College Coach (1933) is a fast-paced Warner Bros. film starring Pat O’Brien in the title role, supported by Dick Powell and a terrific cast. It’s available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive series.
O’Brien plays hard-driving college football coach Gore, who’s recruited by Calvert University to revitalize their gridiron program and refill the financially struggling school’s coffers. Coach Gore succeeds, but not without a cost; one of his star players, Phil Sargeant (Powell), frustrated with the time needed for football, quits the team in order to focus on his chemistry studies, and Gore’s beautiful but neglected wife Claire (Ann Dvorak) flirts with another of the team’s players, Buck (Lyle Talbot).
The football gear and scoreboards may be old, but the storyline remains timely today, delving into corruption in college sports, including bribing players with cars and putting them in easy classes and making sure they pass. A serious injury on the field is also an issue. The more things change, the more they stay the same! With the exception of Powell, most of the characters are crooked, dimwitted, or make poor choices, but this being a pre-Code no one pays much for their sins. Even in his final scene, the coach is ready to risk his marriage once more when an attractive new coaching offer comes through.
The storyline is entertaining enough, but what really makes it fun is the cast and the location shooting. Look for John Wayne welcoming Powell back to school earlier in the film, and Ward Bond is in the background as Gore’s assistant coach. Two burly character actors, Nat Pendleton (an Olympic wrestler in real life) and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, are among the football players. The cast also includes Hugh Herbert (mercifully fairly mild-mannered in this), Donald Meek, Arthur Hohl, Berton Churchill, Joe Sawyer, and more. One non-football player who flunks chemistry was a very familiar face but he’s not listed on IMDb and I can’t place his name.
This 76-minute drama was briskly directed by William A. Wellman and was shot by cinematographer Arthur Todd at both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. Dear Old Hollywood has extensive information on these and other locations seen in the film
The Warner Archive DVD looks terrific and also includes the theatrical trailer.
Laura Grieve is a lifelong film enthusiast whose thoughts on classic films and Disney can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005. Follow Laura on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LaurasMiscMovie.