It’s weird to see a Monogram Pictures movie released by a major label like MGM. In the ’80s, as VCRs became a commodity in homes across the US, most titles released to VHS that were originally produced by that iconic-though-defunct Poverty Row studio were usually distributed by no-name videocassette labels. The reason for this was that most Monogram titles had fallen into Public Domain over the years; anyone could circulate copies of the Bela Lugosi horror flick Invisible Ghost — a Monogram Picture — en masse and make a buck or two in the process; whereas MGM tended to release films that were mostly from their own catalogue, since they probably didn’t feel anyone would buy a movie like Campus Rhythm then, as it would have meant mass production, marketing, etc.
Now that MGM has hopped on the Manufactured-on-Demand bandwagon, it has awarded them the opportunity to release some of those old Poverty Row obscurities they have hiding away in their vaults. All it takes now is an email to several retail and review sites, a quick burn to DVD-R, et voila: you can pick up a copy of Campus Rhythm for somewhere in the neighborhood of $20. And, should you be a fan of either Monogram movies or lighthearted musicals from the ’40s, you’ll more-than-likely find the purchase of Campus Rhythm to be right up your alley.
The forgotten 1943 musical starring the great Gale Storm, former Our Gang star Johnny Downs, and future Batman actor Robert Lowery is not what one would call a “first-rate” chapter in moving picture history (hell, it wasn’t “first-rate” to begin with: this came from Monogram Pictures, after all!). Nevertheless, the tale emerges as an enjoyable, quirky romp into the gayety of (fictional) college life then. Emphasis on “then,” mind you: were Campus Rhythm to be filmed today, the opening number — wherein Gale Storm is singing a tune for her sponsor in front of a live radio audience, surrounded by a male chorus quartet. Nowadays, our young starlet would be sitting in her pajamas at home and uploading her latest track to YouTube.
Even the way college life is presented in the film is amusing once you compare it to modern times. In Campus Rhythm, Gale Storm arrives on campus, only to be greeted by a decidedly rhythmless, thirty-year-old band leader (Robert Lowery — in his most expressive role ever, not to mention his most jocular) and his posse of musicians and comedians — all of whom wear sports jackets. Were this story to take place now, our heroine would be welcomed by a bottle of Jägermeister, a party of shirtless douchebags who call everyone “bra,” and it wouldn’t be long before her first of many nude romps and flings with other coeds would wind up on a porn site.
And, even though I love to see coeds gettin’ nekkid, I find the life presented in Campus Rhythm to be more agreeable overall.
Plus, this movie has cinema’s second Caped Crusader (Lowery was six years away from starring in Columbia’s serial Batman and Robin; interestingly enough, the same year this was released, actor Lewis Wilson was bringing the DC Comic character to life onscreen for the first time in another Columbia serial ). It also has some wonderful supporting parts filled by classic (mostly b-movie) names such as Douglas Leavitt, Tom Kennedy, Herbert Heyes, Donald Kerr, and obscure comics GeGe Pearson (the forerunner to Robin Duke, I’m sure) and the positively amazing voice of Candy Candido (who looks something like Antonia Banderas and had a vocal range of better than five octaves!).
All in all, MGM’s Limited Edition Collection release of Campus Rhythm is a great opportunity for curiosity seekers to see the lighter side of wayside cinema — and the overlooked men and women who help bring movies like these to life.