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"A youthful, tuneful, joyous shot in the arm in the form of the gayest, fastest-paced film ever brightened by Technicolor's magic!" Collier's Magazine, on Good News
Good News (1947) is not a movie which is often written about or even remembered today, which makes it a total delight to discover for the first time. It's an unpretentious, colorful, simple little musical which thankfully never tries to be grand or overblown; the subject matter - a frothy college campus story - just wouldn't support that kind of weight. In fact, the story is flat-out ridiculous. Peter Lawford is a football hero who can't make his grades, so June Allyson, who's working her way through college as a librarian, tutors him in French and falls for him in the process. Patricia Marshall, meanwhile, plays the college sexpot who wants Lawford for herself. Can Lawford pass French, win the big game and wind up with the right girl? The answers may be obvious, but the story is completely serviceable as an excuse for some charming song-and-dance numbers.
College musicals were extremely popular in the early studio era, and Good News was one of the best. It began as a 1927 stage hit and was first filmed in 1930, starring Bessie Love. For the 1947 version, MGM's "Freed Unit" took the reigns. Arthur Freed had recently racked up some pretty impressive producing credits, including Babes in Arms (1939), For Me and My Gal (1942), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and The Harvey Girls (1946). (Still in the future lay On the Town (1949), The Band Wagon (1953) and other hits). For this remake Freed hired Betty Comden and Adolph Green to update the script - their first screen credit of a career that would soon include Singin' in the Rain (1952). The property already had some good songs, including "The Best Things in Life Are Free," but Freed brought on Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane to add a couple of new ones: "The French Lesson" and "Pass That Peace Pipe," the latter of which featured a sensational Joan McCracken dance routine and went on to earn an Oscar nomination. (It lost to "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," from Disney's Song of the South, a film which is sadly unavailable in today's politically correct climate.)
Making his directorial debut was Charles Walters, who had entered the movies as a choreographer and had earned this big break. He acquitted himself nicely: Good News was a huge hit. Freed was happy ("It made nothing but money!" he said of the film) and rewarded Walters with the reigns to Easter Parade (1948), a serious step up in terms of stars and prestige.
Good News also cemented husky-voiced June Allyson as a star. (The huskiness was caused by chronic bronchitis and enlarged vocal chords.) Born Ella Geisman, Allyson had started her Hollywood career in the middle of WWII, a time in which her image of wholesomeness was something the public wanted to see, especially when she was paired with that bobby-soxers' delight, Van Johnson. Louis B. Mayer wanted the pair to date, in fact, because it would create good publicity for the MGM machine, and they did go out on a few arranged dates. But June and Van were already extremely close friends - like a brother and sister - and they just laughed at the absurdity of it all. To Mayer's dismay, Allyson fell in love with Dick Powell (or as she called him, Richard), who was going through a divorce. Eventually, not only did Allyson and Powell marry, in 1945, but Louis B. Mayer gave away the bride. They divorced in 1961, reunited a few months later, and then Powell died of cancer in 1963.
Regarding Good News, "Everything about the movie was unbelievable," Allyson wrote in her memoirs. "No one made any effort to change Peter Lawford's British accent to American. For that matter, my French accent was atrocious and his was superb - he spent hours teaching me how to teach him French. Working with Peter Lawford was like going to a party. He made a game of whatever he did." But according to Lawford biographer James Spada, the young actor was extremely nervous about this role - his biggest to date - and he worked tremendously hard to pull off the required singing and dancing. This prompted amazement from his old dance teacher back East, who had tried in vain to teach him proper rhythm. She said, "Anybody who could teach that boy to sing and dance in time has got to be a genius."
Allyson and Lawford made a good team. They had already worked together on Two Sisters from Boston (1946) and would appear together in two later films: Little Women (1949) and They Only Kill Their Masters (1972).
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Buddy G. DeSylva (play), Ray Henderson (play), Frank Mandel (play), Laurence Schwab (play)
Cinematography: Charles E. Schoenbaum
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Ralph Blane, Buddy G. DeSylva, Roger Edens, Ray Henderson, Hugh Martin
Cast: June Allyson (Connie Lane), Peter Lawford (Tommy Marlowe), Patricia Marshall (Pat McClellan), Joan McCracken (Babe Doolittle), Ray McDonald (Bobby Turner), Mel Torm (Danny).
C-94m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold