There are times when things which seem overwhelming and important at the time dwindle to insignificance over time. Finishing School, from 1934 and among the latest spat of releases as part of Warner Brothers’ MOD Archive Collection, fits into that category. It has a fairly strong cast from the fifth major studio on the block, RKO Pictures.
Even though the slipcase on our review copy (kindly sent by Warner Brothers, thanks) touts Ginger Rogers, it really isn’t her picture. Some would say it is an ensemble production, but truly the center focuses on Frances Dee. Along with Ginger Rogers and Frances Dee, Bruce Cabot and John Halliday also join in.
Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers play roommates sent to a prestigious girls finishing school (hence the name). Feel free to apply what you know (or even think you know) about finishing schools, because the rules and guidelines are extremely severe as one would expect. Ginger Rogers plays Pony, a bit of a rebel and Frances Dee plays Virginia goody-two-shoes, struggling to escape a domineering mother who, incidentally, attended the same finishing school.
Of course in this rather forumulaic exercise the viewer can surely see what happens next. Virginia (and presumably virginal as well) quickly comes under Pony’s spell and soon the two are sneaking out for a night on the town.
Virginia drinks a bit too much, being unaccustomed to liquor and ends up being rescued by Bruce Cabot, playing a somewhat marginal room service attendant. This leads in itself to an entire different problem for Virginia, who is shall we say, most likely not as virginal after. The balance of the picture takes Virginia up against the school.
The first half of the picture holds together fairly well but the challenges become overwhelming during the second half, ruining the entire experience. Unfortunately Finishing School dances on a line and never really decides on which side it wants to be. Should it be a titillating tale of teen turpitude or an even more clichéd, but more conservative story of class struggle. Sadly we are left straddling the line in what becomes a bit of a gelding of a picture. (As an aside, Finishing School was, in spite of this straddling, still condemned by the decency league.)
Granted the furor seems overly trite compared to today’s tales of moral outrage which grace our screens (at least by 1934 standards). Even more ironic is how viewer of the time, after struggling through another day in during the Great Depression, felt about seeing this rather flippant tale of the excesses and, by comparison, relatively minor challenges of the upper classes. Perhaps the escapism overwhelmed the masses.
This is typical of some of the fare we forget about the studio era, as much as we look back longingly at the classic film era. Given the studio system the moguls had to keep the stars working to drive revenue. And the major cost, that of the cast, was already covered but every release could not be Gone with the Wind in terms of detail and production values. Hard to believe that this is produced by fabled producer Meriam C. Cooper of King Kong fame.
This is one of those films done perhaps purely to keep product in the cinemas and keep the machine running. It is hard to say this is a good film as it really lacks panache and depth outside of its admittedly strong cast.
As with most Warner Archives MOD releases, this is really bare bones in terms of transfer and audio quality. Its passable but nothing spectacular.
But that is the beauty of the MOD system. In an era where standard DVD releases are on the decline- and those for classic films approaching extinction- this is one of the few remaining ways aficionados can get their hands on rarer and perhaps less popular films. This defrays costs but still provides the movies we love to those who love them. It is available from Warner Archives at Finishing School.
At the end of the day, unless you know this film or truly love the work of the cast, I would pass on this one.