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Girls' School

Girls' School(1938)

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teaser Girls' School (1938)

"If the teachers only knew what the girls are studying...not Latin...but love...not French...but fun...not drawing but dates!" was the tagline for Girls' School (1938), a "B" picture from Columbia about a group of girls in Magnolia Hall, an exclusive school for girls. Natalie (Anne Shirley) is the poor girl attending the school on a scholarship, working in the library and acting as school monitor to help pay her way. One night she sees the popular and wealthy Linda (Nan Grey) returning back to the school after being out until dawn with her boyfriend and has to report her. Linda's parents buy her way out of being expelled by paying for a new library and when Linda's father tries to start a friendship between the two girls by giving them identical corsages, it begins all kinds of trouble.

Anne Shirley had been a very successful child actress in films beginning in 1922, under the name Dawn O'Day. Her breakout role was as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables (1934). The film was so popular that Shirley took the name of her character professionally. Most of the "high schoolers" were long past graduation. At the time that Girls' School was being shot, Shirley had just turned 20 and was married to actor John Payne, Nan Grey would turn 20 during production on July 25th and marry jockey Jack Westrope the following year, and Margaret Tallichet was 24 and married to director William Wyler. Also in the cast were Ralph Bellamy and Gloria Holden as teachers, Cecil Cunningham as the headmistress, Marjorie Main, Doris Kenyon and Noah Beery, Jr., best remembered today as James Garner's father on The Rockford Files. Franklin Pangborn and Ann Doran are listed in studio records as appearing in the film but are not visible in the final print.

Directed by John Brahm with a screenplay by Richard Sherman (based on a story by Tess Slesinger), Girls' School went into production under its original working title of The Romantic Age at the Columbia Studios lot on July 5, 1938 and completed filming exactly a month later on August 6th.

Anne Shirley and Nan Grey were singled out for praise by the critics, like The New York Times's Frank Nugent, who gives a surprisingly contemporary view of the film. "When one of the school's misses remains out all night with a young man--she says they were reading poetry -- they raise up the cry of scandal, then stifle it again. For honestly, she was just reading poetry. Such an approach is almost too disconcerting these vinegary days. How, after Maedchen in Uniform (1931), Club de Femmes (1936), Girls' Dormitory (1936) and similar opera, can one accept so naive a conclusion? Is it possible that nice girls actually go to boarding schools and miss having affairs with the biology instructor, or fail to smolder beneath all manner of repressions, or truly can sit on a hockey field all night, with the scent of magnolias in the air, and be content with poetry? It is a dreadful thought. We are tempted to damn the film completely by calling it 'nice.' And that, of course, is what it is: an extremely nice picture, written with a deal of tenderness and insight, performed with enchanting naturalness by a lively troupe of youngsters and directed by John Brahm with a gracious balance of light comedy and poignant, youthful tragedy."

While Girls' School was essentially a "B" picture and not important enough to do much for any of the actors' careers, the film did earn composers Morris Stoloff and Gregory Stone an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Scoring.

Producer: Wallace MacDonald, Samuel Marx
Director: John Brahm
Screenplay: Richard Sherman, Tess Slesinger
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson
Music: Ben Oakland, Gregory Stone
Cast: Anne Shirley (Natalie Freeman), Nan Grey (Linda Simpson), Ralph Bellamy (Michael Hendragin), Dorothy Moore (Betty Fleet), Gloria Holden (Miss Laurel), Marjorie Main (Miss Armstrong).
BW-71m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
"Girls' School Opens at the State Tomorrow" Herald-Journal 5 Mar 39
The Internet Movie Database
Nugent, Frank "The Screen: Peasant Entertainment Is 'Girls' School' at the Criterion" The New York Times

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