College Swing (1938) [also released as Ritmi a scuola (Rhythms to School) in Italy and as Swing, Teacher Swing in the UK] is a musical comedy released by Paramount Studios as one way to cash in on the Swing Music craze while showcasing plenty of their comedy stars.
It is 1738 and the Alden family decides that if no Alden female passes the university's entrance exam within 200 years then ownership of their university will be turned over to the Guarantee Trust Company. Fast forward to 1938, and ditsy Gracie Alden (Gracie Allen) is the last hope to keep the college in the family.
Sleazy Bud Brady (Bob Hope) offers to help Gracie cheat, for a price. Gracie passes the exam, makes herself the Dean of Men, brings in a gaggle of kooky professors and turns the school into one big swinging party.
Of course, there are those who suspect foul play and would like to stop the party, including the Guarantee Trust Company representative, Hurbert Dash (Edward Everett Horton), and his assistant George Jonas (George Burns). And there are those who would like to stop the people who want to stop the party, including Bud and his new love interest Mabel (Martha Raye).
Among the kooky new professors, who drive the current professors crazy, are these:
Mabel (Martha Raye), who is the professor of Love, but her only student seems to be Bud. She's the one who helps Bud scare away the woman-phobic Hurbert Dash.
Ben Volt (Ben Blue), who is professor of Physical Education for ladies. Basically he just conks himself on the head with weights in front of a lot of leggy female coeds in the gym.
Yascha Koloski (Jerry Colonna), professor of Music, who comes in to sing a song called "Please" and roll his famous eyes around. How he doesn't faint from squeezing out those notes, I'll never know.
Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan, and Skinnay Ennis are students who never seem to go to class and who are around basically to swing, sing and dance the title song.
The film takes a short breather, however, any time the star-crossed lovers, students Ginna Ashburn (Florence George) and Martin Bates (John Payne), come on to grieve over their romance being interrupted by circumstances. Though the tone is slightly less kooky in these scenes, somehow this storyline does not interrupt the flow.
Lots of plot points run simultaneously (even Gracie unintentionally seducing Hubert) and meet up at the finale for a second exam and another huge party. High energy packs the zaniness into a mere 86 minutes.
left to right, Edward Everett Horton, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, George Burns, Ben Blue, Florence George, John Payne, Betty Grable and Jackie Coogan in a publicity still.
By the way, look for the back of the head of a young Bob Cummings as the radio announcer in the finale. His unique cotton-mouthed voice is unmistakable.
MY FAVORITE SONGS
"The Old School Bell" - Robert Mitchell and St. Brendan's Choristers sing this song in the 18th century portion of this film. They anachronistically "swing" it, prompting one of the elders to ask the lead boy's name ("Benny Goodman"), to which he responds "No goodst will ever comest of thee!" Hilarious.
Musical comedy films of this time had a habit of swinging almost any piece of music they could get their hands on.
"College Swing" - [Frank Loesser (lyrics), Hoagy Carmichael (music)] is performed at the beginning of the film to highlight the kind of high swinging atmosphere the students prefer. It is also reprised with Martha Raye belting it out for the grand finale. Fun elaborate dances abound.
"What a Rhumba Does to Romance" - [Frank Loesser (lyrics), Manning Sherwin (music)] - Martha Raye's aggressive singing and Ben Blue's slithering Rumba steps (Does the man have bones?) crack me up every time in this song that has nothing to do with the plot.
See my College Swing (1938) photo set on Flickr.
See the College Swing (1939) trailer here.