College Confidential

With Steve Allen, Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Meadows, Elisha Cook, Jr., Rocky Marciano, Mickey Shaughnessy, Cathy Crosby, Herbert Marshall, Conway Twitty
Directed by Albert Zugsmith
Reviewed by JB
Edited from a Review previously published elsewhere

     There is a special thrill I get when, ten minutes into a movie, I feel that I may be watching the worst film ever made. Such was the case when I watched COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL (1960). It may not be the worst movie ever made, but it definitely has a berth in the playoffs.

      The film stars Steve Allen as a college professor who is working on a sociology project concerning teen morals. Mamie "Have Breasts, Will Travel" Van Doren is one of the many college students participating in the project, and when Van Doren spreads a lie about Professor Steve and his "sex survey", it sets the ball in motion for, as Walter Winchell himself breathlessly (and inaccurately) puts it, "a chain of events that would rock the civilized world!"

     The film alienates us right from the start, as Mamie Van Doren and Elisha Cook Jr. unconvincingly shout overwritten dialogue at each other for ten minutes straight. Elisha Cook plays Van Doren's father (genetically, I don't buy it) who objects to his daughter coming home at three in the morning. So they argue. And argue. They make their points and they make them again. They go off on tangents and belabor metaphors. And they do it all at a decibel level that would cause a heavy metal band to jam cotton in their ears. Finally, Van Doren breaks down and blames it all on Professor Steve and his sex survey, so in the next scene, Elisha Cook and Allen shout at each other for another ten minutes.

     Steve Allen was a marvelously funny comedian, and one of the greatest ad-libbers of all time. But as an actor, he could have started his own acting school, teaching the "Pop Up and Shout" method. Whenever he wants to express indignation (which is every five minutes), he dramatically pops up from his seat and shouts out a melodramatic line, and then spends the next few minutes awkwardly not knowing what to do except possibly sit down again.

     There is a hardly a scene or a line of dialogue that rings true, hardly a performance that rises above the level of a community theater revival of "The Drunkard". All the "kids", from Van Doren on down, are uniformly dreadful. Conway Twitty, as Van Doren's boyfriend, does a dead-on impression of what Elvis Presley would sound like with a mouthful of congealed pudding. Mike Shaughnessey, as the town grocer and magistrate, manages a decent, human performance undermined by several factors, especially his irritating habit of removing his glasses before saying any line. Only Jane Meadows as a reporter emerges from the film with her reputation relatively unharmed. With her soft, pleasant and cultured voice, she scores major points as the film's "sonic relief". 

     Director Allen Zugsmith let scenes go on far beyond their necessary dramatic function, and allowed completely pointless scenes to take up major chunks of screen time. He also seemed to be afraid of saying the words "Cut! Let's try that again," since there are blown lines and verbal stumbles all over the place. In the opening shouting scene, Van Doren says "research problem" when she clearly means "project", and the camera keeps rolling. Other cast members trip over the easiest words, and yet, the concept of retaking a scene seemed to be a foreign concept. His worst directorial crime: he made an entire film without once exploiting Mamie Van Doren's oversize breasts, which are the sole reason to cast Van Doren in a film to begin with, since her acting talent could be summed up in two words: she couldn't.

     At the Trial of the Century, the film climaxes with a Capra-esque speech by Professor Steve on why everybody else in town has their heads up their butts and he is the sole reasonable man in town. Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper might have been able to pull it off, but Allen comes off as an aggravating lout. The fact that by the time he makes this speech, the charges have been dropped already, robs the scene of whatever dramatic impact it may have had anyway, so that it becomes - no surprise here - just another pointless scene.

     The film ends as Allen wanders away with Meadows (his wife in real life) in a scene that wants to be Bogart walking off with Claude Rains at the end of CASABLANCA ("Jane, this could be the end of a terrible movie.") It, of course, does not have anywhere near the impact of the great CASABLANCA scene, but at least it ends the film with a pleasant image - Professor Steve going away, we can only hope forever.   1 - JB

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