Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Sorority House (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SORORITY HOUSE (1939) is a terrific little RKO "B" film recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

A radiant Anne Shirley plays Alice Fisher, daughter of a small-town grocer (J.M. Kerrigan). Alice unexpectedly is able to accomplish her dream of going to Talbot College, and she's immediately off to campus.

Alice loves everything about college: Her roommates Dotty (Barbara Read) and Merle (Adele Pearce, aka Pamela Blake); handsome medical student Bill (James Ellison); and the entire sorority scene. (She does also mention enjoying learning at one point, though we never see her in class!)

Alice and Merle both long to join a sorority, although the fact that sophomore Dotty was rejected the previous year stands as a caution to their aspirations -- especially given that Dotty might be the nicest, most sensible person on campus.

Alice begins to wake up to the problems of sororities when she is briefly embarrassed to introduce her father to the elites attending a sorority party. By later than night, when sorority bids go out, she's having serious second thoughts about joining a club which excludes others.

I first reviewed this film in 2010, and I had a good time returning to it after getting to know the entire cast better in the ensuing seven years. I tend to enjoy "college" films, and exclusive sororities in particular can raise thorny questions. SORORITY HOUSE efficiently tackles the issues; at just 64 minutes long, it also has the advantage of making its points while not having time to become overly bogged down with melodramatic sturm und drang.

I also like a later film about sororities, TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951), but I admire what SORORITY HOUSE accomplishes in just 2/3 of the later film's running time.

Shirley was a very appealing actress, and I really enjoy her sincere appreciation of all her new experiences in this film. Her romance with the straight arrow Ellison is one of the nicest things about the movie.

Barbara Read (THREE SMART GIRLS, CORONER CREEK) was a special actress I wish had had more and better parts. Her distinctive presence elevates the film; one senses that while the sororities might have chosen to leave her Dotty out of their groups, the self-possessed young woman with lovely dark braids will go far in life.

SORORITY HOUSE was made by a crack team of pros including director John Farrow, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

There's a fairly big "blip" in the picture towards the end of the movie, but for the most part this is a good-looking print with strong sound. There are no extras on the disc.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Kristina said...

I really like TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL and most college movies, but haven't seen this one--that's a fine combo of film-making pros indeed!

2:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kristina! If you like TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL you will like this one too, I'm sure! It's very well done.

College-set movies and books are a lot of fun -- I also treasure my copy of the novel which inspired TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL.

Best wishes,

3:32 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Is to enthusiastically recommend spending time with these people and Dalton Trumbo's shot at the private club, fraternity/sorority world on campus. Recent headlines of men tortured literally to death at initiations are just disgusting. Normally I am all for classic Americana nd its traditions, but this time, the point is so well made by the production team, that anyone with a social conscience has to be moved. I was.

10:48 AM  

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