A Chump At Oxford (Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, 1940) The classic comedy duo play a couple of deadbeat ninnies so down-and-out they resort to temping as street cleaners. Fortuitously, they foil a bank robber by neglecting to pick up banana peel. The grateful banker then fulfills their dreams of getting an education, but before they know it they become targets of the Oxies’ monkeyshines (hilariously and inexplicably played by a cast of middle-aged men) who don’t think them quite up to snuff for their hoighty-toighty institution.
Moral: (updated for the times) Though your pre-Byzantine history degree may leave you with little prospects, hang in there sport, some day some wealthy industrialist may send you to community college so you can get a job.
Animal House (John Belushi, Donald Sutherland, 1978) A bunch of loose-moraled nogoodniks don’t let things like squares, society, propriety, grade point averages of 0.0 get in their way of having a blast at university. The Delta House have honed their skills of wreaking havoc, irking the Dean to the point of giving the whole lot of them their walking papers. But with nothing to lose, the Deltas take down those brown-nosing knobs. This is the hilarious haymaker of screwball college films, which either blessed us or cursed us with this genre.
Moral: “Being bad is more fun than being good.”
Revenge of the Nerds (1984) A couple of nerds, hampered only by their unbridled enthusiasm, go to college expecting the world to be their oyster, or rather, their retainer case. They immediately fall victim to cretinous creatures on the football team, the Alpha Betas, who take over their dorms after having burned down their own house in a cavalier game of fireball. In their new home, war-torn occupation-style gym cots, is where they meet their other compatriots in rejection and decide to form their own fraternity. After unrelenting Alphas release pigs at their first party and give ‘em a good mooning, the nerds stand tall, in a gangly sort of way, and take their revenge.
Moral: Those who bone-up, bone best.
Real Genius (Val Kilmer, 1985) A 15-year-old science prodigy is accepted to college by a wily, scheming, Svengali of a professor who gets him to unwittingly help build CIA death ray that can blast a single target off the face of the planet from space. Val Kilmer, in possibly the performance of a lifetime, plays the girl-chasing, reprobate, slacker genius, who imparts upon the young man one of life’s (or college movie life, I can no longer keep the two straight) greatest lessons: loosen up.
Moral: A message to our emerging theatre students: If Val Kilmer can have a shining moment, you can too!
Back To School (Rodney Dangerfield, Robert Downey Jr, 1986) A wealthy tycoon goes up country to join his discouraged son at college and show him that education is top priority. After a hefty donation, the big cheese is accepted, infuriating the finely tuned ethical sensibilities of the Dean of Economics. Negotiating his way through school proves fun and easy when he can buy his way out of trouble and into the best classes, has a hired goon to fight off the whole football team and even gets Kurt Vonnegut to write his paper on the subject of Kurt Vonnegut. A perfect platform for splendid Dangerfieldian one liners. Such as, after learning a young lady’s favorite subject is poetry, “Really? Well, maybe you can help me straighten out my Longfellow.”
Moral: Don’t be jealous of the rich kid---their dads throw the best parties.
PCU (Jeremy Piven, 1994) It’s the dawning of a new age, the glorious 1990s, the apex of excessive political correctness. A pre-hair plugs Jeremy Piven plays a burnt-out senior who gives a young prefrosh a helpful crash course in the sensitivity levels at their modern day University. He meets the “yurt toting” hippies, the kvetching radical feminists, the militant Black Panther types as well as the whale savers and the fair-weather vegans. And as the plot thickens, our grungy, cynical heroes have to contend with the stuffy old dean (as if we’d have it any other way). But George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic step in to save the day.
Moral: Beneath all the aggression and Gloria Steinem quoting, feminists just want to give up the funk and tear the roof off the sucker.
Old School (Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jeremy Piven, 2003) Our hero is a sweet and sensitive 30-something who just left his wife due to her penchant for gang bangs. But not to worry, he has the help of his trusty dude friends, who, sparked by latent development, want to help him regain his dignity and boink a bunch of college chicks. He is a man reborn. But he is forced to turn his new pad into a fraternity in order to keep it out of the hands of the bitter Dean Pritchard. The boys then put a motley crew of outcasts and seniors through the ringer to make it legit.
Moral: Despite age and dubious registration status, you can still be king of the campus.
-Mairin Prentiss is a freelance writer who is very keen to be the meanest dean.