(director: Don Weis; screenwriter: Max Shulman/from the story by Max Shulman; cinematographer: William Mellor; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: Jeff Alexander; cast: Debbie Reynolds (Pansy Hammer), Bobby Van (Dobie Gillis), Bob Fosse (Charlie Trask), Barbara Ruick (Lorna Ellingboe), Hans Conreid (Prof. Amos Pomfritt), Hanley Stafford (George Hammer, Pansy’s father), Lurene Tuttle (Ellen Hammer, Pansy’s mother), Charles Halton (Dean), Almira Sessions (Aunt Naomi), Charles Lane (Chemistry Professor Obispo), Kathleen Freeman (Happy Stella Kolawski), Archer MacDonald (Harry, head of literary magazine), Percy Helton (Campus Bookstore Owner); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur M. Loew Jr.; MGM; 1953)

“A spirited but nonsensical musical comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dopey or Dobie (whatever!) is a spirited but nonsensical musical comedy directed by Don Weis (“Billie”/”I Love Melvin”/”Half A Hero”).Writer Max Shulman bases it on his own story about the clean-cut, fun-loving Dobie Gillis’s (Bobby Van) adventures while attending Grainbelt University as an incoming freshman. The film’s best musical number was All I Do Is Dream of You.”It later became a long-running television sitcom series of the late ’50s-early ’60s.

The slight story line has the happy-go-lucky Dobie tell his college adviser during registration at the Midwestern university that he came to Grainbelt to meet girls and have fun. This impresses fellow freshman Charlie Trask (Bob Fosse), who arranges for them to be dorm roommates. That evening they attend a college freshman dance, and Dobie becomes smitten with the reserved Pansy Hammer (Debbie Reynolds) while Charlie is smitten with the flashy Lorna (Barbara Ruick). The problem for Charlie is that Lorna has fallen for Dobie, and the aggressive coed is not rebuffed when Dobie shows no interest in her and turns all his attention to Pansy.

Pansy is the only serious student of the foursome, who adopts her stern wealthy father’s (Hanley Stafford) motto: “Learn, Learn, Learn–Work, Work, Work.” This motto is ridiculed by Dobie’s lunkhead crew, but when Pansy follows dad’s advice and enrolls in the tough English grammar course of the stuffy acerbic Professor Pomfritt (Hans Conreid) and in the challenging chemistry course of taskmaster Professor Obispo (Charles Lane), Dobie also enrolls to be with Pansy and Lorna enrolls to be with Dobie and Charlie enrolls to be with Lorna.

Silly comedy is derived from the following: Pansy’s dad hating Dobie as a madman idler out to ruin his daughter and tries desperately to break up the relationship, while his calmer wife (Lurene Tuttle, actress Ruick’s real mother) encourages the relationship; Dobie and Pansy cutting classes to see each other during the day and learning that they will flunk out of school unless they make up the work; Pansy blowing up the chemistry lab while illegally studying there with Dobie overnight to cram for a final exam involving a lab experiment; Pansy’s irate father sending her to school in New York after speaking with the dean in regards to the incident; and Pansy now living with her stern aunt (Almira Sessions) in faraway New York, while Dobie schemes to be near her again. Finally, Dobie elicits the help of Happy Stella Kolawski’s (Kathleen Freeman) all-girl band to play at a school dance and have the gate receipts save the college’s financially troubled literary magazine–which in a madcap scene brings the lovebirds together again, as we get a happy ending.

The patchy production didn’t work for me, but there must be something impressive about stringing such nonsense together into a popular film and having such a trifle still be fondly remembered after sixty years.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”