Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Sorority House (1939)

SORORITY HOUSE is an entertaining 64-minute RKO programmer with an interesting behind-the-scenes pedigree: it was directed by John Farrow from a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, photographed by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST). It's a fun little movie about the perils of college sororities which is a forerunner to the later -- and longer -- Technicolor film TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951).

Alice Fisher (Anne Shirley) is thrilled when her father (J.M. Kerrigan), a small-town grocery store owner, surprises her with the news that she will be able to attend college. Almost immediately pretty young Alice meets a dashing medical student, Bill (James Ellison), who is deeply smitten.

Alice rooms with Dotty (Barbara Read) and Merle (Adele Pearce, who later acted under the name Pamela Blake). Alice also learns about sororities; Dotty, a sophomore, was rejected by sororities the previous year, and freshman Merle wants to join a sorority more than anything. Alice attracts the attention of a sorority, but does she really want to join?

The cast is quite good, and it would have been nice if the film had run another ten minutes or so, as one senses near the end that an explanatory scene or two could possibly have ended up on the cutting room floor.

Shirley is sweet as the innocent Alice, and Ellison is quite charming as Bill. I liked the fact that their romance was very straightforward and sincere from start to finish, without any complications; maybe that's a benefit of the film having been shorter! Shirley and Ellison also appeared together in MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS (1938) and ANNE OF WINDY POPLARS (1940). (Shirley famously took her acting name from the character she played in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and WINDY POPLARS.)

Barbara Read (THREE SMART GIRLS) is especially likeable as the independent-minded Dotty. She has a nice presence, and the film is particularly enjoyable when she's on screen. Read acted through 1948 and at one point was married to actor William Talman (PERRY MASON).

Marge Champion, who later achieved fame dancing in MGM musicals, is clearly visible as one of the college coeds. According to IMDb, Veronica Lake and Robert Sterling also have bit parts, but I wasn't fast enough to spot them. Maybe next time!

The cast also includes Elisabeth Risdon, June Storey, Doris Davenport, Helen Wood, and Chill Wills.

This film would be fun on a double bill with TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL or FINISHING SCHOOL (1934), another RKO film about a student (Frances Dee) romanced by a medical intern (Bruce Cabot).

SORORITY HOUSE has not had a DVD or VHS release, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

September 2017 Update: SORORITY HOUSE has now been released on DVD by the Warner Archive. My review may be found here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Laura!

I've been wanting to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your recap of the Tonight's Movie posts of 2009. It was lovely to look back over the highways and rabbit trails of the past year.

How nice it is to know you've enjoyed SORORITY HOUSE this 2010; the movie is a recent favorite of mine as well. If you'd like to find Veronica Lake in the film, take a close look at the first scene in which all the girls are dressed up for a party. Walking down the hall, back to camera, in a white halter gown is Veronica (without bang as her hair pinned back in a short bob of curls). To her partner she says, "Oh, I've got such bad habits." And with illustrative tugs: "If I should start pulling my girdle down, slap me." Her partner complies.

Anyway, that's the most memorable moment of Veronica's role in the film. Once you've seen her there, you'll be able to recognize her in other scenes.

I didn't realize Marge Champion and Robert Sterling were also in SORORITY HOUSE. I'll have to look for them next time.

Barbara Read was terrific, wasn't she?! The engaging performance she gave in SORORITY HOUSE prompted me to pull out my copy of THREE SMART GIRLS once more. I wish I could get hold of another one (or two, or ten) of her films... =)

Because I didn't mention it before, Happy New Year!


3:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Carrie!

Thanks so much for the nice feedback. I had fun doing that post and reminiscing, and it's wonderful knowing you enjoyed it too.

I remember that line in SORORITY HOUSE but didn't realize it was Veronica Lake! I'll go back and take another look now. Thanks!!

I'm glad to know someone else liked Barbara Read. It's too bad she wasn't also in THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP! (Ditto that re Ray Milland...) She had a nice personality and I wish she had done more in her career.

I'm delighted to hear from you and hope you are enjoying a very happy 2010. Please stay in touch!

Best wishes,

3:52 PM  

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