Back in 1984, I remember being somewhat surprised when I learned that the so-called “Kid” at the center of the big hit “The Karate Kid” was actually something like 24 years old! Turns out that many of the stars of 80’s teen films were well past their teen years. But this is nothing new in the land of the movies…case in point, the 1943 B-musical “Campus Rhythm,” which features a cast of musically inclined college students, most of whom look like they’re pushing forty.
The film tells the story of Joan Abbott (Gale Storm), a young radio singer who has made a name for herself as the “Crunchy-Wunchy Thrush.” Of course, she sings for a program sponsored by Crunchy-Wunchy and they are anxious to have her return for the next season of the program. However, Joan has her mind set on going to college. But Joan’s guardian, Uncle Willie (Doug Leavitt) owes a considerable sum to Joan’s agent, J.P. Hartman (Herbert Hayes). So Willie signs Joan on for a new season to fulfill his debt…and Joan is furious.
Joan decides to assume the name of J.P’s secretary, Susie Smith, and run off to college. She ends up a Rawley College (wherever that is) and upon arrival immediately wanders into a men’s frat house, thinking it’s a girls dorm. There she runs into Buzz O’Hara (Robert Lowery) who has his own band. Now remember kiddies, here the word “band” means they play pianos and horns rather than electric guitars. Buzz quickly invites Susie to a dance being held at the frat house that evening. Since Buzz is already taking Cynthia (Claudia Drake) to the dance, he recruits a 10-year college student they call “Freshman” (Johnny Duncan) to take Joan…er Susie. But Freshman is already taking Babs (Gee Gee Pearson), so he grabs the snooty head of the school paper, Scoop Davis (Johnny Downs) to take her.
At the dance, Buzz seems more interested in Susie than Scoop is. Yet, Scoop ends up giving Susie a job as a cub reporter and the two begin to hit it off. Meanwhile, J.P. and Uncle Willie are at their wits end, unable to locate their star singer. Convinced that she has run off to college under an assumed name, they launch a publicity campaign telling college students that Joan Abbott may be on their campus and that they should send their leads into them. At the same time, J.P. launches a contest to find a band to headline a radio show for a new client.
Back at Rawley, Cynthia gets suspicious that Susie is the missing Joan Abbott. She sends word to the radio station, prompting J.P. to send Uncle Willie to investigate. His search lands him in trouble when he tries looking for Joan in the girl’s gym. He ends up arrested under the charge of being a peeping Tom. But, Susie…er, Joan gets him let loose if he promises to not report her whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Buzz and his band are preparing to audition for the big radio contest. Joan…Susie…whoever she is has been working with Babs on her vocals for the number, but when laryngitis rears its ugly head…well you can guess who has to fill in.
There are plenty of songs peppered throughout “Campus Rhythm,” though none of them are all that memorable. Well, with a few exceptions, that is. There are a few songs performed by Johnny Duncan, who has a unique musical talent. He performs his songs using a variety of different voices, including a very deep, gravely voice, as well as a high-pitched female voice. It’s a bit strange at first, but it ends up being one of the highlights of the film.
Though the film has some fun moments, it seemed to be lacking a bit. Storm, Lowery and Downs are all enjoyable, but at the same time, their performances are a bit flat. There’s just no stand out moments for them. Doug Leavitt as Uncle Willie, however, does have some good comedic moments.
It’s nothing spectacular, but fans of B-musicals with probably enjoy “Campus Rhythm.” Just try to ignore that some of these so-called college students may have been on AARP’s mailing list.