My wife Karen and I watched last night an old movie I had recorded earlier that day from TCM, set at Yale.
IMDB describes the plot:
Tony, the son of Italian immigrants, works in a smoky steel mill in Gary, Indiana. He wins a company scholarship which will enable him to attend Yale college. Over the four years of his college career he learns about football, love, and class prejudice.
I can add more. Tony Amato’s (Ramon Navarro) four-year scholarship to Yale amounts to $2000 ($500 a year for tuition, room and board)!
Tony arrives at Yale (we see lots of real images of the Yale campus), and starts rooming in Fayerweather Hall, part of the long-gone Berkeley Oval that was torn down in the early 1930s.
Rooms in Fayerweather Hall were a lot bigger than in Yale residence halls in my day, and –even for Freshman Italians on scholarship– they were two-person, three-room suites! The evil Yale Administration later turned all of those into four person, three-room suites: more money to spend on hiring additional bureaucrats and funding Identity Studies Departments.
Life at Yale circa 1932 was not all rosy, however. Conniving upperclassmen arrived rapidly to meet gullible freshmen and to sell them all the furniture that came as part of the room. The audience twigs to what is going on when, after upperclassman 1 has already collected for a bureau, bed, mattress, and carpet, along comes upperclassman 2 trying to sell the same bureau.
You would think that Tony would have more problems, as a working-class Catholic of immigrant background, and an Italian to boot, fitting in. He does have a pretty thick (Mexican) accent, which he never really loses. But his suit is just fine. The only problem he has is his slightly Italianate hat. It is a bit too Chico Marx, and when it is negatively remarked upon, Tony discards it and goes bare-headed, but that, too, is a faux pas for a Yale freshman. Before long, the problem is resolved. Tony gets a perfectly suitable fedora, just like those worn by everybody else.
Surprisingly, Tony has no academic difficulties at all. We see little of him in class, but –as the football coach assures him– “You’ll learn more here outside the classroom!”
Even more surprisingly, Tony has no financial problems. He can keep up with his rich classmmates without difficulty. He dresses the same. He is never seen laboring at any student job. He hangs out at Mory’s and intends to join DKE, just like all the millionaires.
The only financial issue is the romantic one: he falls in love with a young heiress, but her father in a private talk persuades Tony that it would be wrong for him to let her marry someone like himself, lacking the means to keep her in her accustomed life style. Tony gallantly gives her up, but the young lovers –of course– do get back together in the end, complete with the rich dad’s approval.
Tony does have social problems. He is too arrogant and pushy and insensitive to others. He is bull-headed and, despite a promising start, messes up at football. His teammates and contemporaries at Yale write him off. He does not receive membership in Deke, and his best friend and roommate nobly declines his own bid out of solidarity with Tony.
The best scene, I thought, came when the angry Tony starts trying to fist fight his football coach in the coach’s office. The older coach has some defensive skills and a good punch, and he knocks Tony down. Tony barely resists the temptation to (unsportingly) pick up a blunt object and try evening the odds, and the two men wind up reconciled and friends again, laughing, admiring each other’s shiners, and the coach tending to Tony’s facial wounds.
The fateful Harvard game nears. Tony is unfortunately unwell. He covertly consults a doctor off-campus. It is appendicitis! The doc wants to hospitalize the young man and operate immediately, but Tony escapes and goes to play in the Big Game.
Predictably, Tony is visibly unwell. He performs poorly and gets benched. But as the fourth quarter’s end draws near, with the game still tied 0-0, Tony begs to go back in, and scores a touchdown. He then fails again and Harvard ties in the final moments of the game.
After the game, at the post-game banquet, students are speaking ill of Tony’s performance, but Tony’s roommate indignantly breaks his vow of silence and tells them Tony is lying near death in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. Now, they know.
In the final scene, we see Tony’s class marching into Woolsey Hall in graduation robes. The girl charges up and kisses Tony, while her father and his classmates applaud.
Real Yale students performed as extras for $5 a day (big money in 1932). The film incorporates lots of absolutely delightful real scenes of the Yale campus and New Haven. And you get to hear a ton of Yale songs, including the now-I-think-forgotten:
“Oh! More work for the undertaker,
‘Nother little job for the casket maker
In the local cemetary they are
Very very busy with a brand new grave:
No hope for Harvard, No hope for Harvard!”
And a number of fraternity songs not heard in many years.