VARSITY SHOW is a fun entry in the "Let's put on a college show" musical subgenre. The college students in question are Rosemary and Priscilla Lane, Lee Dixon, Johnny Davis, and Sterling Holloway, along with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. They're helped by Dick Powell playing a Broadway director who returns to his old school to help with the show.
The plot is a bit sluggish, and it also jerks around uncomfortably at times due to the runtime having been trimmed considerably after the initial release (more on that below). Despite the fairly mediocre script, the film's drawbacks are more than outweighed by its strong points.
VARSITY SHOW is notable in part for the film debuts of favorites Priscilla and Rosemary Lane. Over the next few years Priscilla appeared in 22 films and Rosemary in 20. Rosemary and Priscilla both sparkled and had great screen presence, starring in numerous successful films, yet by the late '40s both sisters had retired from the movies. Sister Lola, who does not appear in VARSITY SHOW, began her film career earlier in the '30s but after 44 films was also finished with movies as of 1946. All three ladies were very talented, and it's hard to understand why their careers suddenly fizzled out.
My favorite scene in VARSITY SHOW was Powell and Rosemary Lane dueting "You've Got Something There" by Mercer and Whiting. The music combined with the stars and shimmering black and white photography make a perfect musical moment. The same year Powell and Lane had another memorable duet, "I'm a Fish Out of Water," in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL; they were a charming screen couple.
Another strong reason to see the film is the opportunity to look at the work of the team of Buck and Bubbles. John Sublett (aka Bubbles) in particular was an amazing dancer. Fans of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians -- I love their Christmas recordings -- can likewise enjoy the opportunity to see the famed group perform on film.
The other big reason to see the movie is the college fight song finale, choreographed by Busby Berkeley. A giant chorus twirls batons and forms patterns honoring various universities; I particularly enjoyed hearing the Pennsylvanians sing "Fight On, For Old 'SC!" as the cast formed a giant USC symbol.
The supporting cast includes Ted Healy, Mabel Todd, and Walter Catlett. IMDb credits Carole Landis as playing one of the students, but I didn't spot her.
VARSITY SHOW was directed by William Keighley. It was filmed in black and white and runs 80 minutes; the original release version is listed at IMDb as having run 120 minutes. A couple of the edited scenes are hinted at in the trailer available at Turner Classic Movies.
VARSITY SHOW is available on DVD as a single title release or as part of the Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2. The other titles in the set are GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937, GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS, and HOLLYWOOD HOTEL. Rosemary Lane stars in all of the films except for GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937; Dick Powell appears in each movie except for GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS.
Movies costarring all three Lane Sisters previously reviewed here: FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), FOUR WIVES (1939), FOUR MOTHERS (1941), and DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939).
Rosemary and Lola costarred in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937). Lola appeared solo in DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946).
Priscilla's starring films include MEN ARE SUCH FOOLS (1938), YES, MY DARLING DAUGHTER (1939), THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940), MILLION DOLLAR BABY (1941), BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941), and SABOTEUR (1942).