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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

VARSITY SHOW (1937)

This formula musical from Warners is like an episode of GLEE, circa 1937. Dick Powell, still young & yeasty, stars as a washed-up B’way director who reluctantly returns to his alma mater when the annual varsity show needs a lift. Too bad the stuffy professors don’t want his help. When the starry-eyed kids find out he’s toast back in NYC, they sneak into town and camp out at a vacant theater until they can open the hit show he had tried to put on. It sounds like goofy fun, and with a big Busby Berkeley finale for a ‘wow’ finale, but no one seems to be trying very hard on this programmer. Even Berkeley seems out of ideas and falls back on too many trick reverse shots. But wait! The original two-hour running time has been axed to a measly 81 minutes on the current DVD edition. No wonder numbers start & stop awkwardly and the admittedly silly plot is all but incomprehensible. At least, the great team of Buck & Bubbles are around for a couple of stand alone spots. The rest is more frustrating than fun.

NOTE: Don’t miss Frank Tashlin’s HAVE YOU GOT ANY CASTLES in the EXTRAs. This Looney Tunes short brings a few dozen book covers to life in tumbling hilarity. DARKIES ALERT!! Yep, the caricatures are on the insensitive side, so be warned. (If you like this, check out Bob Clampett’s BOOK REVIEW/'46 which is the ne plus ultra of all the book-gag cartoons.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: M-G-M's GOOD NEWS/'47 is still the cornball college musical to beat. It was the first film for writers Comden & Green & choreographer-turned-helmer Charles Walters which may explain why June Alyson & Peter Lawford are so unexpectedly Rah-Rah. .

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