Finishing School (1934)


This film is about a young woman, Virginia (Frances Dee) whose morals are corrupted after she is sent to finishing school by her parents.

I saw this film on the Film section of BBCi Player (for a person without a DVD player or Netflix, this is a godsend) and was intrigued by the premise.

And, unltimately, I didn’t hate it but I didn’t adore it either. It is only about 70 minutes long but that’s to be expected with an RKO picture. Frances Dee was fantastic in the role because not only was she stunningly beautiful, she also managed to stand up for herself in the end. Of course, this film is rather tame from a modern perspective but some of the issues still exist today in far more minor ways.

The romance plot arc of Virginia being rescued from the arms of her creepy drunk date by hotel waiter-turned-hospital intern Mac (Bruce Cabot) was probably unrealistic but rather sweet all the same. They meet about three times and are instantly smitten with one another! Of course this has to happen in order to fit the compressed timescale of an RKO movie.

The inevitable marriage at the end of this film is thus situated so that the handsome caring waiter-turned-hospital intern can save her reputation and make her respectable. He even stands up to Virginia’s bossy mother and the imperious headmistress of the finishing school! If anything, this film shows that desire is dangerous if not suppressed but if the unthinkable should happen then it should be brought under control as quickly as possible.

I loved the 1930s clothes and hairstyles (fickle, I know!) and this film was a delight. However, it suffers from a quick underdeveloped narrative arc which is a pity. It was also nice seeing a young Ginger Rogers as Virginia’s roommate, Pony. Most of all, Beulah Bondi (Its A Wonderful Life, Mr Smith Goes to Washington) played the headmistress and did it very well indeed. As a viewer of the film, we can feel the same suppression experienced by Virginia. I think the story is as daring as it could be given that the Production Code came into force in 1930. The film alludes to Virginia’s unmarried pregnancy but leaves it vague enough to be ambiguous. At least she is saved by marriage in the end!

Billie Burke plays the role of Virginia’s wealthy mother who is all too often too wrapped up in her own affairs. I know plenty of people like that, and I don’t know whether or not the character’s portrayal in that regard was played up for comedic value or not.

Ultimately, a sweet enough film but nothing particularly solid as things go. But at least I know how many calling cards to leave when I pay someone a social call. That can always come in useful one day, can’t it?

MY RATING: *** / *****

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