Friday, January 14, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Mother is a Freshman (1949)

MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN is an entertaining entry in 20th Century-Fox's string of films set on college campuses released in the late '40s and early '50s. The movie doesn't break any new ground, but it serves as pleasing, colorful entertainment for those who enjoy the lead actors and/or the college campus setting.

For complicated reasons revolving around a financial dry spell and a family scholarship, widowed Abigail Fortitude Abbott (Loretta Young) must begin attending Pointer College along with her daughter Susan (Betty Lynn), a sophomore, or they will not have the funds for Susan to complete her college years.

Much to her surprise, Abby finds she enjoys obtaining a college education, especially as she gets to know a handsome English literature professor (Van Johnson, on loan to Fox from MGM). Abby and Richard's romance is complicated by Susan's crush on Richard...

This is, quite simply, my kind of movie. It's a cheerful, fast-paced romance with an attractive cast, set in a lovely location and filmed in beautiful Fox Technicolor. The costumes by Kay Nelson were nominated for the Academy Award.

Loretta Young is a particular favorite of mine, and she and Johnson are enjoyable in the lead roles. Neither role is very demanding, but Young's pleased reactions are cute when she receives wolf whistles after she "lets her hair down" to blend in with the other students. It briefly looks as though Johnson's character is going to be a campus Lothario, only to have the script quickly do a U-turn and reassure viewers that he's a sincere, true-blue guy.

Betty Lynn had previously starred as "Boo" Brinker in JUNE BRIDE (1948). She also appeared in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951). Perhaps best known for her role as Thelma Lou on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, Lynn is now 84 and retired in North Carolina.

The supporting cast includes Rudy Vallee as Abby's stuffy attorney and Barbara Lawrence as Susan's roommate; the previous year Vallee and Lawrence had played husband and wife in Preston Sturges' UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948).

I chuckled when I recognized Charles Lane simply from the back of his head in a scene where he administers a college entrance exam to Abby. In 1948's APARTMENT FOR PEGGY he played a tough college chemistry professor.

Debra Paget turns up in a couple of scenes as Linda, a beautiful co-ed, and Jeff Richards, who later worked at MGM in films such as SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), dances with Barbara Lawrence near the end of the film. Griff Barnett is charming as the college dean.

The cast also includes Robert Arthur, Kathleen Hughes, Marietta Canty, and Claire Meade.

Like other Fox films such as MARGIE (1946), APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), and MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE (1949), MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN was filmed on the beautiful campus of the University of Nevada at Reno. You can read about the campus history, including movies filmed there, in an article originally published in Nevada Magazine.

This film was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It runs 81 minutes.

MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN can sometimes be seen on Fox Movie Channel.

2012 Update: MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN is now available on DVD-R in the Fox Cinema Archives line.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the heads up on it's next showing. I keep missing this one. Now that I know THE Charles Lane is in it...

5:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you get to the chance to check it out, Jacqueline!

I checked out IMDb and Lane only had four other films released in 1949...that was a slow year for him! Compared to, say, 1940, when he was in nearly two dozen movies. :)

Best wishes,

11:52 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

The man was lean, mean acting machine.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I have a thing for college films. There's something so fun about football, professors, and dorms in the 1920s-1950s! I managed to track down a copy of this film and while I don't find Van Johnson at all attractive, his nice-guy professor was a breezy role. Even though I enjoyed this film (to a point), the retro attitudes towards women really, really stood out in the script. I couldn't help but grow irritated with both Professor Michael's cruel dismissal of Susan's crush and the conflict his pursuit of Abigail brought to their mother/daughter relationship, as well as the whole "you don't need to finish college you'll be a professor's wife!" thing. Just when it seemed the script showed Abigail finding herself through her education, it flipped around to it just being a lark for the frivolous, spendthrift woman to obtain more money. It was a bizarre mix of progressive (Susan attending a co-ed college, mention of the many female veterans obtaining their education through the G.I. Bill, etc) and retrogressive (women are frivolous and irresponsible, they need to be guided/taken care of by a man, mother/daughter relationships don't matter if the man says so, etc) elements that made the film so odd, despite its frothy romantic tone.

Now I'm left curious as to whether the writer intentionally included these conflicting elements, whether the script was more egalitarian and the studio wanted it revised, or whether the writer subconsciously reflected the tensions of American society in the post-war era.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Evangeline. :)

I think the film's muddled attitudes toward women's roles definitely reflected some of the societal conflicts of the post-war era...I suspect your last possibility is the most likely to be accurate; the writer wasn't necessarily particularly attuned to some of the inherent conflicts in the storyline, but was simply reflecting the confusion as it existed in the country at that time.

I can't say the professor writing off Susan's feelings as a crush bothered me or that I felt that particular plot aspect was that situation I felt he had a more realistic attitude which the mother was too close to the situation, and too worried about her daughter's feelings, to clearly see.

On the other hand I definitely would have liked to see the film underline even more Abby's emergence from the helpless spendthrift to the college- educated woman...the film depicted her hard work studying to pass the entrance exam, so she's clearly capable of being more than the rather airheaded woman of the film's opening scenes, and I would have liked to see it made clear that Abby, after having the exhilaration of the college experience, intends to complete her degree.

Best wishes,

12:56 AM  

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