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SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Edmund L. Hartmann/Robert Hardy Andrews/from a story by Robert Hardy Andrews; cinematographer: Franz Planer; editor: William A. Lyon; music: Eddie Cherkose/Jacques Krakeur/Jacques Press/Walter G. Samuels; cast: Ruby Keeler (Betty Blake), Ozzie Nelson (Ozzie Norton), Harriet Hilliard (Harriet Hale), Gordon Oliver (Terry Jones), Don Beddoe (Sheriff Denby), Charles Judels (Victor Demond), Kathleen Howard (Mrs. Minnie Sparr), Leo Watson (Tom Tom), Byron Foulger (Dr. Bailey), George Lessey (Dr. Hale), Frank Gaby (Dr. Grimsby), Four Spirits of Rhythm (themselves); Runtime: 69; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Fier; Columbia; 1941)
“Mildly pleasing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A silly but lively tune-filled modest B-film musical comedy from the Swing era. It was 31-year-old Ruby Keeler’s last starring film role. Edward Dmytryk (“Captive Wild Woman”/”Seven Miles from Alcatraz”/”The Devil Commands”) directs this one inventively, making it better than the slight material warranted, wisely using European exile cinematographer Franz Planer’s glossy shots to full advantage. It’s based on the story by Robert Hardy Andrews, who cowrites it with Edmund L. Hartmann. If you pass over the dumb plotline without getting caught in how ridiculous it is, like Dmytryk seems to do, the film is mildly pleasing.

Before jazz bandleader Ozzie Norton (Ozzie Nelson) and his featured tap dancer Betty Blake (Ruby Keeler) are about to open in Victor’s College Club adjacent to the all-male campus of Lambert Tech College, the college’s high-handed puritanical chairman of the board, Mrs. Minnie Lambert Sparr (Kathleen Howard), closes it down by using an archaic state law that forbids the operation of a nightclub within five miles of the campus. It seems Mrs. Sparr is deliberately trying to get the failing college to close by sabotaging all its efforts to recruit. Under the terms of her late brother’s will, the land on which he bestowed on the college will revert to her if enrollment drops below 300 students. After dropping the sports program and all frills, the enrollment after graduation will be under the magical number needed. Harriet Hale (Harriet Hilliard, Ozzie’s real-life wife), the daughter of Dr. Hale, a professor at Lambert, sides with the band and proposes they all enroll in the college to boost enrollment. The band’s publicist, Terry Jones (Gordon Oliver), gets a publicity drive going around the fact that the good looking Betty is the only co-ed on campus. The band uses the college television station to perform a number featuring Harriet singing to some boogie-woogie rhythms, and the band then turns the abandoned gym into a nightclub named the “College Club.” Mrs. Sparr’s protest have no legal backing, and the college attracts man-loving co-eds and guys who revive the football team because of the music. In a last ditch effort, Mrs. Sparr conspires with Dr. Bailey to make difficult final exams so all the students will fail. But you don’t want to know the absurd way Betty resupplied the student body after the examination ploy worked, since it hardly matters in such a nonsensical film. It was the type of B-film Dmytryk felt fortunate to escape from and move on to making A films.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”