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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Barrymore Bedlam On Campus

Why Sacrifice a Smoke For Publicity's Sake?, Says Jawn, Who'll Not Lay That
Cigarette Down To Pose With Co-Stars Marjorie Weaver and George Murphy

Frolic and Football in Hold That Co-Ed (1938)

Stars In Person at Frisco's Warfield Theatre
Can deep south governor John Barrymore peddle enough influence to win humble State College a nationwide gridiron pennant? The site isn't emphasized, but dialogue and incidents point to Louisiana, where Kingfish Huey Long was lately dominant until  assassin intervention in September 1935. Three years past made the Dixie plutocrat fair game for laffs, so long as references stayed obscure, with Barrymore's buffoon only suggested by real-life Long and events in Louisiana. Hold That Co-Ed is otherwise a "football musical" out of that 30's bank to which studios made annual deposit. The brand was safe and therefore prolific, but wait, Hold That Co-Ed lost money for 20th Fox, $219,000 in fact, despite being modestly done on a $678K negative cost. Was patronage tiring of collegiate capers? It's maybe not coincidence that there was less of such after 1938.


A reason, maybe the reason, to watch Hold That Co-Ed, is Barrymore. His hair askew and face bandaged (is that explained?), Jack gives way to abandon of the corrupt, but comic, sovereign he plays, his lines spat at cue cards held offscreen. The collapsed profile could still muster magic on good days, and was not so prideful as to burlesque at less than full-tilt as here. To direction of that was lent George Marshall, ideally suited to Hold That Co-Ed and farcing done broad. Marshall had guided comedy in smaller doses, at Fox in fact, during silent days when he oversaw two-reelers that maintained high laughing standard. Hold That Co-Ed plays casual and  amuses all the more for that. Marshall, who often as not showed up for work in ball cap and zip-up jacket, keeps a merry pace and gives livelier account of campus life than Paramount had on longer, and slower, occasions when they addressed higher yearning (romance in Co-Ed's instance is between George Murphy and Marjorie Weaver, but they barely register in the face of Barrymore bellowing). Former Our Gang-er Johnny Downs is among the student body, and sharp eyes will spot Glenn Morris, a same year Tarzan, mingled amongst collegiates. Hold That Co-Ed turns up occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel.

3 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

What gets me is that the theater and/or Fox is pushing the personal appearance of Marjorie Weaver above Joan Davis and Jack Haley. Such is the result of star-making machinery, I guess.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

John Barrymore's final years of self lampoon allowed his unbridled ham to have full scope in a number of "B" comedies towards the end.

If one was looking for signs subtlety from the Great Profile in his last six or seven years in the movies, it requires an effort to find it, though it was, on occasion, effectively in evidence (Great Man Votes and Midnight coming to mind as illustrations of a formerly great artist still capable of briefly rising to the occasion).

I only have the vaguest of memories of Hold That Co-Ed, but subtlety is definitely not one of the verbs that would best be used to describe its comedy. Barrymore was, as you say, John, the primary reason to watch the film. Whatever else one might say about this ham performance, dull it's not.

One of the last of the Barrymores that I haven't seen in decades is World Premiere. It's a 1941 Paramount screwball satire on the movies, with John B. as a madcap Hollywood producer mixed up with, among other things, Nazi agents.

I remember recalling it as a really wild comedy, with my primary memory being that of character actor Fritz Feld as a Nazi kook who gets into a fight with a lion, at one point biting the big cat on the tail.

A dark haired Frances Farmer (as a tempermental actress, I believe) is also a part of the proceedings.

From what little I've read about it, World Premiere does not enjoy much of a reputation, but I would love to see this frantic comedy again anyway.


12:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I'm one of those heathens who think that Barrymore is hilarious for much of his final movie, "Playmates," even if the script is less than stellar. His final movies appear to reflect his alleged attitude of never taking acting as seriously as did his sister Ethel.

2:26 PM  

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