Good News (1947)
Here’s a “Terrific Technicolor Musical” set in the twenties on a college campus. This 1947 Good News is a remake of a 1930 Good News, which itself was a filmed version of a 1927 stage musical. College musicals were extremely popular in those days, and MGM revived this one for a new generation.
Good News is not one of the classic movie musicals, and it’s not in many canons, but it’s delightful to watch and notable for several reasons. It was a project of MGM’s Freed Unit, headed by producer Arthur Freed, who assembled an incredible group of artists and craftspeople who specialized in musicals.
When they made Good News, the Freed Unit was coming off of some big hits, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and The Harvey Girls (1946). They would go on to make some of the greatest movie musicals of the studio era, including Easter Parade (1948), On the Town (1949), The Band Wagon (1953), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952).
Speaking of which…Good News features the first screen credits of screenwriting duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who penned Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and My Sister Eileen. Freed hired them to update and revise the 1930 Good News script.
Good News was also the directorial debut of Charles Walters, who started in Hollywood as a choreographer. Freed and MGM were so pleased with Walters’ work on this movie that they gave him the reins to Easter Parade (1948), too.
Our stars are June Allyson, that adorable husky-voiced blonde who rocked Peter-Pan collars like no one else, and Peter Lawford, that handsome British gent who would later become a member of the Rat Pack. He had injured his arm when he was fourteen, and it was severe enough to exempt him from military service. This meant he was one of the few young actors left on the lot during WWII, and he became a big star.
He’s perhaps more famous today for the Rat Pack stuff and for marrying JFK’s sister Patricia (Lawford’s first of four wives), but when he made Good News he was just a young actor on the rise. This was his biggest role so far.
This was the second film with Lawford and Allyson; they’d worked together in Two Sisters from Boston (1946), and would go on to make two more films together after Good News: Little Women (1949) and They Only Kill Their Masters (1972).
Allyson was an extremely popular star; wholesome, cute, and perfect for WWII audiences. Her husky voice, an effect of chronic bronchitis and enlarged vocal chords, gave her that extra zazz. She’d married Dick Powell in 1945, even though MGM’s head honcho Louis B. Mayer had hoped that she and Van Johnson would fall for each other. They were the perfect All-American couple–and think of the publicity!
Unfortunately for Mayer, Allyson and Johnson were nothing more than great friends. Eventually Mayer forgave Allyson for not marrying Johnson, and he gave her away at her wedding to Powell.
Anyway, our movie opens with explanatory titles, as so many classic films do:
Cue the seamless segue into a boisterous musical number led by energetic Joan McCracken in green pleats:
McCracken had trained with Balanchine at the School of American Ballet before touring as a soloist with the Philadelphia Ballet. It was when she moved to Broadway that she really made her mark, though, with roles in Oklahoma! and Bloomer Girl, among others. Good News features her biggest role in a movie, and she received great reviews for her performance, especially for the “Pass That Peace Pipe” number. She stars in two big numbers and a tidy subplot in this film. McCracken is a pleasure to watch, and you can’t take your eyes off of her when she dances. You can watch this opening number here.
So now we know that we are in 1927, at Tait College, and everyone is a really good dancer. But there’s a new girl in town, and she appears to have skinned a cow and made a coat:
It’s Pat (Patricia Marshall), and she has just transferred to Tait from a fancy finishing school. She likes to insert French phrases into her conversations to prove how sophisticated she is, and she’s already not very popular amongst the girls at Tait.
We move from the quad with its drama to the locker room after football practice, with a stereotypically angry coach (Donald McBride):
Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) is the star quarterback captain, Bobby (Ray McDonald in the stripes) is the eager bench warmer, and Beef (Loren Tindall) is just big. And angry. He’s crazy about Babe (Joan McCracken), and very jealous:
Bobby is terrified because Babe has taken a liking to him, which gives the movie an excuse to show a gratuitous but cool morphing effect of Bobby changing out of his uniform and into his sweater:
Poor Bobby asks Tommy for help with the ladies. Cue a song for men in sweaters and wide-legged slacks:
Turns out there is a little social at the sorority house that night. It’s Pat’s first social function at Tait, and all of the guys are excited to meet her. The girls are less thrilled, especially after Pat asks one of them to fix her frock. The offended lady in white brings the gown to Connie (June Allyson), who seems to be the motherly leader of the house. It appears that she is also a plumber, as she is under the sink messing with the plumbing:
Connie takes off her plumber smock and goes to talk to Pat. She pauses in the doorway: Pat is gazing into the mirror paying herself extravagant compliments.
