"A fun-filled, love-filled, dance-filled frolic!" promised the posters for Get Yourself a College Girl, the sort of tagline that proves that when it came to selling movies to teens, those real-life Mad Men were straight outta Squaresville, daddy-o. Even in 1964, anyone who was remotely "with it" must have rolled his or her eyes.
But, at least in terms of its musical lineup, College turns out to be at least reasonably hip. The Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Standells and the Jimmy Smith Trio all make appearances in the course of the film, and fourth-billed in the cast is none other than Nancy Sinatra. Although no one would ever mistake College for a good movie, MGM and producer Sam Katzman (universally recognized in his day as the king of the cheapskates) deserve a smidgen of credit for managing to wangle some major names to grace a very minor film.
College is also surprisingly interesting as a picture that hints, clumsily but earnestly, at the societal shake-ups that would be coming soon to a world near you. The comedy touches on the widening generation gap and the baby-boomers’ demands for a substantial overhaul of what was then often referred to as "the Establishment." There are no hippies in College and certainly not a whisper about the Vietnam War, but there’s still a sense that screenwriter Robert E. Kent realized that time was quickly running out on the culture in which the movie takes place, full of "ladies colleges" run by prissy prudes and attractive young people who frequently talk about sex but seem to have little first-hand experience with it. That’s even more surprising when you learn that Kent was already over 50 when he wrote this script (he got his start in the ’30s and ’40s, penning stories for such long-forgotten programmers as Gildersleeve‘s Ghost and The Gas House Kids in Hollywood).
With so many acts to squeeze in, there isn’t much time for a plot, and College makes your average coloring book seem like heavy reading. Vivacious Terry Taylor (Mary Ann Mobley) is a co-ed who’s been living under an alias and secretly moonlighting as a songwriter, turning out anthems like "Help Stamp Out Men." We never hear even a snippet of that one, but Terry treats us to a full-length rendition of the movie’s title track, which turns out to be a real head-spinner.
After an enthusiastic introduction from an MC who calls her "a hip chick who’s getting her brain filled at your own Wyndham College knowledge pump," our gal Terry brazenly seizes the stage in a local nightclub in which the crowd is racially mixed, a fairly progressive idea in a time when the only people of color in the "beach party" movies were Motown musicians. She begins to strum a guitar crooning "Get yourself a college girl, how happy you will be." Because of the intellectual stimulation? Ha. "A college girl knows how to love, and how to live, and how to love," she announces (some great songwriter, that Terry). "So brother, take advantage of her... new philosophy."
In other words, a woman’s pursuit of higher education can really benefit guys who want to major in carnal knowledge. "Psychoanalytically, she’s not too complex," Terry sneers. "She knows all the A to Z regarding S-E-X." Concerned that some members of her audience might not catch her subtle drift, Terry helpfully adds, "S-E-X spells ‘sex’ ah!"
Then comes a flip-flop that could give your ears whiplash, as Terry suddenly sells herself as a symbol of female-empowerment. "Hear ye, fellow college girls: To thyself be true," she sings. "We can do most anything most any man can do." Whether she’s talking about sleeping around or having a career is unclear, but it would be nice to think that nearly 20 years before Madonna emerged on the scene Terry was encouraging women to recognize their own power and potential instead of being some guy’s girlfriend/wife/playmate. "Girls, I’ll be your Joan of Arc come on and follow me!" she declares.
Terry’s rabble-rousing rock gets noticed by the college board, which threatens to expel her for "indecent behavior," not to mention poor song crafting. She begs to be placed on probation instead. Thankfully, Christmas break is coming up, and Terry and her friends will be heading to Sun Valley with a spinster chaperone, no less where Terry vows to behave herself and stay away from men.
As it turns out, the Watusi is nearly her undoing; damn those short-lived dance crazes! While innocently teaching the steps to a stuffy senator (Willard Waterman) who’s been following her around, Terry is caught on camera helping the portly politician when his pants fall down in the middle of the dance floor. Since it’s still 1964, Terry can’t cash in on the supposed sex scandal, à la Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. With the incriminating photo circulating around the nation, Terry fears everyone will brand her as a tramp and the movie’s title will have to be changed midway through to Get Yourself a College Drop - Out. But fate smiles on Terry after all. Her fast-thinking friends and her moony-eyed music publisher, Gary (all-smile-no-substance Chad Everett), seize on the opportunity to re-brand the conservative senator as "the go-go senator," which gets him the youth vote. Are you listening, Mitt Romney?
College seems like a perfect example of a film that was meant to be shown at drive-ins, where "viewers" could enjoy the soundtrack without bothering to actually watch what was going on. Yet it was actually released during the Christmas/awards season, which would indicate that MGM had high hopes for the picture and booked it into "real" theaters.
At any rate, it’s doubtful Academy voters paid much attention to the nonsensical storyline, which incorporates a lot of the then-standard innuendo and suggestiveness without any payoff. The closest the movie gets to steaminess are a few glimpses of ditzy, often-half-dressed blonde Sue Ann (the bubbly Chris Noel, who find much more serious work a couple of years later when she became an Armed Forces Radio DJ and made frequent trips to Vietnam) and a running joke about married Lynne (Sinatra, who, disappointingly, never sings a note) hooking up with her serviceman hubby and spending the entire vacation in bed, off-screen, of course. The movie’s heartiest laughs are of the unintentional variety: Wait until you see Terry and Gary stomping around on skis in front of cut-rate painted backdrops that are meant to suggest the great outdoors.
Musically, however, College is a little goldmine. The Dave Clark Five, wearing forced grins throughout, contribute a dreamily seductive "Whenever You’re Around" and the more energetic "Thinking About You Baby," while the Animals add a dose of grit to the proceedings early on with "Blue Feeling" and later with "Round and Round," which is heard as the movie comes to a rather abrupt end. Organ wizard Jimmy Smith’s dexterous fingers boogie all over the keys in "Johnny Come on Home," a jazzy arrangement of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," although just as it seems to start bubbling, the piece suddenly and unconvincingly fades out. The pre-"Dirty Water" Standells turn out standard-issue dance beats with "Bony Maronie" and "The Swim," and the appearance of a deservedly obscure supper-clubby combo known as Freddie Bell & Roberta Linn & the Bellboys registers as something well worth missing. But College still has a couple of wonderful surprises in store. Things look unpromising when the Rhythm Masters from Ottawa burst onto the stage in black-and-white-striped cardigans and white ski caps, yet the spirited septet immediately bursts into a high-speed Dixieland number called "Beat Street Rag," complete with banjo and wah-wah horns and, for a finale, some pretty good tap-dancing from the entire band. While the band might not have been much more than a novelty act, the performance is definitely an attention-getter.
The movie’s piece de resistance, however, is the startling appearance of sad-eyed Astrud Gilberto, in a baby-blue frock with matching bow for her bee-hived hair, singing her signature tune, "The Girl from Ipanema." She’s joined by saxophonist Stan Getz and, for three minutes, the film becomes unexpectedly riveting as they add an elegant touch of class to "College." Sometimes a single scene can make a mediocre flick worth watching; this is one of those instances.