Sam Wood | They Learned About Women | Huddle | Kitty Foyle | The Devil and Miss Jones

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Sam Wood

Sam Wood was a Hollywood film director. He began as an assistant director to Cecil B. DeMille. Sam Wood’s first pictures as director were vehicles for DeMille star Wallace Reid. They featured Reid in his popular persona as race car driver (Double Speed, Excuse My Dust, What's Your Hurry?). Sports movies seem to be Sam Wood’s home base as a director.

Sports subjects in the films of Sam Wood:

Class: Other subjects: Music: Settings: Characters: Costumes:

They Learned About Women

A Baseball Musical

They Learned About Women (1930) is an early sound musical, co-directed by Jack Conway and Sam Wood. I don't know anything about its production history, or what Conway and Wood each contributed.

The movie is about a pair of professional baseball players, who double as singers in vaudeville during baseball's off-season. Hans J. Wollstein in the "All Movie Guide" says the film echoes Waite Hoyt and Mickey Cochrane, two real-life baseball players with similar musical careers.

They Learned About Women is a full scale musical:

They Learned About Women is neither boring nor brilliant. On the plus side, are the large range of settings found, everything from training camp to vaudeville houses. David Cox's costumes are also spiffy, especially the suits and formal wear for the men. The film's humor is cornball, although you have to like a radio announcer called Graham McCracker. The ethnic humor is badly dated, although it can be said that it is not malicious, and probably was not an attempt to denigrate or spread hatred against any ethnic group.

Class

They Learned About Women largely lacks the class conflict found in many Wood films. All the ball players seem working class. They do form a working team, like the department store employees in The Devil and Miss Jones.

There is a nice bit of brief humor at the end, showing a rich kid listening to the baseball game on the radio.

Male Bonding

The two ball players are best friends. They even have what they call "the pal song", which celebrates their buddyhood.

They Learned About Women also has what might be considered as gay imagery. We see one man trying to undress the other when he is drunk, including removing his pants. They Learned About Women also has a large scale musical number, sung by all the baseball players in the locker room shower.


Huddle

Genre

Huddle (1932) is a comedy-drama about college football players at Yale. Sports stories were popular in this era in many different media: books, slick magazines, pulp magazines, films, comic strips and comic books. Those in books and comics seem mainly designed to appeal to boys. They offered fantasies of living a life at an elite prep school or college, making a lot of friends, and winning the Big Game at the tale's end. They also often showed the characters facing some real challenges.

Such stories also reflect a society where people valued education. People's ideas of entertainment, included tales where the heroes went to school.

Huddle seems largely in this tradition. It does offer some grown-up romance, as well, with beautiful coeds engaged in pre-code hanky panky with the hero.

A Comparison with So This Is College

Sam Wood had previously made So This Is College (1929), another comedy-drama about college sports. The two films are both entertaining, and in many ways quite similar. But they have some differences: So This Is College has an elaborate male choral song too, with the students gathered around a table, singing about their friendship. This includes the hero and his best friend. This has the same effect of "choral singing celebrating brotherhood" as the songs in Huddle.

Wood's silent film The Snob (1921) is also about a football hero who encounters class prejudice. He's working his way through college as a waiter. In both films, the hero encounters and has difficulties with a rich woman. (This is according to the AFI synopsis of The Snob, which I've never seen.)

Links to West Point

West Point (Edward Sedgwick, 1929) features an arrogant young football star, who has trouble fitting in. The hero of Huddle also faces trouble gaining social acceptance, partly because he is a working class Italian, and partly because he does not show the good sportsmanship practiced by his upper class classmates.

West Point also features a roommate, who idolizes the hero, and supports him even through his bad behavior. A similar character returns in Huddle. In both films, it is easy to read the roommate as a gay young man in love with the hero. Both characters are exceptionally decent, and form the moral center of their films.

