“Good News” (1947)
by A.J. Hakari
Good News was practically born outdated. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1927, taking its cues from the college-based farces that Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman had helped inspire two years earlier. But it had the misfortune of being soon followed by Show Boat, the progressive and game-changing production that couldn’t help but make the more freewheeling Good News look especially behind the times. The two movie adaptations it heralded didn’t do its image any favors either, distancing themselves even further from a sense of relevance and trading on a sort of nostalgia that was getting cornier by the year. Not many folks bit, as 1947’s Good News — the last time this tuneful tale jumped, jived, and wailed on the big screen, saw only modest box office returns. The flick itself means well and packs in enough pep to fuel its symphonic set pieces, but it’s easy to see how even in an era where frivolous musicals were top dog, whimsy alone wasn’t enough of a draw this time.
Our story harkens back to the Roaring Twenties, when America’s youth flocked to college campuses in droves. These fresh minds couldn’t wait to have schools to be true to, although their pursuits entailed more sports and romance than academia (so, really, nothing has changed). Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) is Tait College’s resident big man, a hopeless womanizer and football hero. He can have just about anything he wants…until he meets icy new transfer Pat McClellan (Patricia Marshall). She only has eyes for the most cultured and financially well-off of Tait’s student body, but that doesn’t matter to Tommy. He’s head over heels for Pat, going to far as to enlist go-getting classmate Connie Lane (June Allyson) to tutor him in French so that he might further woo the object of his obsession. The trouble is that Tommy’s charms have caused Connie to fall for him, and with his feelings leaning in the same direction, it’s up to him to straighten out his love life before it makes him botch the big game.
Good News was the feature debut of Charles Walters, who would become one of the most prominent musical directors of the next decade or so. The following years would see him presiding over a vast array of talent, from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. One might assume that Good News was a glorified tryout, a stepping stone to see if Walters was ready for the big leagues, but with a $1.5 million-plus price tag, the film actually cost MGM’s famed Arthur Freed unit a pretty penny. You wouldn’t know it, though, since the movie puts up a frugal front in just about all areas. It’s bright without being gaudy, energetic without being obnoxious, and inoffensive without being overly sanitized. Some elements are a little dated and skeevy (namely with Tommy forcefully chasing down a gal who does not want him and messing with the emotions of one who does), but it’s all played innocently enough to go by without much mind paid to it. I’ve seen far worse examples of feel-good fluff than this, which easily could have found room for a bit more bawdiness but has the decency to not condescendingly wield its sentimentality.
Much of what’s ultimately likable about Good News rests on the shoulders of its actors. Lawford makes you believe he can charm his way in and out of any fix (even if you don’t totally forgive him for being a jackass and playing heartbreaker), and Allyson brings a great deal of warmth to a role that could’ve cast her as a humorless fuddy-duddy. Spirits are high all around, especially with the colorful supporting players, including Joan McCracken as a lovesick co-ed and Ray McDonald as the twerpy footballer who fears the wrath of her lunkhead boyfriend. But while the proceedings are altogether pleasant, Good News never quite emerges as all that engaging of a story. As soon as the principal players are established, you know exactly how they’re going to end up, and there’s little to distract you from it. The songs aren’t especially memorable, the choreography is passable, and the climactic football game (because why wouldn’t there be one?) doesn’t result in much suspense or laughs to be had. It’s great that the flick is cheery and all, but it says a lot when the credits roll and leave you sitting there, virtually unable to recall a single tune you just heard.
Though Good News isn’t a terribly distinctive picture, it’s not even close to reaching the bottom of the Arthur Freed barrel. Its lack of bite and almost anything remotely cynical will render it a fairly bland watch to some, while others will see its optimism as a virtue and let the fun times whisk them away. I’m not sure I’ll pop in Good News again anytime soon, but I don’t regret losing the hour and a half it killed.
(Good News is available to purchase through the Warner Archive Collection.)