“Good News”, a 1947 musical helmed by Charles Walters, opens with a few title cards that merrily explain that even though it is 1947, the film is returning to 1927, when kids were doing the Charleston and such. Partially this stems from the fact that the original stage production of “Good News” was put on in 1927, but this also stems from giving it a Remember When? Sensation, which is ironic to us modern viewers because, hey, it’s 2016, and here we are watching a 1947 movie set in 1927. It’s like three filters of nostalgia. It also, however, goes to show how some things never change. Like, say, the college football team’s star player needing to pass an exam to be able to play in the big game. Remember last year when Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. needed to pass a math exam in late August to suit up? I remember thinking how that sounded like a movie and here was “Good News” all along, just waiting for me to find it, mining that story idea not so much with searing insight as goofy joy so prevalent with all the campus comedies of the era.
One of the film’s best scenes involves the moments around that French exam that star quarterback Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) has to ace as students of Tait College gather outside the French building's window, hanging on the result. You'd think those students would have their own classes to attend but hey, what’s more important than the football team? Nothing, really, as the opening scene goes to show where a bunch of kids crowd around the steps of a campus building to belt out a ditty in honor of their team. It’s a good song, too, with Joan McCracken, as a student, appearing disinterested and then interested, stepping in and then sitting down, the modern day college football fan’s plight, where every time we think we’ve decided to turn our back on this gladiatorial slave labor, we get roped back in anyway.
But I’m projecting, somewhat. And “Good News” has far less action on the gridiron than it does on the dance floor – or, I should say, on everyday sets, like a soda fountain, that become dance floors. Because first and foremost “Good News” belongs to the spate of college comedies that sprung up during and just after cinema’s so-called Golden Age, where rather than the pseudo-outrageous hijinks of so many modern day frat house so-called comedies the joyous hijinks-ish-ness of college life is instead rendered in so many song and dance numbers. Like, say, “Varsity Drag”, where it seems as if the entire campus has descended to have a blow out after the big game, choreography and lip-synching substituting for the keg stands and wanton mischief such a victory in the big game would actually elicit. Or “Pass the Peace Pipe”, which is one of those strange moments where you can hardly believe what you’re watching, the dancers mimicking an “Indian style” sitdown mid-dance and indulging in no doubt highly inaccurate Native American chants. It would never ever fly today, and should not, but it’s difficult not to note the number’s energy amidst so much political incorrectness.
It’s not just songs and dancing, however, there is also the requisite love triangle between Tommy and Connie (June Allyson), the librarian who tutors Tommy toward victory on the French exam, and comely new student Pat (Patricia Marshall) who is turned off by Tommy only to be turned on by him when she discovers he is heir to a fortune. Tommy bounces back and forth and Connie does too. At first she can’t stand football but comes to embrace it when she finds herself falling for the star quarterback who is not quite the jock oaf she first might have thought. The scene when Connie, almost in spite of herself, is caught cheering on Tommy from the library window is a moment meant to set her up for heartbreak later when Tommy gets back together with Pat, yes, but Allyson effuses such earnest joy in that moment is so earnest that the “Awwwwwww” just washes over you anyway.
It’s amazing how college football can so easily lull you in, and how it can so easily turn right around and break your heart, which is precisely what happens in the ensuing scenes when Tommy decides to go to the dance with Pat anyway, leaving Connie hung out in brand new dress to dry and sinking a song where she can merely imagine what that date would have been like. Everything ends up okay in the end, as it must, but the hurt Allyson evokes in that moment as she imagines through song what their courtship might be like is the one moment when this delibeartely inane movie feels unfeigned. Peter Lawford plays the football star, but June Allyson wins MVP.