Movie Review: Let’s Go Collegiate (1941)
The Kappa Psi Delta fraternity on the Rawley University campus is abuzz with excitement. They’re getting a new frat brother and member of the rowing team, Bob Terry, who was a champion stroke at his prep school. No one’s ever seen a picture of him, but with his help, Rawley might actually win the big meet this year for the first time since 1928.
Then Tad (Jackie Moran), fraternity president, bandleader and second stroke on the team, learns that Bob’s been drafted and will be unable to come. He and coxswain Frankie (Frankie Darro) try to break this news to their girlfriends from the sister sorority Bess (Marcia Mae Jones) and Midge (Gale Storm), who have been planning a huge party to welcome Bob. They can’t quite bring themselves to let the girls down and are unable to tell the truth before the girls leave.
Frankie and Tad are being driven around by the house servant Jeff (Mantan Moreland) when they spot a strong-looking young fellow hoisting a safe onto a truck. (It doesn’t occur to them to wonder why he’s doing this.) They approach “Herk” with the notion of posing as Bob Terry for the duration of the party, buying him off with ten dollars.
At the party, the tall, relatively handsome and outgoing Herk is a hit with the ladies, despite his uncouth speech and mannerisms. He decides he wants to be Bob Terry some more, or he’ll spill the beans. Thus Herk must attend classes as Bob, despite having little education, and serve on the rowing team, despite a seasickness problem. Tad and Frankie are assisted in this by their fraternity brother Buck (Keye Luke), who acts as the rowing team coach’s assistant.
Things get tighter for Frankie and Tad when their respective girlfriends dump them for “Bob”, and their own grades suffer from having to spend their time tutoring Herk. Worse yet, a couple of overly inquisitive alumni arrive just before the big race, and begin to piece together what’s really going on.
This 1941 film is on my””Musicals” DVD collection, though it’s more of a movie with musical interruptions. It’s pretty precisely dated because of the peacetime draft (started September 1940) being a plot point. it’s a lighthearted film with some nice music, and some bits are still funny. If you like the “wacky scheme that snowballs way out of control” plotline, this is your kind of movie.
I like that Kappa Psi Delta will pledge Chinese-Americans; Buck is treated as an equal by his frat brothers, although there’s a little ethnic “humor” at his expense (and the alumni are outright rude to him.) Not so good is the treatment of Jeff, who is stuck with the role of comical sidekick and forced to do anything the white students demand of him. (On the other hand, he’s a lot more honest with his love interest Malvina (Marguerite Whitten), the servant at the sorority house (she gets the “sassy black woman” stereotype.) Compared to Tad and Frankie, Jeff comes off pretty good.)
And Midge and Bess are depicted as shallow young women who are easily fooled by Herk’s “aw shucks” demeanor–it’s not until the big race that they realize he’s been playing them.
As for Herk himself, he’s a more complex character than he might look. He’s a bad person, but he seems to genuinely want to learn when he gets the chance, and help the team win. If only he weren’t so self-centered, Herk might have had a redemption story here..
Treat this movie as a time capsule, and it’s not half bad, but if you are watching it with younger viewers, prepare to discuss some important ethical topics.