Friday, August 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953)

I really enjoyed revisiting MY SISTER EILEEN (1955) the other evening for the first time in a number of years, so tonight I pulled another Bob Fosse movie off the shelf, THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS.

Bobby Van plays the title role, with Fosse costarring as his roommate, Charlie Trask. Dobie and Charlie attend Grainbelt University, where they try to avoid studying as much as possible, preferring to spend their time having fun while courting Pansy (Debbie Reynolds) and Lorna (Barbara Ruick).

The quartet of young people get into all manner of scrapes, including blowing up the chemistry lab on multiple occasions, before dancing off into the sunshine 73 minutes later.

When I first saw this film on VHS the better part of a decade ago, I frankly found it on the disappointing side. Although I'm a huge fan of MGM musicals, the story was too disjointed, and the goofy characters and their laziness and lack of ethics annoyed me.

Nonetheless, when the Warner Archive put the movie out on a remastered DVD-R, I decided it was time to give this movie a fresh look, and I'm glad I did. True, I still find the movie goofier than I'd wish -- I'd prefer less silly humor and a lot more dancing! -- but I found more to appreciate in the film this time around. The young actors have only grown more appealing with the passage of time, and there are some pretty amusing moments, my favorite being when Pansy tries to sneak into her house not wearing a dress.

The musical moments are the best scenes in the movie, particularly the wonderful "You Can't Do Wrong Doin' Right" danced by Fosse and sung by Ruick, later joined by Reynolds and Van. Fosse is simply dynamite, and even here in his first film he was doing dances involving hats! (Alex Romero received credit for the choreography.) For a dance fan, the movie is worth seeing for this scene alone.

As a side note, that same year Fosse and Van joined Fosse's MY SISTER EILEEN costar, Tommy Rall, to dance the spectacular "From This Moment On" number in KISS ME KATE.  Fosse had a third 1953 release, courting Debbie Reynolds in GIVE A GIRL A BREAK.

In DOBIE GILLIS Bobby Van has a good dance to "I'm Thru With Love."  He also duets with Debbie on "All I Do Is Dream of You," which was a rather curious choice for the movie since it was prominently featured in Reynolds' SINGIN' IN THE RAIN the previous year.

Of the four lead actors, only the ever-youthful Debbie Reynolds is still with us; it's hard to believe that Fosse, Van, and Ruick, who are all so energetic in DOBIE GILLIS, all passed on in their 40s and early 50s.

A fun bit of trivia is that Barbara Ruick's mother, Lurene Tuttle, plays Debbie Reynolds' mother in DOBIE GILLIS! She's quite funny, too, reacting to her hysterical husband (Hanley Stafford) with dry comments.

Barbara Ruick married not-yet-famous composer John Williams in 1956, and they were married until her sudden death in 1974. (Williams' second wife, Samantha, helped my husband obtain a STAR WARS score to use for our wedding recessional, but that's another story...)  Lurene Tuttle outlived her daughter by a dozen years.  Barbara's father was actor Melville Ruick.

There are a number of familiar character actors featured throughout the film. Charles Lane seems to have had a subspecialty playing tough chemistry professors, as he had played a very similar role in APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948) five years earlier.

Hans Conreid is the supercilious English professor, with Charles Halton as the college dean and Percy Helton as the owner of the college textbook store. Don't blink and Alvy Moore can be spotted as a student at class registration; the following year he had a much more prominent role in Reynolds' SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954).

This movie was directed by Don Weis. The screenplay by Max Shulman was based on his own stories. William Mellor shot the film in black and white. MGM fans will appreciate that several areas of the MGM backlot, familiar from other movies, are visible in the film.

THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS can be seen on Turner Classic Movies as well as on the Warner Archive DVD and VHS edition. The trailer is available at the TCM website.


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