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VIRGINIA MAYO IN 'SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE'

Year: 1952 Rating: ***1/2

"I don't know what there is about the pelts of dead little animals that makes them so attractive to women when one little mouse scares them silly," says Ronald Reagan to Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE. "A confusing sex, yours," he slurs, just slightly, with a hazy grin. "But a delightful confusion."

There's nothing like seeing the future President playing a friendly yet uptight college professor given a cold remedy with a fair amount of codeine that he didn't "Say No" to. But no man refuses Mayo, one of the prettiest actresses ever filmed. Having catapulted as James Cagney's sexy yet put-upon, cheating wife in WHITE HEAT, she headlined a string of musicals during the 1950's, and this is one of the most memorable...

Virginia Mayo with Patrice Wymore in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE

Much of COLLEGE leans on an anticipated climactic musical, and Mayo's character starts out as a popular nightclub singer (where she meets an ailing Reagan backstage): she needs a degree to write and sell her own work...

Thus breaking the film into two neat halves, the first with the unlikely, out-of-place student clashing with, in this case, a slightly-younger crowd of kids: including a jealous beauty queen who can't compare to the stunning new girl; the latter, by the way, keeping her near-past a secret... 

Ronald Reagan with Virginia Mayo in  She's Working Her Way Through College with Gene Nelson

Sadly, there's not enough about the students and/or Mayo's adventures at becoming and remaining one. Too much time is centered on Reagan's 1950's colorful two-story suburban marriage looking as if the technicolor era exploded within a box of bright crayons.

The adults seem part of a different movie altogether, and while Ron's wife is slightly jealous of Mayo's pretty, spunky presence, a friendly yet cocky former football hero alumni, now a successful businessman, still holds a scorching torch for Reagan's wife, trying so hard to steal the picture he winds up almost ruining it...

Ronald Reagan with Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE

Herein Reagan's character, not very fleshed-out to begin with, becomes a one-dimensional, envious grouch. A fifteen-minute drunken scene of cliché soused-slurs is one of the worst "fake tanks" of all time... 

Ironically, given his future as a people-popular yet Hollywood-despised Right Wing politician, when not green and perturbed, he's fighting the school's ultra conservative, moralistic committee to keep the show on track...

Gene Nelson with Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE

And with all the vivid distractions, Mayo's never lost in the shuffle, although at times the movie's title could be "She's Making Her Way Through Someone Else's Living Room." Meanwhile, underrated dancer Gene Nelson comes and goes in a benign fashion... 

Smitten with show-partner Mayo, he seems a contrived male co-lead until an incredible solo rehearsal number, bounding through the gymnasium and conquering all content within, from a punching bag to a pommel horse to high-swinging ropes — blowing everyone else away, including Virginia: While this is her picture, it's mostly, for better or worse, pure ensemble.

Virginia Mayo with Patrice Wymore in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE
Gene Nelson in She's Working Her Way Through College
Gene Nelson in She's Working Her Way Through College
Say No To Drugs but Yes to this Reagan Working Through College Codeine Cocktail
Gene Nelson with Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE
A sketch of Ronald Reagan's professor character that looks like Pinocchio
Virginia Mayo looks very terrific here (with Amanda Randolph)
Ronald Reagan with Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE
Gene Nelson with Virginia Mayo in SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE

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