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A Yank at Eton

A Yank at Eton(1942)

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teaser A Yank at Eton (1942)

A Yank at Eton (1942), fashioned by MGM for Mickey Rooney at the height of his youthful popularity, blended elements of two studio hits of 1938, the Robert Taylor vehicle A Yank at Oxford and Rooney's own Boys Town. As Taylor had before him, Rooney plays a cocky American student athlete who's shipped off to England to complete his education and has to learn a thing or two from his tradition-bound fellow students. It seems his mother (Marta Linden) has married a wealthy Englishman (Ian Hunter), forcing Rooney to give up his dreams of playing football at Notre Dame and enroll instead at Eton College, England's fabled prep school.

Frequent Rooney costar Freddie Bartholomew is on hand as the Mick's teen-age brother-by-marriage, who teaches him the ropes at Eton and helps him learn to appreciate the British way after his initial defiance of the rules and regulations. Rooney eventually learns to fit in, of course, just as he did at Boys Town, and becomes a star runner. Although set a few years before the actual time of this wartime film, there's a strong underlying message of the importance of the two countries understanding and supporting each other. (One Eton tradition that Rooney's character now seems justified in objecting to is the physical beating of lower grade boys.)

The supporting cast includes a number of engaging British actors including Edmund Gwenn as Rooney's puckish house master, a young Peter Lawford as a bullying upper boy, Alan Mowbray as an addled old Etonian and Raymond Severn as Rooney's new best pal -- plus, in uncredited bits, Minna Phillips, Billy Bevan, Terry Kilburn, Aubrey Mather and Alan Napier. On the American side, Juanita Quigley shines as Rooney's bratty kid sister. Lawford had made his American film debut a few years earlier in another Rooney/Bartholomew movie, Lord Jeff (1938).

Rooney, then age 22 and married to fellow MGM contract player Ava Gardner, still had the youthful looks and energy to play a prep school student -- although his stature and short legs make for rather questionable casting as a track star. The song sung by a chorus over the opening credits and heard later in the film is the "Eton Boating Song," although the students are never shown boating!

Norman Taurog directed from a story by George Oppenheimer. Original plans had been for MGM to film A Yank at Eton in England as it had A Yank at Oxford, but World War II dictated that it be shot in the States, with exteriors in Pasadena, Calif., and Connecticut. Some sequences were filmed at El Segundo, California High School. The actual location is given away in some scenes by glimpses of cars being driven on the right side of the street, while Brits of course use the left side.

In his 1991 book Life Is Too Short, Rooney recalled that studio head Louis B. Mayer had pushed up the production schedule and whisked him off to Connecticut because Rooney's marriage to Gardner was on the rocks and she was resisting his overzealous efforts to reconcile: "One night I tried to break her door down, which compelled Ava to call the studio and ask that something be done about me. Next thing I knew I was on a train to the East."

Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: George Oppenheimer, Lionel Houser, Thomas Phipps
Cinematography: Karl Freund, Charles Lawton, Jr.
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Film Editing: Albert Akst
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Timothy Dennis), Edmund Gwenn (Headmaster Justin), Ian Hunter (Roger Carlton), Freddie Bartholomew (Peter Carlton), Marta Linden (Winifred Dennis Carlton), Juanita Quigley (Jane 'The Runt' Dennis), Peter Lawford (Ronnie Kenvil).
BW-88m. Closed Captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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