggesting he adopt a child. They volunteer to find him one at the orphan’s home, run by Mrs. Baxter (Margaret Dumont).

(Sounds of glass breaking offstage)

(Host): Oh, no. You didn’t.

(Narrator): Yes, I did. He he he.

(Host): Oh, fun. You know what our rather spiteful narrator did, folks? He brought in Spanky Milford (as played by that Little Rascal George “Spanky” McFarland, who was loaned out to RKO by the Hal Roach studio for this film). He’s a nice kid, but he’s got one big problem: he has a fondness for breaking glass!

(Host): Anyways, back to the story. Elmer and Willie are able to adopt Spanky for Jerry, but, when they bring Spanky over, Jerry is leaving for his honeymoon! He promises to return for the boy, and he gives them a check (although Spanky tears it up). Fast forward a few weeks, and now their shanty has greater airflow (since Spanky has been breaking all the windows).

(Sound of shattering glass)

(Host): (Winces). Yes, like that one. (muttering under breath: darn that narrator for bringing him in, anyways.) Anyways, they are visited by a pair of lawyers, who say that Spanky has inherited an estate in Banesville, Kentucky. Spanky refuses to go without his “Uncle Elmer” and “Uncle Willie.” The lawyers, who are reluctant to accompany Spanky there because of a big feud in the area between the Milford family and the Wakefield family, are relieved at the prospect, and offer to pay the expenses for Elmer and Willie to take him (but they don’t mention the feud). When Elmer and Willie see the wad of money the lawyers are offering, they quickly accept. On the train ride there, they meet Gloria Wakefield (Mary Carlisle), for whom Willie falls for immediately. When they arrive at the station, her father, Colonel Wakefield (Noah Beery), is waiting for her. Unaware of the feud, Elmer and Willie invite them over for dinner (an invitation they keep open even after learning about the feud). At first, the party seems to be going well, with everybody getting along, including Colonel Wakefield and Spanky’s aunt Hannah Milford (Lucille LaVerne), who seem to have feelings for each other. Then, Spanky opens a bottle of champagne, resulting in everyone thinking a gun went off, and the feud is back on! (Ah-ha, you thought Spanky was going to open a bottle here, too, didn’t you? Well, I locked that stuff up, and kept the key away from the narrator!)

(Narrator): Drat! I wondered where the key was!

(Host): He, he, he. You see, I can do it to you, too. Anyways, moving on. The next day, Elmer and Willie go over to the Wakefield home to smooth things over. However, after one of the servants let them in, they overhear Colonel Wakefield planning revenge on them and the Milford family. Unable to get out of the house without being discovered, they try to hide. Elmer is found by the Colonel in Gloria’s room, and the Colonel immediately sends for a minister.

(Narrator plays “Here Comes The Bride” on organ backstage)

(Host): (Walking backstage): No, no, no! Not now! You’re a few days (and one post) too early!

(Sounds of a cartoon hammer hitting someone on the head)

(Music stops)

(Host): (Walking back onstage, drops a big rubber mallet on the way out): Right then. Willie tries at first to pose as the minister, but the real one shows up, and they both get out of Dodge as quickly as they can. The next day, the Colonel gets all the Wakefields together to shoot the Milfords, but Gloria warns Elmer and Willie before the Wakefields arrive. However, when they get into a carriage to leave, Spanky gets out to break the glass in the greenhouse, and they’re stuck there.

(Checks backstage on the narrator, finds him starting to wake up).

(Host): (Whispering): I better stop right there. Any further, and the narrator may start a feud to go along with the story!

(Host): As far as it goes, this movie is my first experience with the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey. The only reason I can claim to have heard of them before I decided to try this movie is that I saw requests for their films on the Warner Archive Facebook fan page many times earlier in the decade (requests that obviously ceased to happen after Warner Archive released all of the Warner-owned films on DVD). But, Kentucky Kernels was another thirties film released to Blu-ray (and a comedy to boot, in a year I enjoy comedies that much more), so I figured I would give it a shot. And boy, am I glad I did! From start to finish, the comedy of Wheeler and Woolsey won me over, and kept me laughing! Their comedy was mainly dialogue-driven, but it worked well enough for me!

(Host): Of course, they were hardly all the fun here, as “Spanky” McFarland certainly entertained throughout the movie! If there was any unbroken glass left over, it was only because he didn’t notice it! Of course, I will also say that I enjoyed the film’s one big musical number, the song “One Little Kiss” which was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (to be fair, there was one other song, “Supper Song,” but it was so short it hardly seems worth mentioning). It’ll be a while before “One Little Kiss” isn’t stuck in my head (but, like I said, I enjoyed it, so that’s not a bad problem)! If there’s any criticism to level against this movie, it would be directed towards actor Willie Best (who is billed here as “Sleep ‘n’ Eat”). To be fair, it’s not so much him, it’s the material he has to work with, which is obviously rather racist. Luckily, he is for the most part in the background or at least has quick appearances, and it’s easy enough to get past it (at least, it is for me). I enjoyed this movie quite easily, and I certainly recommend it!

(Host): This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, with the Blu-ray boasting a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative. Simply stated, the movie looks fantastic! As much as I enjoyed it, I hope it does well enough for them to release a few more of the Wheeler and Woolsey films on Blu-ray!

(disappears from center stage in a puff of smoke)

(Narrator): There he goes! Stage right!

(Starts to run after trying to tiptoe off)

(Falls through trapdoor)

(Host): Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! (Slams into ground) Ow.

(Host): (From down below) Now why couldn’t that have happened with the other trapdoor when I was trying to disappear before?

(Narrator): He, he, he.

Film Length: 1 hour, 15 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

College Humor (1933) – Mary Carlisle – Double Or Nothing (1937)

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