Warner Bros. // 1934 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // March 9th, 2011
"The aim of our school, and, we like to believe, the achievement, is to prepare young ladies to meet, graciously, all social demands."
Frances Dee (I Walked With A Zombie) is Virginia Radcliffe, a sheltered rich girl whose mother (Billie Burke, The Wizard of Oz) enrolls her in Crockett Hall, a conservative all-girls private school. She's saddled with roommate Pony (Ginger Rogers, The Gay Divorcee), a party girl who teaches Virginia that the school cares more about its reputation than the girls themselves. After a couple of lurid weekend excursions to New York, Virginia meets hotel waiter/medical intern Mcfarland (Bruce Cabot, King Kong). A forbidden love affair ensues, causing Virginia's family and Crockett Hall to try and tear the couple apart.
Finishing School is the 1930s equivalent of a contemporary teen dramedy. The film's first two acts center upon the politics of an angsty bad-girl clique comedy before making an abrupt turn into melodrama with the introduction of Bruce Cabot's ruggedly masculine, blue collar medical intern. Virginia and Bruce's love affair plays out in the next two acts, and by the film's final reel things have taken a turn for heavy melodrama. Virginia is psychologically tortured by Crockett's fascist rule over her life. Her self-absorbed Mom is no help and her father strangely flippant about the matter. By the film's climax, Virginia is treading on mental territories of depression, suicide, implied pregnancy, and the threat of a forced abortion.
Tonally, this isn't too much of a stretch for a film made during this period. Classic films are wonderful stomping grounds for gonzo cross-genre pollinating. In the case of Finishing School, the film lures you into a false sense of security with a wacky Ginger Rogers performance and a lighthearted romance before shocking the audience with Virginia's descent into near-madness. The content itself is pretty tame by today's standards, but for a pre-Hayes Code flick, Finishing School is as lurid and depressing as they come.
I just wish it was a good movie. I can't rightly recommend the film on any ground besides its subject matter and its cast. While the ad copy on the DVD sleeve claims Ginger Rogers steals the show, the film really belongs to Frances Dee. Not only is she gorgeous, but she unfurls' Virginia's goody-two-shoes personality into indecent and depressed in a believable way. Cabot is quite likeable as her unlikely suitor, and Billie Burke's take on Virginia's narcissist mother will make you forget her iconic role as Glenda The Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Sadly, the actors are given very little to work with in terms of dialogue. They spout lines riddled with stilted melodrama and bad one-liners. The beauty of the film is that they somehow make it work, even with direction that's virtually non-existent and a pace that makes seventy minutes feel like two hours. Unless you're a hardcore fan of Dee, Cabot, or Rogers, or pre-Code shockers, I doubt if Finishing School is worth a purchase.
This being a Warner Direct DVD-R, the technical specs are as bare bones as they come. The full frame image is a little better than VHS quality and the mono soundtrack is about the same. If you can tolerate a scratchy transfer and an audibly low mono track, then you won't be bothered too much.
Guilty. Now please, step away from the second story balcony.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 1934
MPAA Rating: Not Rated