Classic Film Guide

Age of Consent, The (1932)

Directed by Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey (1936) & Stage Door (1937)) and executive produced by David O. Selznick, the screenplay for this Martin Flavin play was written by Sarah Y. Mason (Little Women (1933)) & Francis M. Cockrell. The film is a dated drama about "free love" on college campuses. There are a couple of scenes where the characters are seen discussing this and that while sitting on a stone bench engraved with "in loco parentis".

The film begins with a montage of several short, poorly acted clips with students discussing "free love", which is all the rage on this particular college campus. Grady Sutton appears uncredited as one of the students in the dormitory (Betty Grable is also listed as being one of the students on campus, uncredited, though I failed to spot her). Betty (Dorothy Wilson) can't quite decide whether she wants to participate or not. On the one hand, she's been dating a young man with high ideals, Mike Harvey (Richard Cromwell), a pretty boy whose "mentor" is Professor David Mathews (John Halliday). On the other hand, she is attracted to the rich, carefree Duke Galloway (Eric Linden). Frustrated by Betty's cavalier attitude and everyone else's "looseness", Mike retreats to a local hangout to be alone. There, he unburdens his "conservative" views to Dora Swale (Arline Judge), a young waitress.

Soon, however, Betty is wooed by Mike, who gives her his college pin, and the two of them start to make plans. Mike turns to Professor Mathews for advice. However, he is obviously conflicted and fails to make a compelling case for Mike to stay in school and wait a couple of years before marrying Betty. The primary reason for his failure in this area is his own personal experience. Evidently he too had a love of a lifetime in Barbara (Aileeen Pringle), also now a teacher on campus, and they had decided to wait only to see their love fade such that they never married. Barbara also advises Betty similarly. In fact, it isn't until she is dispensing with her advice that we learn Professor Mathews’s love had been Barbara (through a photograph).  In a moment of passion, Mike tells Betty he is willing to drop out of college to take a job he knows he can always get in California, so they can marry, but she says she'd feel terrible if he did and that they should wait for him to finish his degree instead.

One night, everything changes. A (sexually?) frustrated Mike is "seduced" into walking Dora home from Tolers, the local hangout. Arriving at her home, he discovers that her father (Reginald Barlow) works nights. Acting irresponsibly, the two drink, dance, and spend the night together (though what actually happens is open for debate). Mr. Swale gets home at 4 AM to discover the disheveled couple and invokes the shotgun wedding principle. Dora was underage? In any case, Professor Mathews tries to intervene, acting every bit the liberal one would expect on today's college campuses, and prevent Mr. Swale from ruining Mike's life. But, forced to own up to his error by the Assistant District Attorney (Frederick Burton, uncredited), Mike accepts his fate and agrees to wed Dora.

*** SPOILERS ***

A distraught Betty, upset that maintaining her ideals have earned her nothing, is consoled by Duke and then goes for a ride in his fast car. Naturally, they are in a car crash. Professor Mathews receives a call from Barbara at the Swale’s just before the wedding can take place, informing him of the accident. Everyone rushes to the hospital where the doctor (Howard C. Hickman, uncredited) informs them that Duke will not survive, but Betty is expected to recover fully. We witness Duke's melodramatic passing away. Seeing Mike's love for the injured Betty, a tearful Dora refuses to force Mike to go through with it, much to her working class father's disappointment; he had hoped her daughter would marry a college graduate! The last scene shows Mike and Betty departing on a train for California with Professor Mathews and Barbara waving to them.

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