DANCING CO-ED is a wonderful trifle about a movie studio holding a contest for a college girl to win a leading dancing role in its next big musical. The studio plants a ringer (Lana Turner) on the campus of Midwestern University, but when Artie Shaw and His Orchestra show up to play for the final dance contest, things don't go quite as planned.
This is the kind of movie that might have been shrugged off as just one more little "B" movie with a flimsy plot closer in time to its making, but viewed from the perspective of today, it's a treasure trove of enjoyable personalities and good music. Watching the film, one also realizes how extensively MGM trained its talent; Turner and Rutherford might not have really been dancers, but they move gracefully and carry off their roles with confidence.
I think Turner was at her most appealing in her earliest roles at MGM, before she started playing harder-edged characters. A very young Richard Carlson plays a reporter for the campus paper who suspects the contest might be rigged. Sweet Ann Rutherford plays the movie studio secretary who becomes a college student alongside Lana. Monty Woolley steals his two scenes as a college professor, and Lee Bowman plays the studio's big dancing star. Familiar faces including Roscoe Karns, Mary Field, Thurston Hall, Mary Beth Hughes, and June Preisser also appear.
Veronica Lake and Robert Walker are said to have bit parts in the film; I didn't spot them on the first viewing, but I'll be looking for them next time I watch it.
Shaw and his orchestra have a couple fun scenes, including one where they shake up a traditional parade with their swinging brand of music. Drummer Buddy Rich gets plenty of screen time in these sequences, and he sure looks like he's having fun.
Turner and Shaw were married briefly in 1940. Shaw's longest marriage, to the last of his eight (!) wives, was to Evelyn Keyes, star of last night's movie DANGEROUS BLONDES. Unfortunately Turner didn't fare any better than Shaw in the marriage department.
In 1939 Ann Rutherford also had a role in the biggest film of the year, playing Carreen O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. Her older sister Suellen was played by...Evelyn Keyes.
DANCING CO-ED was directed by S. Sylvan Simon, who specialized in "B" movies in which MGM trained and spotlighted its young talent. Earlier in 1939 Simon had directed Turner, Carlson, Rutherford, and Hughes in THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS; also that year he directed Rutherford in FOUR GIRLS IN WHITE, reviewed here in April 2006. In 1940 he directed Turner in TWO GIRLS ON BROADWAY. Simon directed Rutherford many times, including KEEPING COMPANY (1940), WASHINGTON MELODRAMA (1941), WHISTLING IN THE DARK (1941), WHISTLING IN DIXIE (1942), and WHISTLING IN BROOKLYN (1942).
The movie runs 84 minutes and was filmed in black and white.
TCM has made the trailer available on their website.
To date this film has not been released on video or DVD. A Lana Turner DVD set is said to be in the works from Warners, and it would sure be nice if they would include at least one of her early "B" movie titles, such as this one, in the set.
Vote here for DANCING CO-ED to be released on DVD.
Summer 2010 Update: DANCING CO-ED is now available in DVD-R format from Warner Archive.