Cue the smart comment from smart Connie:
We love you, Connie! She’s adorable. Connie tries to express to Pat that her beaded gown is too, ahem, obvious, but after a brief conversation, Connie tells Pat that “the dress suits you perfectly!”
Speaking of dresses, how pretty is Connie’s yellow confection? Helen Rose designed the ladies’ costumes, and Valles dressed the men. There seems to have been no attempt to clothe the women in 1920s fashions. They wear 1947 clothes, but with slightly dropped waists and occasionally narrower skirts than they would have worn otherwise. The same goes for hairstyles–it’s very easy to forget this is a “period piece!”
At the party, Babe tries to ensnare Bobby. She’s tired of Beef and his football curfews, you see. But Bobby is too scared of Beef to enjoy Babe’s company.
Meanwhile, Pat makes a grand entrance in her stunning gown:
Babe heard that Peter Van Dyne, III, is a multi-millionaire, so she’s after him and couldn’t care less about Tommy. Tommy is the big man on campus, and he is not used to being turned down. He gets pissy, especially during the big song, “Lucky in Love.” Most couples are having a great time, but Tommy is mad, and Connie is stuck in the kitchen washing dishes.
I’m not quite sure why Connie is the sorority’s Cinderella, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Meanwhile, Babe and Bobby keep a wary eye out for Beef, and are nearly caught!
Babe saves it by doing The Awful Truth maneuver:
Nicely done, Babe.
In Pat’s final brush-off of Tommy that night, she insults him in French. So the next day sees Tommy venturing to the library, for apparently the first time, to look up what she called him (incorrigible.) Turns out Connie works at the library to help pay her tuition, and she’s also majoring in languages. She speaks French, so Tommy begs her to teach him a few words. Thus begins “The French Lesson” song, with Connie naming various objects and Tommy repeating them back to her.
Fun fact: This is one of two songs written for this film; the other is “Pass That Peace Pipe.” Arthur Freed hired Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane to add some fresh songs to the original musical.
You can watch it here.
Fun fact: Peter Lawford spent much of his early life in France and spoke fluent French with a beautiful accent. June Allyson absolutely did not, so ironically enough, Lawford had to tutor Allyson so she could “tutor” him in French onscreen. Allyson wrote in her memoirs:
Everything about the movie was unbelievable. No one made any effort to change Peter Lawford’s British accent to American. For that matter, my French accent was atrocious and his was superb – he spent hours teaching me how to teach him French. Working with Peter Lawford was like going to a party. He made a game of whatever he did.
It is rather amusing that this All-American football hero has a gloriously upper-crust English accent. He tones it down a little for this film, but not much, and he definitely speaks differently than the other characters.
Anyway, Connie and Tommy have a wonderful time speaking French and talking about their pasts and their dreams. When Tommy walked into the library he didn’t even know Connie’s name, but the French lesson morphs into another song, “The Best Things in Life are Free,” which you can watch here:
And before you know it, this is happening:
It’s love at second song!
…Until Tommy blurts out how excited he is to tell Pat that he’s learning French! Wrong move, son.
Tommy enrolls in French class and remains determined to win Pat. A few days later, Bobby arrives to take him to the soda shop to woo Pat, which gives us an excuse to look at Bobby’s car and to have another Beef/Babe/Bobby scene. Turns out Babe hasn’t given up on winning Bobby, and she has decided to hide in the back seat of his car. Beef is looking for her, and Bobby is so scared.
The car pulls away down what looks a lot like the Meet Me in St. Louis street set. You’ll recall that director Vincente Minnelli fought to have an entire street built for that movie when MGM wanted him to film on the existing Andy Hardy set. The photo on the left is of the St. Louis street, the image on the right is from Good News. The set remained on the MGM backlot until 1970.
