‘Vivacious Lady’ (1938)

[31 January 2014]

By Michael Barrett

It’s the old professor-meets-showgirl angle. Shy botany professor Peter Morgan (James Stewart) comes to New York to rescue his hard-living cousin (James Ellison) from the clutches of showgirl Francey (Ginger Rogers at her most disarming and down-to-earth) and ends up marrying her. Now he’s taking her home to the college town of Old Sharon to meet his forbidding fuddy-duddy father (Charles Coburn), who’s the dean, and fainting, weak-hearted mom (Beulah Bondi), but the catch is that their son hasn’t told them yet about the marriage. Naturally, or rather unnaturally, this news keeps getting delayed in ever more irritating and incredible fashion that keeps pushing the newlyweds farther apart. The issue behind the issue is that they haven’t consummated the marriage yet, so the plot is driven by frustration and the constant titillation of sexual promise. Morgan’s students in particular are a randy lot, with both men and women whistling at each other and knowing the score.

If you can look past the sheer artificial foolishness of the premise, this comedy becomes enjoyable just by its pleasant cast and pace under the direction of George Stevens. Rogers shines in the two most physical sequences. One is a fight with rival Frances Mercer, and the best scene (unsurprisingly) is when Rogers dances. She and Ellison teach charming old mom Bondi how to truck on down and shake a tailfeather. It’s a moment of joy. Franklin Pangborn and Grady Sutton are on hand to do comic turns, while Willie Best and Hattie McDaniel bring their standard professionalism to uncomfortable stereotypes. It’s now available on demand from Warner Archive.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/177871-vivacious-lady/