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The Dancing Co-Ed


Dancing Co-Ed (1939)

     I am often amazed to find the range of some actors’ careers in terms of the types of characters they play. Lana Turner, who would come to be known as a ruthless blonde bombshell, started like many actresses of those days in light-hearted stage-themed movies. The Dancing Co-Ed is a harebrained picture that includes a young stage performer getting her break in movies, a plot to dupe the public and the boss into thinking she’s a nobody, and some college romance to boot. The story is pretty original in its absurdity, but it makes for a fun ride and some enjoyable dance moves by Ms. Turner.

     When the husband-wife dancing duo set to star in “The Dancing Co-Ed” announce (via gossip radio show) that the woman is pregnant, the head of Monarch Pictures is stuck with finding a new leading lady to star opposite the male lead. Publicist Joe Drews (Roscoe Karns) immediately turns to Turner’s Patty Marlow, who has been a dancer on the stage. The trouble is, Monarch head H.W. Workman (Thurston Hall) is more likely to accept Patty if he thinks she is an actual co-ed who happens to be a great dancer. Patty, Drews, and Monarch secretary Eve (Ann Rutherford) engage a plot to enroll Patty in college, have Eve take her admissions exam and class tests (because Patty is not smart enough) and have Workman select Patty as the winner of a dancing contest held at one of the colleges nationwide to find that leading lady.

     While enrolled at Midwestern College, Patty opts to help the school’s ambitious reporter, Pug Braddock (Richard Carlson), search out the planted dancer that is in fact Patty, hoping to throw him off her scent. The two fall in love along the way and drama and chaos ensue. One can predict the ending as the close draws near, but it’s a fair one that comes with Turner wrapped as a burrito in a waterproof tabelcloth. No worries, Pug cut an air hole.

     It seems many actresses got their start in the song-and-dance features that were so prominent during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although it seems today’s actors and actresses might be secret double or triple threats, musical movies are less prevalent, so one has no idea Ewan McGregor or Catherine Zeta Jones can sing until they pop up in a musical (or at least I had no idea). Back in Lana Turner’s day, however, it seems a lot of actors had a variety of talent to offer Hollywood casting directors. Joan Crawford, who would also go on to meatier, vicious roles, started in a number of musicals that had her moving her feet and flexing her vocal chords.

     Turner gets plenty of opportunities to tap about in The Dancing Co-Ed, and she truly is impressive, especially when shown compared to the many other dancers –both good and bad– featured therein. She is also young enough at roughly 17 during filming to pull off the college-student look. She made 10 films in her first three years in Hollywood, this being one of them. It was also in this picture that she worked alongside bandleader Artie Shaw, who quickly pursued the young star. Although he was initially rebuffed by Turner, she later accepted a date (after being dumped by a lawyer who wanted Crawford instead) and she was Mrs. Shaw by night’s end following a Las Vegas elopement. Things did not last, however, and months later the duo split –that same lawyer facilitating the divorce.

Source: TCM.com


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