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A Yank at Oxford

A Yank at Oxford(1938)

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teaser A Yank at Oxford (1938)

Robert Taylor's roles in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1935) and Camille (1937) established him as a romantic lead. While female audiences loved him in these roles, men found him too weak. According to Lawrence J. Quirk in The Films of Robert Taylor, MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer gave Taylor the lead role in A Yank at Oxford (1938) "in an effort to counteract his 'pretty boy' image which had threatened his stardom with its constant implications that he was 'soft,' 'a ladies' darling,' and possibly 'effeminate.'" In A Yank at Oxford, Taylor plays Lee Sheridan, a brash American college student studying at Oxford. At first, Sheridan's arrogance clashes with his classmates, but he eventually earns their trust. Maureen O'Sullivan plays his love interest and Vivien Leigh has a small role as a flirtatious English woman.

Mayer's intention to toughen Taylor's image with this film worked. In addition to A Yank at Oxford being a box office success, it earned Taylor a new respect with audiences and the press. Quirk describes how Taylor managed the turnaround, "He rows, he races, he wears brief track suits which demonstrate to everyone's final satisfaction that he has a good mat of hair on his chest, and he even gets into fist fights during the course of the film." Taylor's character is on the school's rowing team, so the actor frequently had to shoot scenes in cold water. In order to prepare for the scenes, Taylor would soak in a tub filled with ice every morning. He even got so involved in preparing for the rowing that he would challenge the professional rowing teams.

Mayer was reluctant to cast the then unknown Vivien Leigh in the part of Elsa Craddock. Producer Michael Balcon persuaded Mayer to keep her, pointing out she was already living in England and it would cost a great deal to bring someone else over from Hollywood. According to Hugo Vickers in Vivien Leigh, Leigh's friend, "actress Eve Phillips, believed that, in her playing Elsa Craddock in A Yank at Oxford, Vivien was in effect doing a screen test for Scarlett, playing her 'as saucy and sexual, like an imperious modern-day Cleopatra,' a kind of 'English version of Scarlett O'Hara.'"

A Yank at Oxford was MGM's first British production. Louis B. Mayer wanted to ensure that everyone knew he was still in charge, so he often visited the set giving out orders. He even got into a fight with producer Michael Balcon within earshot of Maureen O'Sullivan and Vivien Leigh and Balcon eventually resigned.

Several writers worked on the script for A Yank at Oxford, including author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although he was not credited, Fitzgerald spent three weeks touching up the script and adding dialogue. A sequel, A Yank at Eton, was made in 1942 with Mickey Rooney. Then in 1984 Rob Lowe starred in a remake entitled Oxford Blues.

Director: Jack Conway
Producer: Michael Balcon
Screenplay: Malcolm Stuart Boylan, Walter Ferris, Leon Gordon, George Oppenheimer, F. Scott Fitzgerald (uncredited)
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Music: Hubert Bath, Edward Ward
Cast: Robert Taylor (Lee Sheridan), Lionel Barrymore (Dan Sheridan), Maureen O'Sullivan (Molly Beaumont), Vivien Leigh (Elsa Craddock), Edmund Gwenn (Dean of Cardinal College).BW-103m. Closed captioning.

by Deborah Looney

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teaser A Yank at Oxford (1938)

In the mid-1930's, quotas imposed by the British government on the number of foreign films that could be shown in the United Kingdom had American film companies looking for ways to get their product into the country. MGM decided to produce a series of "prestige pictures" in Great Britain, using MGM know-how and a combination of British and American talent.

Englishman Michael Balcon was chosen to head MGM's U.K. studio, and in the summer of 1937, shooting began on their first feature, A Yank at Oxford (1938), with Balcon producing and directing. It's the story of a cocky midwestern college athlete (Robert Taylor) who learns about loyalty and school spirit when he goes to Oxford as an exchange student.

For the stunningly handsome Taylor, who'd been playing swoony romantic leads in films like Camille (1936), it was an opportunity to change a somewhat sissy image by playing a more masculine hero. Taylor trained hard for the part, soaking in tubs of ice before the rowing sequences, which were filmed in cold water. He showed off his buff body and hairy chest in skimpy athletic wear. He challenged professional athletes. MGM head Louis B. Mayer was pleased. "Now you are a man, Bob," he told Taylor.

The leading lady, Irish actress Maureen O'Sullivan, enjoyed a reunion with her convent school friend Vivien Leigh, who had a small part. Leigh, a year before she won the role of Scarlett O'Hara, was still a relative unknown. Mayer didn't want her for the part in A Yank at Oxford, until the canny Balcon pointed out that since Leigh was English, the studio wouldn't have to pay her travel expenses.

Mayer was determined to show everyone who was boss, and was constantly on the set. He berated Balcon within earshot of O'Sullivan and Leigh, and Balcon soon resigned. American Jack Conway took over as director, though Balcon retained the producer credit. Many writers worked on the film, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, who provided some clever dialogue, but did not receive a screen credit.

A Yank at Oxford was a big hit, and MGM's British production unit was successfully launched. It would take a world war to end it.

Director: Jack Conway
Producer: Michael Balcon
Screenplay: Malcom Stuart Boylan, Walter Ferris, George Oppenheimer; original story by Leon Gordon, Sidney Gilliatt, Michael Hogan; based on an idea by John Monk Saunders. Uncredited writers include F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Editors: Margaret Booth, Charles Freund
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Music: Hubert Bath, Edmund Gordon
Cast: Robert Taylor (Lee Sheridan), Lionel Barrymore (Dan Sheridan), Maureen O'Sullivan (Molly Beaumont), Vivien Leigh (Elsa Craddock), Edmund Gwen (Dean of Cardinal College), Griffith Jones (Paul Beaumont)
BW-103m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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