Sam Wood | They Learned About Women
| Huddle | Kitty Foyle
| The Devil and Miss Jones
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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:
- Race car drivers (Double Speed, Excuse My Dust, What's Your Hurry?, A Racing Romeo)
- Ice-Boat race (Fascinating Youth)
- College football players (The Snob, One Minute to Play, So This Is College,
Huddle, Navy Blue and Gold)
- Women's college basketball (The Fair Co-Ed)
- Polo (Don't Tell Everything)
- Real-life professional baseball players with medical crises (The Pride of the Yankees, The Stratton Story)
- Professional baseball musical-drama (They Learned About Women)
- Horse racing (A Day at the Races, Stablemates, Saratoga Trunk)
- Sports sequences (mountain climbing: Beyond the Rocks, comedy baseball game in the orchestra: A Night at the Opera)
- Working class vs. the rich (The Snob, Sins of the Children, A Tailor Made Man, Huddle,
Kitty Foyle, The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Saleswomen in stores (Kitty Foyle, The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Rich little boys (kid listening to radio: They Learned About Women, students: Goodbye, Mr. Chips,
Dennis Morgan's son: Kitty Foyle)
- Waiters (hero's job: The Snob, stewards, men serving spaghetti: A Night at the Opera,
Italian restaurant: Kitty Foyle)
- Italians (English aristocrat with Italian grandmother: Beyond the Rocks,
hero, hero's parents: Huddle, singers, ship passengers: A Night at the Opera, Italian restaurant: Kitty Foyle)
- Activities subsidized by the rich (archeology: Beyond the Rocks, opera: A Night at the Opera,
sanitarium: A Day at the Races, magazine: Kitty Foyle)
- Schools (Army training camp: Rookies, FBI training: Let 'em Have It, reform school: Lord Jeff,
English public school: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, finishing school discussed: Kitty Foyle, pickpocket school: Heartbeat)
See also Wood's films about college athletics.
- Crook tales (woman crime plotter: Paid, con man: New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford,
con man: Hold Your Man, jewel thieves: Whipsaw,
jewel thieves: Lord Jeff, gentleman jewel thief: Raffles, pickpocket school: Heartbeat)
- Mass entertainments with crowds (football game, rowing meet with train bleacher-cars: Huddle,
football, Annapolis ceremonies: Navy Blue and Gold, Coney Island: The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Orchestras (opera: A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, ballroom: Kitty Foyle)
- Men singing together (college students singing around table celebrate friendship: So This Is College,
the pal song, baseball players in locker room shower: They Learned About Women,
choral songs by Yale students at Mory's, fraternity night, graduation: Huddle)
- Suspense sequences with heights (mountain climbing: Beyond the Rocks,
swinging on ropes backstage: A Night at the Opera, falling off diving board: A Day at the Races)
- People crowding into rooms (football players in men's room hiding drunk hero: Huddle,
stateroom: A Night at the Opera, date at heroine's apartment: Kitty Foyle)
- Men standing by themselves just outside big parties (So This Is College,
- Beaches (rescue off a Dorset beach: Beyond the Rocks,
Coney Island beach: The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Rich older men, often powerful (husband: Beyond the Rocks, heroine's father: Huddle,
department store owner: The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Brash, flamboyant young men (Valentino: Beyond the Rocks, hero: The Girl Said No, hero: Huddle,
two suitors: Kitty Foyle, labor union organizer hero: The Devil and Miss Jones)
- Theatricals, with characters in historical European costumes (theatrical: Beyond the Rocks,
opera finale: A Night at the Opera) related (prologue showing 1900: Kitty Foyle)
- White tie and tails (Valentino: Beyond the Rocks,
duo sings on-stage: They Learned About Women,
Groucho: A Day at the Races, Dennis Morgan: Kitty Foyle)
- Men in few clothes (locker room song number: They Learned About Women, locker room: Navy Blue and Gold,
Coney Island beach: The Devil and Miss Jones)
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.
- They Learned About Women is not what is known as an "integrated musical":, i.e., no one bursts into song.
All the numbers are instead part of a backstage look at two musicians. The duo repeatedly sing in hotel rooms,
for their fellow baseball players. And there is a lengthy sequence, showing their stage act.
- Like some other early sound musicals, such as Applause or The Broadway Melody,
there is lots of soap opera about the romantic and career sufferings of the characters. Such films have a
heavier, more soap-opera-ish tone, than later "musical comedies".
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.
The two ball players are best friends. They even have what they call "the pal song", which celebrates their
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 (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.
- So This Is College takes place at the University of Southern California (USC);
Huddle at Yale. Both are elite universities.
- So This Is College features actors with stage backgrounds, including
the debut of Robert Montgomery; Huddle is full of silent movie veterans.
Hero Ramon Navarro and coach Ralph Graves had worked together on the naval
aviator adventure The Flying Fleet (George W. Hill, 1929), often called
the silent Top Gun.
The heroine's father is played by Rockliffe Fellowes, star of Regeneration
(Raoul Walsh, 1915).
- So This Is College features upper crust characters with few worries;
Huddle contrasts a university full of such well-to-do young people with a working
class hero. This gives a serious tone and some social commentary lacking in the earlier film.
- So This Is College has some elaborate pop songs; Huddle shows young men at
Yale singing choral songs that are traditional and often hauntingly evocative.
There are so many choral songs in Huddle that it can seem like a musical.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) is a comedy, about labor union organizers at a
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.