The Under-Pup (1939) Poster


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Wonderful musical
Tom_Barrister26 April 2005
It's understandable why this movie, Gloria Jean's first, is also her personal favorite.

That Gloria Jean Schoonover even made it to motion pictures is a tribute to her abilities as an actress and singer. When longtime Universal producer Joe Pasternak announced a talent hunt audition to be held in New York for the purpose of finding a female child singer, Gloria Jean's teacher, Leah Russel, decided to take her young charge to it. At the audition were hundreds of talented young girls in pretty dresses, looking much like Shirley Temple replicas. It wouldn't seem that a short, cutesy girl in blue jeans with slightly crooked teeth would have much of a chance, nor would it help when she refused to audition until the piano was tuned. But Gloria was ultimately the one selected, and a career was born.

In the Under-Pup, Gloria is introduced to the movie-going world a few seconds into the opening credits in a head-and-shoulders closeup, wearing a white satin dress and looking very cherubic, singing a short sequence of coloratura runs and arpeggios, and landing solidly on high C. One could argue Universal was showing off a bit, but as it turned out, they had a lot to show off in Gloria.

The story is one that was used often: a tomboyish city girl from a poor family is invited to a camp for rich and mostly snobbish girls. She's initially shunned and ridiculed, but she eventually wins the girls over and manages to play Little Miss Fixit for various situations. While the idea is well-traveled, it's played out in a refreshing manner. There's actually a well-constructed plot, an intelligent storyline, and realistic dialog. A few viewings reveal many niceties in continuity that are usually lacking in "B" pictures. As is the case in most Grover Jones screenplays, there are no gaping holes in "The Under-Pup", no inexplicable characters or situations that pop up out of nowhere. New elements show hints of their existence at earlier points in the story. The characters in the story are very believable; the viewer is spared the plastic types who normally frequent such movies. The main character of Pip-Emma is far from a Miss Perfect; she's surprisingly vulnerable and real, with an upside and downside. Like most kids, she succumbs to temptation, gets into her share of mischief, and wrestles with the choices of good and bad. At each moment of truth, she ends up doing the right thing, but most of the time, an adult needs to steer her along the right path.

The acting is superb. The idea, as was customary in those days, was to surround the new and/or inexperienced star (re: Sonja Henie, Jascha Heifetz, and even her studio mate Deanna Durbin) with veteran talent. And Universal did so with established players such as C. Aubrey Smith, Nan Grey, Bob Cummings, Beulah Bondi, Ray Walburn, and the wonderfully wacky Billy Gilbert, plus child stars Virginia Weidler (in one of her few non-bratty roles), Shirley Mills, Dickie Moore, and Butch and Buddy (Billy Lenhart and Kenny Brown). Ginny Weidler's character is as well-acted as that of any of the adults.

There was no need to cover for Gloria Jean, though. She did slightly overdo some of her scenes, understandable for a (then) novice, but she showed that she could run the range of emotions when needed, and she did so with a maturity that belied her thirteen years (Universal listed her age as eleven, feeling it would sell more tickets).

Of course, her main reason for being in the movie was to sing---and sing she did. Her voice, while not projecting in the dynamic way that her idol Deanna Durbin's did, is (in my opinion) purer and more lilting. In layman's terms: Durbin's voice is richer, and Gloria Jean's is sweeter. Gloria sings all or part of five songs, including a lyrical version of Mozart's "Shepherd Lullabye", the first two verses of Lady John Scott's well-known "Annie Laurie", and some scales to accompany a sort of fight song for the girls' Penguin Club in the movie, the music of which comes from John Phillip Sousa's "High School Cadet" march. Interestingly, Gloria repeats the "Penguin" song in what was essentially a sequel to this movie: "A Little Bit of Heaven", which is a must-see if you like "The Under-Pup".

All in all, this is an excellent movie. Unfortunately, it's also a movie that hasn't been aired often in the last three decades. Perhaps one of the classic movie cable channels can be convinced to show it. The movie may also be bought directly from Gloria Jean on her website. While IMDb policies forbid the posting of URL's, you can find the site name by using your favorite search engine and her full name of "Gloria Jean Schoonover".
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A charming film chronicling an idealized childhood.
cheathamg30 September 2007
This lightweight musical depicts a world we would all like to think actually existed. It's a depression-era film that was made to give audiences some fantasy escape from harsh reality. Pip-Emma, the girl played by Gloria Jean is not really a tomboy, but she's a tough yet vulnerable, spunky kid who wants more out of life and isn't afraid to stand up for herself and take what she can, as long as nobody gets hurt. Her moral crises in the film comes about when she loses her nerve after repeated rejections by the power elite to which she has attempted to prove herself. The film is essentially about standing up to adversity and believing in oneself. The fact that it's filled with bright and shinning young people and pretty music just makes the moral that much more palatable. It hard to say just how well it would play with young people today, but it's so inherently sweet and honest, I would like to think they would enjoy it as well as the audiences of the time.
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Is it Deanna or Shirley? Why no it's Gloria Jean trying to be both!
jjnxn-11 October 2017
Somewhat sticky musical that served as minor star Gloria Jean's screen bow. While she has genuine talent she's not a strong enough screen presence to carry the burden of the film .

