Aug 15, 2018

On DVD: A Baby-Faced Robert Young in The Band Plays On (1934)

I don’t tend to be drawn to sports films, but when they star Preston Foster as a football coach, my interest increases. Now available on DVD from Warner Archive, The Band Plays On (1934) benefits from this happy casting. It also stars an early career Robert Young and a pleasing young cast. In its modest way, it is cheerfully wholesome and playful, with enough drama and hard knocks to keep it from collapsing into a pile of sugar.

Young is one of four young men who are caught stealing a car. In the interest of reform, they are sent to play football with the altruistic Pacific University coach Howdy Hardy (Foster), who turns them into high school sports stars. The quartet moves on to college athletics and gradually find themselves in new trouble, with Howdy again faced with helping them redeem themselves.

The quartet of men, the other three played by Stuart Erwin, Russell Hardy, and William Tannen, have a natural, if unremarkable chemistry. They play well with the female lead, Betty Furness, as Taylor’s childhood sweetheart and Hardies’ sister, who variously mothers, romances and roots for the men. I found Erwin especially appealing in his role: a little less goofy than his persona typically dictates and revealing a more heartfelt performance than usual.

My admiration for the prolific and talented, but underappreciated Preston Foster continued here. He plays a familiar mentor role with great sensitivity, really seeming to feel the distress of his protégées and showing strength in a restrained, but confident manner. Foster is so good at communicating the interior world of his characters. By the end of a film, you know his characters as if they have become friends with you.

This flick was made to be a pleasant time-filler and it succeeds in that goal. I was more engaged than I expected to be.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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