Film Title: Spring Fever
Studio: Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Silent or Talkie: Silent
- William Haines
- Joan Crawford
- George K. Arthur
- George Fawcett
William Haines, (along with Lon Chaney and John Gilbert) was a top male star at MGM in 1927. Like most stars of the period, Haines had a screen persona that sometimes could be tweaked and adapted slightly, but most often remained an integral aspect of his screen appearances. If Gilbert was the “Great Lover”, he could sometimes step outside that persona to a degree; witness The Big Parade (1925). And Chaney occasionally abandoned his “Man with a Thousand Faces” guise to assay a character role, appearing without disfiguring make-up and costumes as he did in Tell It to the Marines (1926), which also featured Haines. But Haines’ films were mostly formulaic and he was pretty much always the “Wisecracker”. Spring Fever is no exception to the proven formula.
As the picture opens we are introduced to: “Mr. Waters (George Fawcett), who occasionally neglected golf long enough to run the Northwestern Shipping Co.” and “Jack Kelly (William Haines), who neglected golf only to work for Mr. Walters as shipping clerk.” Walters is having trouble with his golf swing. He spies one of his shipping clerks, Jack Kelly, who is a bonafide golf whiz, take an amazing shot and declares, “What a rosy place this world would be if I could hit a golf ball like that!” Jack gives him some pointers which dramatically improve his game, and, as a reward, Waters gives Jack an all expenses paid two-week vacation at “The Oakmont Country Club” a castle of leisure designed to keep the idle rich busy. Jack buys some fancy new duds and leaves poor old Pop Kelly (Bert Woodruff) behind. He’s going to live like a swell and play golf with the best!
It’s not long before Jack catches the eye of beautiful Allie Monte (Joan Crawford) and her friends, including “Eustace Tewksbury (George K. Arthur) [who] was born in London and had been in a fog ever since.” Jack does not disclose the circumstances of his being a guest of the country club and does not discourage his new friends’ assumptions that he, like them, comes from money. If you think this might lead to trouble, you’re right. But wait! Allie herself is also hiding a secret! And what might happen should Jack’s Pop come down to congratulate his son when he wins the club championship?
At 78 minutes, Spring Fever zips along at a nice clip. Haines was incredibly good at playing this sort of thing, and the fact that he was very good-looking only added to his appeal. This was the second of four films in which he was teamed with Joan Crawford. Their on-screen chemistry may have been helped by the fact that they had become good friends off-screen and would remain so throughout their lives. George K. Arthur has some nice comedic moments as Eustace Tewksbury, and director Edward Sedgwick was a pro at this kind of material as he would prove again in his direction of Buster Keaton’s first two films at MGM: The Cameraman and Spite Marriage. Writer Ralph Spence delivered some very funny title cards too: “You’re so beautiful I feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m not looking at you.” and “I’m not going to marry for money. I thought I was the whole maple forest, but I’m only the sap.” being two of my favorites.
Spring Fever is available on DVD-R from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection. There has been considerable nitrate decomposition in the source material for Spring Fever. It looks like this title may have been preserved in the nick of time. However, despite this, the film is certainly watchable. The decomposition has not erased the entire image, but it has compromised it. Visual evidence of this comes and goes throughout the film. The title cards have either been reproduced or cleaned up considerably and are not affected. Yes, it’s an unfortunate way to view this or any film. But considering that it is the only way to view this film, it is worth putting up with. A 2008 TCM produced score by Darrell Raby accompanies the film. It is merely okay.
Haines’ films tend to be rigid, so if you enjoy the formula this one is well worth the viewing. It is the only pairing of Haines and Crawford to be released on DVD at present, although West Point, also from 1927, has aired on TCM and may be made available in the future. Spring Fever is enjoyable, well-produced fluff of its day. Ralph Spence’s well-written titles add much to the proceedings. I had a very good time revisiting this one.
If you are interested in William Haines I highly recommend William J. Mann’s 1998 biography Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star. It provides perspective on Haines’ life and work and discloses a heretofore hidden aspect of the professional and personal lives of those working in Hollywood during this era.
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