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Screenwriter-producer Jerry Wald, winner of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Oscar® ceremonies of 1948, counted among his writing credits Varsity Show (1937), which brought Busby Berkeley an Oscar nomination for Best Dance Direction for his "Finale" number.
This Warner Bros. production was that studio's entry in the "college musical" vogue of the 1930s. Dick Powell stars as a Broadway producer who returns to his alma mater to stage a variety show, despite the protests of a faculty adviser (Walter Catlett) who disapproves of the new "swing" music. Powell schemes with the students to stage the show in an empty Broadway theater. Among others in the cast are the Lane sisters, Rosemary and Priscilla, in their film debuts; Ted Healy, in his final film appearance; George MacFarland, better known as "Spanky" from "Our Gang"; the dancing team of "Buck and Bubbles"; and Johnnie Davis.
The "Finale," performed to the accompaniment of Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians (also making their bow in movies), has the cast spelling out college letters, including those of Yale, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Stanford, as Berkeley makes use of his signature overhead "kaleidoscope" shots. The set, which took up a whole sound stage, centered on a staircase fifty feet high and sixty feet wide.
Other numbers in the score, written mostly by Richard Whiting with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (with some standard college tunes thrown in for good measure), include "Working Our Way Through College," sung by Powell; "Old King Cole," sung by Davis; "On With the Dance," sung by Rosemary Lane; "You Got Something There," sung by Powell and Rosemary Lane; and "Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?" sung by Priscilla Lane. Thanks in part to the generous helping of music, the movie originally ran almost two hours.
Wald (1911-1962) went on to produce many of Warner Bros.' most successful films of the 1940s, including Destination Tokyo (1943), Mildred Pierce (1945) and Johnny Belinda (1948). He formed a production company with Norman Krasna in 1950 and later was associated with Columbia and 20th Century Fox. Wald collaborated on many film scripts, often without taking credit.
Berkeley (1895-1976), a top Broadway dance director before turning to films in 1930, began his legendary association with Warner Bros. in 1933. Using innovative camerawork to further heighten his dazzling choreography, he eventually turned to directing. In 1939 he moved to MGM, where he guided such stars as Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Esther Williams through some of their most memorable movie moments on film.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (Executive Producer, uncredited), Jack L. Warner (Executive Producer, uncredited), Louis F. Edelman (Associate, uncredited)
Director: William Keighley
Screenplay: Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Sig Herzig, Warren Duff, from story by Duff and Herzig
Cinematography: Sol Polito, George Barnes ("Finale")
Editing: George Amy
Original Music: Richard A. Whiting, Roy Ringwald, Tom Waring
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Costume Design: Howard Shoup
Cast: Dick Powell (Charles "Chuck" Daly), Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians (Themselves), Ted Healy (William "Willy" Williams), Rosemary Lane (Barbara "Babs" Steward), Priscilla Lane (Betty Bradley), Walter Catlett (Prof. Sylvester Biddle), Johnnie Davis (Buzz Bolton), Ford Washington Lee and John William Sublett (as "Buck and Bubbles"), Sterling Holloway (Trout), George MacFarland (Hap).
by Roger Fristoe