Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Spring Madness (1938)

Can a Harvard man who's dreamed of traveling in Russia for two years after graduation instead find happiness marrying a beautiful girl? That's the slight plotline of SPRING MADNESS (1938), one of a string of college-themed "B" movies directed by S. Sylvan Simon for MGM.

The plot may be thin, but it's played with verve by a wonderful cast, starting with Lew Ayres as the Harvard man and Maureen O'Sullivan as the object of his affection. Ruth Hussey co-stars as O'Sullivan's equally beautiful roommate, while Burgess Meredith plays Ayres' roommate. Sterling Holloway, Jacqueline Wells (later known as Julie Bishop), and Joyce Compton play some of the other college students.

My 12-year-old daughter and I found this film very amusing, gradually building to some laugh-out-loud funny moments. We also enjoyed the period depiction of college life at an all-girls school, including the girls checking in and out of their dorm on a board next to the front door.

The screenplay is based on a "play adaptation" by Phillip Barry, author of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Director Simon would go on the next year to film the college romances THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939) and DANCING CO-ED (1939).

SPRING MADNESS is another of those unsung, not very remembered little movies with a wonderful cast which provides some delightful entertainment. Leonard Maltin is on the mark when he writes the film is "...elevated by strong cast. Enjoyable fluff."

It should perhaps be noted that a somewhat discordant note is struck in one scene with Willie Best's stereotypical portrayal of a dim-witted train porter, although it's not quite as bad as his role in MERRILY WE LIVE (1938). The film actually provided an interesting opportunity to point out to my daughter how times have changed, whether it's most universities now being co-ed or certain types of portrayals by black actors no longer being considered appropriate.

SPRING MADNESS runs 67 minutes. (Leonard Maltin's movie guides list the running time as 80 minutes, which I assume is a fairly rare error on the part of Maltin and his staff.) It was filmed in black and white.

SPRING MADNESS can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It has not been released on VHS or DVD. Vote here for it to be released on DVD.

It's probably a pipe dream, but I'd absolutely love it if Warners released a set of either S. Sylvan Simon films or MGM's "college" B movies. They're great fun.


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