Monday, February 01, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Sweetheart of the Campus (1941)

SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS is a pleasant little "B" musical with a trio of bright leads: Ozzie and Harriet (Hilliard) Nelson plus Ruby Keeler.

There's not much to this musical, but fans of Ruby and the Nelsons will enjoy spending time in their company for 67 minutes. The plot is a bunch of silliness about a nightclub being shut down because it's too close to a college campus; later the nightclub reopens on the campus itself to serve as a student recruiting attraction. In both cases the nightclub performers are Ozzie's band, featuring Ruby and later Harriet in its performances.

The story is mostly an excuse for many songs and dances; none of the music is particularly memorable -- and truth be told, Harriet Nelson's voice was shaky at times -- but the cast is enthusiastic and the film provides an undemanding hour-plus of entertainment which is over before it wears out its welcome.

This was Ruby Keeler's movie musical swan song. Her dance style, often hunched over looking at her feet, has never been a favorite of mine, but Ruby nonetheless has an indefinable "something" which makes her wide-eyed charm very appealing. Her energetic performance is one of the reasons to watch this movie. Those wanting to become more familiar with Ruby's work will want to start with GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), DAMES (1934), and FLIRTATION WALK (1934).

The young Ozzie looks very much like his son David would look years later. Pretty young Harriet is almost unrecognizable compared to her better-known TV persona, especially when she hides behind a pair of glasses, but as soon as she speaks, her distinctive voice gives her away. Harriet had appeared in a more famous musical, Astaire and Rogers' FOLLOW THE FLEET, in 1936, the year after she and Ozzie were married.

I saw Harriet Nelson, who was a fellow Orange County resident, on a couple different occasions. As I related a while back, I once waited on her at Disneyland, and she strolled past us when my husband and I were in line for the movies at Newport Beach. For a couple who had grown up on OZZIE & HARRIET reruns, that was really fun.

One of the movie's fun angles is that Ozzie's band broadcasts on the college television network. The depiction of television circa 1941 was quite interesting, and it's a neat twist that Ozzie and Harriet are seen performing in the medium which would make them huge stars years later.

The supporting cast includes Gordon Oliver, Kathleen Howard, Don Beddoe, and Byron Foulger. Don't blink and you'll see a young Alan Hale Jr. as a football player; this was one of his first credits in a list which grew to over 200 movie and TV appearances. Leo Watson and the Four Spirits of Rhythm perform a specialty number.

SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS was directed by Edward Dmytryk, who would go on to a Best Director Oscar nomination for CROSSFIRE in 1947. Other Dmytryk films reviewed here in the past: TILL THE END OF TIME (1946) and BROKEN LANCE (1954).

In 1948 Dmytryk married actress Jean Porter, who had a role in TILL THE END OF TIME; despite a 17-year age difference they were happily married for over 50 years, until Dmytryk's death in 1999. Dmytryk taught at the University of Southern California during the '80s and '90s.

SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS is available for download or online viewing at Amazon. It's also been shown in the past on Turner Classic Movies.


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