A Yank at Oxford, 1938, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, November 24 at 2:30 p.m. If they were only going to show one Taylor film in November, this is a good choice. Mr. Taylor is excellent as a cocky young American off to study at Oxford and eventually finds the goodness within himself.
A Yank at Oxford is one of several films intended to “toughen up” Robert Taylor’s image after his success in a number of boudoir romances. Taylor plays Lee Sheridan, a college boy who has been spoiled rotten by his newspaper owner father, played by Lionel Barrymore. Father Sheridan’s habit of holding the presses for Lee’s latest athletic triumph has only contributed to the boy’s swollen head.
Despite his lack of academic focus, Taylor is offered a place at Oxford. Upon his arrival, he immediately encounters a group of his fellow students, who begin a campaign to humiliate him. He also meets the leading lady, Maureen O’Sullivan.
The rest of the delightful and humorous picture focuses on the relationships among three people: Taylor and O’Sullivan, boyfriend and girlfriend; Taylor and Griffith Jones, his leading tormentor; O’Sullivan and Jones, brother and sister. A nymphomaniac Vivien Leigh adds spice to the mix.
A Yank at Oxford allows Robert Taylor to show that he is not only a fine actor but also a fine athlete. Granted that the script specified that he would always win, Taylor is believable as a runner and as a rower. He can also swim.
O’Sullivan is a charming coed torn between her boyfriend and her loyalty to her brother. Jones and Taylor cover up for one other for different peccadilloes. They evolve from antagonists to teammates to friends. A remarkable scene that deserves special mention concerns the venerable English tradition of “debagging.”
The cast is uniformly good. Taylor looks and acts younger than his twenty-seven years. Jones is one of a fine contingent of British actors including Edmund Gwenn, Robert Coote and Edward Rigby. Lionel Barrymore shines as the older Sheridan. A pre-Scarlett Vivien Leigh is lovely and engaging.
A Yank at Oxford was MGM’s first British-made film. Jack Conway, the American director keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Harold Rosson’s photography has a newsreel-like immediacy. And Oxford, of course, looks wonderful. Review by me for the IMDB.
Some behind the scenes photos:
A very cold dip in the Thames (or Isis as it’s called in Oxford).