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Sorority House (1939) from RKO-Radio Pictures was directed by John Farrow, and based on the short story Chi House by Mary Coyle Chase (who would later write Harvey). The screenplay was adapted by Dalton Trumbo and has more than a passing resemblance to RKO's 1934 film Finishing School. Like Revenge of the Nerds (1984) released forty-five years later, it tells the tale of a college student who becomes disillusioned with campus social groups. College films have been popular since the 1920s when most colleges became co-educational. In the 1920s, campus "vamps" and boys wearing raccoon coats drank bootleg liquor and worried about who would win the big football game. After the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, college films became more serious.
The plot of Sorority House differs from the earlier films because it focuses on the negative aspects of sorority life. Poor girls being looked down upon and rejected by wealthy sorority girls and the tragic consequences are as relevant today as they were in 1939.
Sorority House was not an important film for most of its participants; it was just another "B" picture for RKO, but it does contain an early appearance by Marge Champion and it was also Veronica Lake's first film. Both play unnamed co-eds. Former Powers model Doris Davenport (who would be more famous as Gary Cooper's co-star in The Westerner the following year) plays snooty sorority girl Neva Simpson.
The New York Times review of Sorority House from May 18, 1939, took little notice of the film, "Thankful as we ever are for small favors, we must acknowledge our indebtedness to the Palace's Sorority House for a new word, dreep. It would be listed in the dictionary thus: "Dreep, n., colloq. A combination of dreary and weep; used to designate female students at Talbot University who have not been elected to membership in any of the sororities." Anne Shirley, fearful of becoming a dreep, (the fate worse than death), was mortified when her father, a humble grocer, called at the Gamma house on pledge night; but she recovered in time, proudly tore up the sorority bid and decided the Gammas were snobs anyway. Hoisting RKO by its own petard, Sorority House is a dreep."
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Mary Coyle Chase, Dalton Trumbo
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editing: Harry Marker
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Anne Shirley (Alice Fisher), James Ellison (Bill Loomis), Barbara Read (Dorothy Spencer), Pamela Blake (Merle Scott), J.M. Kerrigan (Lew Fisher), Helen Wood (Mme. President Martha Lanigan).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The New York Times: The Screen by Frank S. Nugent, May 18, 1939
The Internet Movie Database