They arrive at the photo shop, and Tommy makes his case to Pat. He even asks her to go to the prom with him, in front of her boyfriend!
Fail. She’s happy with her millionaire.
But Babe has an idea! She tells Pat that Tommy is the son of the “Pickle King,” and heir to his immense fortune, which just so happens to be bigger than Peter Van Dyne’s. Suddenly Tommy is much more attractive to Pat…
Then Joan McCracken leads the gang in a high-spirited number that received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. It’s “Pass That Peace Pipe” and it’s about as energetic and delightful as it gets:
McCracken dances and looks straight at the camera backed up by a large cast of dancers, and there are acrobatic jumps, lifts, and plenty of high-energy swinging. You should watch it here.
While McCracken is dancing her heart out, Tommy runs into Connie back on campus. He asks her to go the prom, and when she refuses, he says he won’t go at all. That breaks her little heart, so she agrees.
She walks home in a daze, but Babe is worried. (How great is her green polka-dot lounging outfit?)
Babe feels rather badly about the Pickle King lie, now, especially when she sees just how happy Connie is:
Anyway, the day of the prom rolls around. It also happens to be the day of a football game, so Connie cheers on Tommy from the window of the library:
Connie is so enamored of Tommy, and so excited about their relationship that you know something is going to go wrong. The movie is priming us for heartbreak! Let’s see how it develops…
Pat decides she wants the Pickle King’s money, so she suddenly becomes Tommy’s biggest fan, and after the game she says she’d love to go to the prom with him.
Tommy is too stupid and flush with football victory to question her sudden change of heart. He forgets all about Connie, and tells Pat he can’t wait to take her to prom!
He only remembers his previous promise to Connie when he’s in the locker room. To his credit, he tries to call Connie, but the sorority house phone is monopolized all afternoon by some blonde:
Tommy can’t get through to Connie.
She’s finally called away to the telephone, just minutes before Tommy is supposed to pick her up. In the time it takes Babe to show a friend how to properly do the Charleston in her pretty red dress with its cool back…
Connie’s dreams of Tommy are dashed…she’s been stood up.
Connie watches the happy prom people leave from her window…poor girl.
Cue the sad song: “Just Imagine,” all about how Connie thought she found her dream man, and now she will have to “just imagine” him.
Poor Connie sings her big song in her dress with its embroidered Peter Pan collar, which coincidentally matches the lace curtains and the walls.
So Pat and Tommy are an item, and Connie has gone back to her library existence. Sigh.
All of the exam results are posted on a big bulletin board, and Pat and Tommy stroll in to check his grades. Babe, Bobby, and Beef are there, too. That whole storyline just won’t die:
Pat and Tommy use this very public opportunity to make a big announcement: after Tait wins the football game that Saturday, Pat and Tommy are going to officially announce their engagement! (Seems as though they just did announce their engagement, but this movie needs a deadline and a climax, so the football game is it! Apparently if Tommy doesn’t play or Tait loses, Pat and Tommy won’t get engaged or something, and he can’t play unless he passes all of his exams.)
Connie enters the room just in time to hear this painful news:
She has the French exam results, and posts the bad news with a certain amount of satisfaction: Tommy flunked his French exam! Idiot Tommy has been spending too much time with Pat and not enough time studying. That means that he can’t play football, and Tait can’t win without him! But the biggest game of the year is in just a few days!
Before you get too nervous about all of this, here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of June Allyson and director Charles Walters to remind you that it’s all make believe:
Anyway, the whole campus is in an uproar because Mr. Football Tommy is ineligible to play. He and his coaches run to the dean, who agrees to let Tommy re-take the exam. Then they land in Connie’s office and beg her to tutor Tommy so he can pass the test. She, naturally, has no interest in this. But she’s pressured into it on behalf of dear old Tait.