Both West Point and Huddle star charismatic actors, who we now know were gay in real life: William Haines and Ramon Novarro. Since the general public did not explicitly discuss this, it is hard to know if such behind-the-screen facts should play any part in interpreting these films. It is also hard to know, if the public of the era had some sort of subconscious or implicit knowledge of these actors' "different" gender identities. Throughout film history, audiences have often idolized gay performers, often times celebrating them as "special" or "unique". In part, this might reflect the fact that growing up gay prevents people from just conforming and being like everyone else, and instead forces gay people to develop unique personalities.

It also helps characters develop outsider personas. In West Point, Haines eventually is ostracized because of his "arrogance", in Huddle, Navarro is an outsider because of his class and ethnicity. But just below the surface in both, is the painful outsider status of homosexuals. The films seem to draw on this.

Links to Redskin

Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, 1929) is an important film about a Native American hero, and the prejudices and problems he faces. Most of it takes place out West. But it has a sequence set at a college where he attends on athletic scholarship, like the hero of Huddle. Both films make a scathing point about how the hero is not accepted socially by the well-to-do racists at the school.

Male Bonding

Some of Huddle seems focused on male bonding. The hero's relationship with young coach Ralph Graves is especially important. So is his rivalry with the heroine's football star brother, played by Kane Richmond, the future player of Brick Bradford and The Spider in movie serials.

The football players crowd into the rest room at Mory's, to hide the drunk hero. This is an example of a kind of comedy scene that runs through Sam Wood films, with people crowding into a room.

Settings

The railroad cars with bleacher style seats seem unusual. They are used to transport spectators to the river meet.

The recreation of the famed Mory's Tavern is visually striking. Dozens of photos on the wall provide strong rectilinear patterns.

Sports Numbers

One can see some symbolism in Huddle in numbers worn by the football players. Ramon Novarro wears 44 on his football uniform, and roommate John Aldrege #9. Phallic symbol numbers such as 1, 7 or 9 run through many sports works. Please see my article on Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism for a history of such numbers in film and comics. Such numbers also appear in Wood's So This Is College.

Kitty Foyle

Class Conflict and Romance

Kitty Foyle (1940) is a romance / soap opera, about a woman and her two suitors. It's a triangle story, like Beyond the Rocks. Both films center around a remarkably seductive upper class man, Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the Rocks, Dennis Morgan in Kitty Foyle. Both men are dressed to the nines, and their appeal culminates in scenes where they sport white tie and tails.

Kitty refuses to try to fit in with upper class norms. She recalls the male working class hero of Huddle, who fails to fit in at his upper class school.

Kitty is seen selling at the store; she's highly professional. She anticipates the saleswoman heroine of The Devil and Miss Jones.

Technology

The dictating machine scene is full of unusual features. It has a discussion of automatic writing: shades of Robert Bresson.

The store and its alarm buttons are also elaborate.


The Devil and Miss Jones

Class Conflict

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) is a comedy, about labor union organizers at a department store.

The Devil and Miss Jones resembles Huddle, in dealing with class conflict between the well-to-do and the working class. Both films show sympathy with the struggles of working people. The Devil and Miss Jones is furthermore strongly pro-union.

The two films also both feature an outsider entering and attempting to adapt, to a whole world of a different class. However, Huddle has a working class hero trying to assimilate into the upper class bastion of Yale, while The Devil and Miss Jones centers on a millionaire pretending to be an ordinary employee at a department store. He gets an inside look at a way of life that is completely new to him. Both outsiders often find it difficult to adjust, and succeed at the strange tasks and norms of the new world.

Both films also show big crowds at entertainment milieus: in Huddle, at football games, in The Devil and Miss Jones, at Coney Island.

Wood's anti-Communist activities during the HUAC era have left him with a reputation as a right-winger. I am not an expert on Wood's personal life or political beliefs. But The Devil and Miss Jones seems like one of the most liberal, pro-union films to come out of studio-era Hollywood.