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Chip Off the Old Block (1944)

Chip Off the Old Block (1944)
June 2, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Directed by Charles Lamont

Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan were Universal’s answer to MGM’s Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, although the pair’s chemistry wasn’t immediately evident to studio executives. O’Connor and Ryan were first teamed up in 1942’s What’s Cookin’? as part of the “Jivin’ Jacks and Jills,” a troupe of freshfaced, dancing teens put together for a series of B musicals choreographed by Louis Da Pron. Though largely relegated to the back of the film’s dance numbers, O’Connor and Ryan clicked with young audiences at a preview screening, who demanded more. Quickly bumped up to starring roles, O’Connor and Ryan went on to make 13 films together at Universal.

Directed by Charles Lamont (Ma and Pa Kettle), Chip Off the Old Block was one of a number of O’Connor and Ryan vehicles raced into production in the months before O’Connor had to report for Army duty in early 1944. He plays Donald, a young naval cadet following in the footsteps of his legendary father and grandfather, even to the point of getting suspended for pranking the faculty—this, despite his outstanding contributions to the school’s musical revues. At liberty, Donald heads to New York where he tries to woo one girl (Ann Blyth, in her big screen debut) and fend off another (Ryan) while trying to save his dad from a spy ring. (As if that isn’t subplot enough, watch for extended bits featuring pint-sized genius Joel Kupperman, from the radio show “The Quiz Kids.”)

All along, the story bubbles with adolescent amore, the winking brand of innocent cooing and crooning perhaps only ever found on a classical studio sound stage. “Mother, mother, mother, there’s a boy who wants to smother me with kisses tonight,” sings Ryan alongside O’Connor, “Is it good, or is it bad?” the slow arch of her eyebrows hinting at the preferred answer. In keeping with formula, O’Connor and Ryan’s pairing as comically combatant pals extends into their dance numbers, notable for their knockabout choreography, an O’Connor specialty that he later carried to classic heights in Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

—Paul Malcolm

Universal Pictures. Producer: Milton Schwarzwald. Screenwriter: Eugene Conrad, Leo Townsend. Cinematographer: Charles Van Enger. Editor: Charles Maynard. Cast: Donald O’Connor, Peggy Ryan, Ann Blyth, Helen Vinson, Helen Broderick.

35mm, b/w, 77 min.