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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936)

Odd little programmer about a senior at an all-girls academy who develops a crush on the head-master. What’s odd is that the film is for it. Button-cute Simone Simon (a girl so nice, they named her twice) made a premature Hollywood debut as the sole French student in this German ‘finishing’ school. (The rest of the student body is all-leg & pure Hollywood.) Murmuring Herbert Marshall, the middle-aged object of her affection, is already semi-attached to staff teacher (and co-author of his books) Ruth Chatterton, but a recovered love-letter from Simone, even though she was only imagining, threatens scandal and changes everyone’s relationship. Director Irving Cummings keeps it unbalanced, shooting in a stylized manner that loads up on static, close-up reaction shots, and generally finding angles to keep us on our toes. Meantime, someone in 20th/Fox’s script department must have seen MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM/’31 as there are just too many shared elements for coincidence, though naturally that film's lesbian angle & tragic ending have been . . . what is the word? . . . rectified for Production Code approval, straightened out and glossed over for a happy ending. (Well, it's meant to look happy.) The film is too weird to pass over, yet only holds a tiny place in film history as Tyrone Power's first film @ Fox. In a small role (ninth-billed), he’s so devastatingly young, dark & handsome, he’d grab the lead in the studio’s big historical LLOYD’S OF LONDON later that same year.

DOUBLE-BILL: A Czech film by the same name came out this year (MÄDCHENPENSIONAT), but it’s unavailable and something of a mystery. Instead, try MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM/’31, long a cult classic for socio-political reasons, it’s quite a well-made film for the period though a current DVD on ArtHaus is problematic.

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