In the late '40s and early '50s, 20th Century-Fox produced a number of movies set on college campuses, including APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949), MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE (1949), TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951), PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951), and DADDY LONG LEGS (1955).
DREAMBOAT is a very enjoyable entry in the college subgenre, starring Clifton Webb as an English professor, Thornton Sayre, who has a secret past as Bruce Blair, a silent movie swashbuckling star. Anne Francis plays his scholarly daughter Carol, who is shocked when some unkind girls from a campus sorority spring the news on her by showing her one of her father's old movies on TV. (In a nice touch, the sorority is "Tri U" -- the same sorority Jeanne Crain quit in the previous year's TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL.) The use of the films to promote a perfume further dismays the professor, who is taken to task by the uptight college board.
Father and daughter head for New York City where they attempt to stop the movies from airing on television and restore the professor's professional dignity. While in New York, they meet up with "Bruce's" former costar Gloria Marlowe (Ginger Rogers) and a nice young executive, Bill (Jeffrey Hunter).
DREAMBOAT is a lot of fun, thanks to a good cast and an inventive script which does a nice job satirizing early television. (Dancers Gwen Verdon and Matt Mattox can be seen in a TV commercial.) The speeded-up silent movie scenes are particularly amusing, especially in the sequence where Professor Sayre copies his old action moves to deal with a drunken bully. The film could have stood being a bit longer, as there are some fairly abrupt character transitions near the end of the movie, but all in all it's quite entertaining.
The romance between Carol and Bill does seem a bit truncated; a still in THE FILMS OF GINGER ROGERS indicates that at least one of their scenes was cut from the film. Hunter has a couple very funny moments simply lifting an eyebrow and not saying a word, and Francis is charming as she evolves from a "museums kind of girl" to a more glamorous young woman.
The film's finale, featuring the Carthay Circle premiere of SITTING PRETTY, is a terrific inside joke, as SITTING PRETTY was a great success for Webb in 1948. It was the first of three movies in which Webb starred as Mr. Belvedere. DREAMBOAT utilizes clips from the famous scene in which Webb turns a bowl of oatmeal over on a truculent toddler's head.
My daughter pointed out that the college conference room set looked a lot like the college conference room in the previous year's Cary Grant movie PEOPLE WILL TALK, and although I haven't yet put in my PEOPLE WILL TALK DVD to make the comparison, I suspect she's right. The DVD featurette for the 1953 Fox film DANGEROUS CROSSING pointed out how Fox loved to save money by recycling sets and costumes.
The supporting cast includes Fred Clark, Elsa Lanchester, and Ray Collins. The movie was directed by Claude Binyon. It was shot in black and white and runs 83 minutes.
DREAMBOAT hasn't had a VHS or DVD release, but can be seen as part of the library on cable's Fox Movie Channel, where it next screens February 8, 2009.
December 2012 Update: This movie is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.