Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hold That Co-Ed

I was stuck inside this morning waiting for that blizzard that never really hit the Catskills, and so had the chance to watch Hold That Co-Ed on FXM Retro. It's a charmingly stupid little movie, and is on FXM Retro again early tomorrow morning (January 28) at 4:35 AM if you want to watch it for yourself.

George Murphy (later host of the MGM Parade that shows up on TCM from time to time) plays Rusty, a college football star, although we only know that from a montage of newspaper headlines pointing out his derring-do on the field. Now he's going to be a coach at one of those big midwestern state schools, and shows up to find a beautiful campus with a well-funded football team. The only thing is, he's at the wrong school, Clayton University; the State school is just down the road. When Coach Rusty gets there, he finds that college President Fletcher (Donald Meek) has decided to cancel the football season because they're not getting any funding for a football team from the Governor. Indeed, there's only one football, and no money for equipment.

This being one of those silly college movies from the 1930s, the coach does what any good coach would do: he gets the team to march on the Governor's mansion. Not just the team, but it seems the entire student body, which is entirely too small for a state school, but this is the sort of the movie where you don't worry about minor things like continuity or even a sensible plot. Governor Gaby Harrigan (John Barrymore) stopped funding football because he's on a money-saving drive, trying to show the electorate he's fiscally prudent since he's running for the US Senate. Of course, he's also fiscally imprudent in that one of his campaign planks is to give everybody over 60 free sh*t in the form of a $400 a month pension, but as I said don't expect plot coherence. The college is able to convince the governor to start funding football again on the grounds that he'll lose votes otherwise, and he can speak to captive audiences at each game at the big stadium.

Of course, that big stadium hasn't been built yet, but with the Governor's help, they're able to build a 100,000 seat stadium in three weeks! And Harrigan is able to pull in some political favors (call it corruption if you'd like) to get the big schools to schedule games against State. Meanwhile, Coach Rusty has fallen in love with the governor's secretary Marjorie (Marjorie Weaver). While the stadium is being built, the governor gets hit in the head with a football. That ball was kicked by Lizzie Olsen (Joan Davis), the daughter of a famous college football star of days gone by. But she can kick the ball, so they put her on the team, along with a pair of wrestler ringers.

Ultimately, the team's season comes down to a big game against the aforemnetioned Clayton, which was obviously only mentioned at the beginning so that we could have this dramatic climax. Making matters more dramatic is tht Harrigan's opponent in the Senate race, Breckenridge (George Barbier), is a regent at Clayton, and the two make a wager that the one whose team loses has to drop out of the Senate race. Really.

There's a lot of dumbness to Hold That Co-Ed. Football fans will cringe at how little of the football resembles anything real, even by 1930s standards. The game has changed a lot in 75 years, but if you score a touchdown, you don't have your opponents kick off an onside kick at you! All the tropes about college life in the 1930s are here as well, with the student body performing a musical number on the way to the Governor's mansion, or every single member of the student body getting the school spirit for the game, yelling "Block that kick!" in a way that sounds exactly the same whether it's the State students or the Clayton students doing it.

John Barrymore was an alcoholic and the booze took a toll on his career and ultimately his life, resulting in his early death a few years after this movie was made. He comes across as a buffoon at times, but that's actually in keeping with the charactre. (His hair, on the other hand, looks terrible.) Overall, though, he winds up more memorable than Murphy. The one other memorable character is the lady place kicker, who incongruously doesn't wear a helmet when she kicks and does this bizarre dance when she comes on the field. They say kickers are squirrely, and Lizzie is too, albeit in a different way.

Overall, Hold That Co-Ed is by no means an award-winner. But if you like vintage movies and don't mind an out-of-place musical number or two, Hold That Co-Ed is also a suitably brief (about 80 minutes) time-passer. As far as I know it's not available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the infrequent FXM showing.

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