The Affairs Of Dobie Gillis, 1953. 8/10

The film from the 1940s stories, and a pilot, in effect, to the late ’50s Dobie Gillis TV series. I’m old enough to remember the somewhat different TV version, with its changed premise (featuring the Maynard Krebs character) which to me seemed the best existence possible: cool cats hanging out with a bunch of girls doing basically nothing. Not exactly real life; but that’s the point.

Dobie (Bobby Van) makes the scene here with Pansy Hammer (Debbie Reynolds); of course she takes college seriously, unlike carefree Dobie. Then there’s Dobie’s roomate Charlie (Bob Fosse), who juggles Lorna (Barbara Ruick) and Pansy with Dobie. There’s a distinct cartoonish aspect–who could have such a paradoxical name as Pansy Hammer? Professor Pomfritt (Hans Conried) is even better as a send-up name. Another touch is the musical backdrop. This college mayhem genre actually was pretty big in the ’30s and usually with the musical bit blended in. In fact, the plots often featured student musicians or dancers among the lead characters.

I like the pleading tone of Grainbelt University motto “Learn, learn, learn, Work, work, work.” Dobie signals his disapproval of ‘work’ right away by saying “It’s alright for workers.” Next off, at a sort of welcome dance, he and Charlie are comparing notes on the girls. Soon Dobie and Charlie are dancing with Pansy and Lorna. Right away it’s clear that Lorna actually likes Dobie over Charlie.

Anyway, Pansy enters a quiz show and gets almost everything right, thanks to some fortuitous coaching by Dobie. A running joke is that none of them knows Pansy’s real name. So, she costs Dobie $100 because she goes as ‘Mary Brown.’ Then, these hep cats are introduced to the unctuous Pomfritt, who characterizes Dobie as “a cretinous barbarian.” Not to be outdone, Pansy blows up the chemistry lab.

Ironically (of course) Pansy declares she just wants to have fun with Dobie, and with life; the fact is that’s exactly Dobie’s win-win. So, out on a boat in the lake, they sing to the ukulele. It’s a little hard to swallow that she’d turn from her serious, studious demeanor to a ditzy, carefree thing just like that. Soon, at a club the two couples hang out, this time Lorna singing, with all of them dancing (easily the best song and dance yet).

“You have a very nice motor, Dobie” That’s her critique of the situation when his jalopy breaks. That’s perfect, and she ends up fixing the car, but not before the fan tugs at her dress. Then some funsy picnic scenes, with attendant minor calamities. Back in class, Pomfritte and Obispo slog them with assignments. Working on a 2,000 word essay, Dobie writes the word ‘the’, and crosses it out; immediately he looks for some essays in the library to crib off of.

This is so well sorted-out that it moves along with a frantic rhythm. There’s Pansy and Dobie, with Charlie and Lorna popping in and out. Then some singing/dancing, back to reality with classes or Pansy’s parents–and the pattern winds on. The tone is just right; playful, but not fantastic. Pretty much how we’d envision college as younger kids, or reminiscing about later on (with glorious embellishments).

The only problem I’ve got with the four leads is that the two guys aren’t differentiated enough. Pansy and Lorna, on the other hand, are very different. Charlie and Dobie not only act alike, they even look alike.

Farmermouse liked the whole deal here.He thought this was swingin’ hot stuff, especially Dobie’s not-too-ratty ’46 Ford convertible. Eight fanbelts for The Affairs of Dobie Gillis. 8/10.

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