Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: A Yank at Oxford (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Taylor stars as A YANK AT OXFORD (1938), available from the Warner Archive.

A YANK AT OXFORD is one of a number of Taylor films released by the Warner Archive this year. I've previously reviewed Taylor in this year's Archive releases REMEMBER? (1939), SONG OF RUSSIA (1944), and VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954).

A YANK AT OXFORD was one of a handful of films made by MGM British Studios before the war brought the studio's productions there to an end. Other MGM British films included HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940), yet another of this year's Warner Archive releases.

Taylor stars as Lee Sheridan, an American college star athlete who receives a scholarship to Oxford. Lee is a nice enough fellow, but he's also a little full of himself, and he comes off to his new British classmates as the cliched "Ugly American."

The rough treatment of the British students wears some of the rough edges off Lee, and he's also mellowed as he courts charming Molly Beaumont (Maureen O'Sullivan). Unfortunately Molly's brother Paul (Griffith Jones of MIRANDA) is Lee's arch-enemy, but Lee gradually makes friends with the other students (including a young Robert Coote).

Paul, meanwhile, is spending time with a flirtatious married bookstore clerk (Vivien Leigh) and risks being "sent down" (expelled) if he's caught.

A YANK AT OXFORD is a good exemplar of the typical quality of MGM productions of the era. Despite the fact that a dozen people worked on the story and screenplay, including Frank "Spig" Wead, Sidney Gilliat (THE LADY VANISHES), and even F. Scott Fitzgerald, too many cooks didn't spoil the broth, but instead produced an entertaining film which maintains viewer interest for its 102 minutes.

The movie may be a tad predictable, at least from the vantage point of 2016, but it goes down very smoothly thanks to good production values and a strong cast. One can't help feeling a bit wistful watching the film, knowing that the cozy, tradition-laden England depicted in the film would soon be fighting for its survival.

Lionel Barrymore plays Lee's father, who's perhaps just a little too proud of his boy. This was one of the last roles Barrymore played in which he walks; he would successfully continue acting for many years from a wheelchair, including the long-running Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie films, all of which have been reviewed here.

Walter Kingsford, who played Dr. Carew in the Kildare films, plays the kindly college dean who obtains Lee's scholarship, while Edmund Gwenn is Lee's dean at Oxford. Also in the cast are Claude Gillingwater, Tully Marshall, Peter Croft, and C.V. France. Future star Dennis O'Keefe is said to be in the racetrack scene, and another future star, Richard Todd, is listed as an extra.

Taylor and O'Sullivan were both 25 when this was filmed, and they are believable as college students, with an appealing chemistry. They also worked together in THE CROWD ROARS (1938).

Just a couple of years after this film, Taylor would reunite with supporting actress Leigh in WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), one of his personal favorite career films. There are glimpses of Scarlett O'Hara in Leigh's bookstore vixen, yet her performance does not hint at the power and depth she would bring to her role in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) the following year.

A YANK AT OXFORD was directed by Jack Conway and filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson.

A YANK AT OXFORD is a good-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger barrylane said...

A good film. Later the same year, Louis Hayward did The Duke of West Point, which is structured in a similar vein, but in reverse, with an English fellow in America. Not at all the same with regards to the female lead, which in this case was Joan Fontaine, but the misunderstood athletic hero parallel's Robert Taylor's character, with Ice Hockey an exciting substitute for rowing. Often disparaged, but quite successful at the time. Opened at Radio City Music Hall when that was a very big deal. Richard Carlson, a favorite here I believe, is part of an outstanding cast.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That title does sound good! You recall correctly that I am a Richard Carlson fan. I have a copy of that film, although I haven't checked out the picture quality. I should bump it up in my viewing stack.

The rowing scenes in A YANK AT OXFORD, incidentally, were really interesting, even with some stock footage mixed in. Exciting and nice atmosphere.

Best wishes,

8:24 PM  

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