That evening, Connie is in the awkward position of having to tutor her dream boy who very recently broke her heart. It doesn’t help that Mel Torme begins singing Tommy and Connie’s song, “The Best Things in Life are Free,” just one room over in the sorority house. Then Tommy sings it to Connie, in French! Poor girl.
The ice between them thaws just a little, and suddenly they’re having intimate conversations about vine-covered cottages, children, and theater tickets. Careful, Connie!
Pat interrupts their cozy conversation. She appears to have time-traveled to the 1980s, bought that dress, and come back to be obnoxious to Connie:
The next day Tommy takes his French exam, and Connie is sure that he passed.
He knew everything during their tutoring session, after all. When the professor begins to grade it, though, he and Connie are both shocked at the answers! Tommy wrote snippets of his and Connie’s conversation and other meaningful nonsense instead of answering the exam questions!
Now Connie is placed in an even more awkward position: she knows that Tommy could have passed the exam and chose not to, signaling to her that he might not be completely happy with Pat.
But if Tommy doesn’t get a passing grade he won’t be able to play in the game, which means Tait will lose, but Tommy and Pat won’t get engaged! Should Connie be selfish and fail Tommy, or be selfless and pass him, which means he will play, win, and get engaged to Pat? Also, shame on this professor for leaving it up to Connie!
Ultimately, she knows she has to pass him. She makes the announcement to the assembled crowd. Apparently there isn’t much to do at Tait.
And apparently she owns cardigans in every color:
So Tommy is eligible to play, even though he sabotaged his own exam…his heart isn’t in the game, and Tait falls behind. Tommy is benched, and he tells Beef that the reason he’s playing so poorly is because he doesn’t want to marry Pat because he loves Connie!
Beef, who was injured earlier in the game, runs to find Connie in the stands to tell her the news. She gets an idea and asks Beef to drive her home. She scribbles something in a notebook the whole way, and enlists the help of the housekeeper once she arrives home.
Together they perform a little play designed for Pat to overhear (Pat stayed behind from the game to get ready for the engagement announcement and the big dance that night.)
Connie cries theatrically about how Tommy’s father the Pickle King is bankrupt, and how miserable she is because she knows that Pat will stay with Tommy even after this disaster. She enlivens her little drama with talk of how Pat’s beautiful hands will be ruined when she has to take in washing to make ends meet, etc., but that she knows that Pat won’t mind! Anything for Tommy!
Pat is comically distressed, but she brightens up when Connie talks about how rich Beef is. Soon Pat is running out of the house to be with Beef:
They drive back to the game, and Pat writes Tommy a note breaking up with him. This solves Tommy’s football problem, and suddenly Tait is winning again! Hurray for weirdly quick resolutions, and artistic football filming!
It seems that the way is clear for Tommy and Connie, though of course they play hard to get at the dance that night.
Eventually they admit their feelings for each other, and it all happens in front of the crowd that seems to constantly accompany Tommy:
Connie then starts the biggest musical number of the whole movie, “The Varsity Drag:”
It’s infectious and gleeful with the steps to the dance right in the song! “Down on your heels! Up on your toes!”
Fortunately, every girl wore a pastel-colored dress, and every boy is in a black tuxedo, which allows for some lovely mass choreography. It all reminds me of the school dance in Grease.
There’s plenty of twirling, kicking, and flowing lines, too, plus a trumpeter hoisted in the air. What more can you want?
Here they are rehearsing this huge number. Note the trumpeter behind them. Everyone but Allyson seems to be in costume, but I’m not sure why.
It all ends with a satisfying pyramid of happy couples:
And a clinch. You can watch “The Varsity Drag” here.
Happily ever after for everyone!
I’m rather fond of Allyson’s pink dress in this scene. Frilly, feminine, and there’s almost a Peter Pan collar! The shiny, be-tulled wrap is surprisingly glamorous, though! Bit of a mismatch, there.
Fun fact: Lawford was not a born dancer or singer, and he hadn’t done much of that before. He said later that the first musical number he filmed for this movie was the most terrifying experience of his career! His former dance teacher once remarked “Anybody who could teach that boy to sing and dance in time has got to be a genius.” Lawford worked really hard to get everything down, and he pulls it off!