Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Young Lana Turner

TCM is honoring big bands every Wednesday night in July; Artie Shaw and his band appear alongside Lana Turner in one of tongights more interesting selections: Dancing Co-Ed, airing overnight at 1:30 AM ET on July 3 (that's late in the evening of July 2 in the Mountain and Pacific time zones).

In Dancing Co-Ed, Ann Rutherford stars as a secretary to an agent for a dancer. Unfortunately, the dancer's wife, who is also his normal dancing partner, has just gotten pregnant, meaning that any new projects will be put on hold. Or maybe not: Rutherford and her boss come up with an idea for a dance contest. Co-eds at colleges across America will be able to enter a contest to determine who the dancer's new partner will be. The only thing is, it's going to be a rigged contest, with a dancer they want to promote (this is where Lana Turner shows up) being entered into the contest as a ringer. Of course, the girl has to get into college.... As a result, Turner and Rutherford enroll at the same college, with Rutherford taking the entrance exam for Turner.

Things go nicely until rich big man on campus Richard Carlson falls in love with Lana Turner. (Who wouldn't?) He's the editor of the campus newspaper, and has the distinct feeling that there's something not quite right about the contest. He's determined to expose the contest as the sham he (rightly) believes it is. The film bogs down a bit here, including our two lovebirds being temporarily expelled, since it's more about the music and the dancing than it is about any semblance of a plot. Eventually, we get to the final competition, in which Turner is supposed to win, but is otherwise indisposed; this being a Hollywood musical, you know there's eventually going to be a happy ending, although I won't give away exactly how it ends. The dancing is fun -- I don't think Lana Turner got to dance like this very often in the movies -- and if you enjoy swing music, then it's a great joy to be able to watch the music of Artie Shaw. As long as you don't expect this movie to be anything more than frivolous escapism, you'll find it a lot of fun. In addition to the stars, the cast also includes some well-known character actors, including Monty Woolley as a college professor; two names more familiar to serious movie buffs, Leon Errol and Lee Bowman; and Roscoe Karns, who appeared in the recently-aired His Girl Friday but might be best known as irritating bus passenger Oscar Shavely in It Happened One Night.

As for the plot, the TCM database has a very interesting synopsis: "A college girl fights to survive in academia and show business." Technically true, but in no way representative of what the movie is really about. (Ironically, my satellite box guide gets it right.) The other interesting piece of trivia is that for once, we actually have two people who would have been the correct age to play college freshmen; Lana Turner and Ann Rutherford were both 18 when the movie was released. (Richard Carlson, on the other hand, was 27. He would also go on to play another college kid the next year in Too Many Girls.) Sadly, Dancing Co-Ed is not available on DVD, so you'll have to look for one of its infrequent showings on TCM.

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