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Universal Studios Home Video presents
College Swing / The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)

Mabel: That kiss took a lot out of you, huh?
Bud Brady: Why not? You kiss like a vacuum cleaner.

- Martha Raye, Bob Hope

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: March 13, 2002

Stars: Bob Hope, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Edward Everett Horton, W. C. Fields, Dorothy Lamour
Other Stars: Ben Blue, Shep Fields, Kirsten Flagstad, Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan, Florence George, John Payne, Robert Cummings, Skinnay Ennis, Shirley Ross, Lynne Overman, Rufe Davis, Leif Erickson, Grace Bradley, Tito Guizar
Director: Raoul Walsh, Mitchell Leisen

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:57m:27s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 025192146220
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B-B-C C

DVD Review

Bob Hope's first two feature films are on this swanky new disc from Universal. Let's get right to all the silliness, shall we?

College Swing

Gracie: Will this be legal if I sign with your pen?
Bud: Can you keep a secret? It's not really my pen.

College Swing is a piffle of a movie, with a serviceable plot loosely stringing together comic bits, and some nice songs from familiar performers from the period. (None of the tunes are especially memorable, but they come with a fine pedigree, as they're written in part by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser.) The story begins with an extended prologue, set at Alden University in 1738, in which everybody dost speaketh in fake archaic English. (The Alden exteriors look suspiciously like UCLA, though the interiors are obviously on a soundstage.) The setup is this: despite being founded by the Alden family, not one female Alden has the intellectual prowess to graduate. A deal is struck: the Aldens will turn over the university to the faculty, and if an Alden woman graduates any time in the next two hundred years, the university goes back to the family.

Jump ahead to 1938, with the deal about to run out: Gracie, the last hope for the Aldens, is preparing to take her exam. (Gracie Allen plays Gracie Alden; as the similarities in the names suggest, it's pretty obviously a cashing in on Gracie's radio persona, and George Burns is along for the ride as her straight man.) She's a hopeless student, but cheats her way to success, aided and abetted by Bob Hope, as Bud Brady. (The general level of goofiness is established early, when we meet the faculty with their absurdly meteorological names: Professor Breeze, Professor Storm and Dr. Shower.) Bob and Gracie take over the college, installing a faculty of crazy people, my favorite of which is the teeny tiny nonsense-spewing narcoleptic professor of economics. (His descendants surely flourish in campuses all over the country today.) Also on faculty now is the fresh mouth, Martha Raye, masquerading as Mademoiselle Teresa Teresa, professor of romance. (If you've only seen Raye in the denture cream commercials, you may be surprised at how winning a presence she is here; I know I was.)

Things are made right by someone's mad Uncle Hubert, who comes in from years in the jungle, and Martha helps him conquer his phobia of women. The movie is a little uneven, with some of it downright hilarious, but with other bits (like the one with the new phys ed instructor) that just try too hard. The highlight is surely the duet between Raye and Hope, climaxing with their crashing through his office door.

The Big Broadcast of 1938

"Fine people, widows. Had one of the best times of my life with a widow. Escorted her through a brewery. She got all hopped up about it."
- S. B. Bellows

Though it's listed second on this DVD, The Big Broadcast of 1938 is actually Hope's first feature film (he had appeared in some shorts previously), and is probably most notable in his career as the movie that introduced his theme song, Thanks for the Memory. It's performed here as a rueful duet with Shirley Ross, and stripped away from the cheesy context of countless NBC specials, it's a really nice song, full of wistfulness and charm, reminiscent of such great tunes as These Foolish Things.

This was the fourth and final of the Big Broadcast movies, and it's even more of a vaudeville than College Swing. Jig's up on this from the credits, in which a couple of the performers are billed as "specialties." My favorite of these is surely Kirsten Flagstad, a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera, on hand to sing Brünnhilde's battlecry from Wagner's Die Walküre; it's completely ahistorical, I know, but it's hard to hear this music in a movie and not think of Robert Duvall on the helicopter in Apocalypse Now, playing the same aria.

The thin plot concerns a race between two ocean liners, the S. S. Gigantic and the S. S. Colossal, the former of which is owned by S. B. Bellows and his twin brother, G. F., both played by W. C. Fields. There's an extended sequence on a golf course with Fields that rivals anything in Caddyshack (he plays alone, with six caddies), and his pool game on board the ship is equally hilarious. He takes it as good as he gives it, too; for instance, one woman who parries his advances asks: "Is that a tomato he's eating, or is that his nose?" Hope as Buzz Brady is pursued by his three ex-wives chasing after their alimony payments, and by Dorothy Lamour, who's slated to be the fourth Mrs. Brady. Martha Raye washes up as Fields's long-lost daughter, Lamour falls out of love with Hope, who in turn falls back in love with one of his exes. The story isn't hardly the point, but the film is a nice diversion, and let me also add a kind word for Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra, who perform a number with an animated drop of water, a sequence that's an obvious cinematic forebear to Fantasia.



Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: At times the picture looks quite spectacular, pristine and clean, with good, strong steady black levels. But scratches and debris mar the image with some frequency, and on Big Broadcast especially, picture distortion creeps in.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Both films sound generally pretty good, and not too biffed up by the years, though the limitations of the source material are evident, with some nasty hiss especially on College Swing.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:26m:28s

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD recommendations
  2. offer to sign up via the Internet for a Universal DVD newsletter
Extras Review: There's an original trailer for College Swing, with Burns and Allen talking right at the camera, proclaiming the movie "the season's gayest musical!"; there isn't one for Big Broadcast. The same couple of bars of music play over the main menu for both movies, and the tune soon becomes very annoying. Each movie has brief biographies and selected filmographies for the five leading performers and the respective directors, as well as some brief production notes. The DVD recommendations are for other Bob Hope titles, and they're the same with both movies here, as is the URL for the Universal DVD newsletter.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Both films here offer amusing diversions, in a put-everything-in-the-mix-and-see-what-comes-out kind of way. The disc is part of a Bob Hope collection, though Hope isn't front and center; still, it's fun to see him and other performers who you may know only by reputation at the top of their game, and I bet you'll come away finding yourself humming a few bars of Thanks for the Memory.

 


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