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The 1938 Warner Bros. picture Brother Rat -a breezy comedy about a trio of rapscallion military cadets - was a sizable enough hit to compel the Warner brass to revisit the now-graduated cadets and follow them into the real world to tangle with careers, marriages and their uncertain futures. All three lead actors, Ronald Reagan, Eddie Albert and Wayne Morris, returned for Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). Ray Enright was brought in to replace William Keighley as director, but the sequel retained the writing services of Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay. Also returning were the three female leads, Priscilla Lane, Jane Bryan and Jane Wyman. Joining the cast was little tyke Peter B. Good, who played "Commencement", the baby of the title who causes much of the comic mischief that occurs during the 87 minutes of screen time. (In England the film was retitled Baby Be Good.)
Despite the adorable kid and the participation of most of the original team, Brother Rat and a Baby proved to be a disappointment with the public and critics alike. The film was deemed to be second-rate quality screwball comedy, which was no doubt indicative of the speed with which Warners put the film into production.
Brother Rat and a Baby marked the second of four pictures that Jane Wyman made with the future President of the United States. She and Reagan actually started dating during the making of Brother Rat. The romance definitely continued through the making of the sequel, but historical sources are mixed as to when they were engaged. One Reagan biographer says that they were engaged shortly after the completion of Brother Rat, while Jane Wyman's biographers, Joe Morella and Edward Epstein, reveal a different story: "According to Wyman, 'We were about to be called for a take (during Brother Rat and a Baby). Ronnie simply turned to me as if the idea were brand-new and had just hit him and said, 'Jane, why don't we get married?' I couldn't think of any reason why we shouldn't...I was just about to say a definite yes when we were called before the cameras. In trying to step down off my own personal cloud, I managed to muff a few lines and toss in a whispered 'Yes' after the director said 'Cut!'" The couple were married on January 26, 1940.
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: John Monks, Jr., Fred F. Finklehoffe (original screenplay); Earl Baldwin (dialogue and screenplay, uncredited); Richard Macaulay, Jerry Wald (both uncredited)
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Music: H. Roemheld; Howard Jackson (uncredited)
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Cast: Priscilla Lane (Joyce Winfree), Wayne Morris (Billy Randolph), Jane Bryan (Kate Edwards), Eddie Albert ('Bing' Edwards), Jane Wyman (Claire Terry), Ronald Reagan (Dan Crawford), Peter B. Good (Commencement Edwards), Arthur Treacher (Snelling, Harper's Butler), Moroni Olsen (Major Robert Terry), Jessie Busley (Mrs. 'Gram' Brooks).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.
by Scott McGee