Obviously groomed to be the next Shirley Temple or Deanna Durbin (she's styled to resemble both) the camera doesn't love her the way it did those other two and where they sparkled and POPPED on screen she is a sweet nonentity. It doesn't help her cause that one of the actresses who is supposed to be supporting her, the charismatic Virginia Weidler, dominates their scenes and possessed that extra element Gloria lacked.

Stacked with a solid supporting cast this is a harmless diversion, however you will be longing for Deanna Durbin before its over, but it's about 15 minutes too long for the story its selling.
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A bit of sap, a bit of schtick, a bit of song, but not too long.
mark.waltz24 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
If two Hayley Mills at girl's camp in "The Parent Trap" and Christina Ricci's Wednesday Addams terrorizing the snooty kids at her summer camp in "Addams Family Values" made you laugh, then this film might have some interest for you. Perky Gloria Jean's Pip is a Manhattan tenement kid given a scholarship to girl's camp based upon a poem she wrote revealing that she has never seen a tree, not even the one that grows in Brooklyn (my line, not hers.) But when she gets there, the snooty girls, lead around by the nose by the malicious Ann Gillis, treat her with disdain, all except the fragile Virginia Weidler. As honest as Manhattan is long, Pip unashamedly brags about her gifted family and many uncles of all occupations which rubs the spoiled but emotionally neglected society girls the wrong way. Between camp counselors Robert Cummings and Nan Grey, as well as the strict but lovable camp leader Beulah Bondi, each of the girls must face their own demons, many of them aided by "Miss Fix It" Jean and her feisty grandpa, C. Aubrey Smith, who shows up after attempting to reconcile Weidler's estranged parents.

Films that feature pre-teen girls can often be either saccharine sweet or grating for the Miss Hannigan in many of us. While at times it does get a bit sticky and the overabundance of bratty girls isn't a major selling point, the way Jean handles these girls ends up being entertaining enough with some very amusing character performances. As usual, Billy Gilbert (as the not so proud papa of two bratty boys of his own) massacres the English language, demanding his "handkersniff" and being the victim of his own son's pranks, and steals every moment he's in. C. Aubrey Smith is marvelous as grandpa, and Beaulah Bondi will win over your heart slowly as she goes from pompous spinster to open hearted after Jean does her an incredible kindness.

While I felt that Jean in subsequent films wasn't as magnetic on screen as other child stars (particularly Universal's Deanna Durbin whom she was touted to be a successor to), in this, she wins me over. There was something about the way she was filmed here as opposed to later films (casting her with Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields) that gave her potential, sadly not utilized wisely in those subsequent movies. Her singing voice is pleasant here, not shrill, and she gives as good as she gets. She's certainly not deserving of the snobbery she receives, and the way that the nasty girls lead around by Gillis are dealt with ends up being satisfying without being cruel. As a little "Miss Fix It", I'd prefer somebody like Jean's character here (or the younger Deanna Durbin or even Jane Withers) over the ever popular Shirley Temple who has overshadowed many of these forgotten pre-teen stars.
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Little Miss Fix-It 2.0
boblipton9 February 2020
Gloria Jean comes from a poor family, but with the help of grandfather C. Aubrey Smith, she writes an essay that gets her a month at an exclusive girl's summer camp. There she makes a friend but is confronted with the snobbery of the other girls. She also meets Billy Gilbert and his two sons, helps camp chief counselor Beulah Bondi and fitness instructor Bob Cummings.

With superstar Deanna Durban about to graduate into older roles, Universal had Joe Pasternak produce this effort to push her successor as Little Miss Fix-It into the spotlight. Gloria Jean has a fine singing voice, and is surrounded with a top cast, including Raymond Walburn, Margaret Lindsay, and Samuel S. Hinds. The result is a highly amusing movie that has Miss Jean dealing with the cliquish behavior of pre-teens. Billy Gilbert is his usual delightful nonsensical self, Walburn is comically pompous, and Smith is a pleasure as always, even though his accent roams between Scots, Mancunian and West Country.

It was a great premiere for Miss Jeans, but after a couple more leads, she wound up in her best remembered movie, supporting W.C. Fields in NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK. Adolescence called, and her movie career tailed off in the late 1940s. Her last movie appearance was in Jerry Lewis' THE LADIES' MAN and she had a few TV roles. The rest of her life was spent with family, and she died in 2018, 92 years of age.
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High School Coeds
bkoganbing4 September 2018
I'm thinking that Deanna Durbin was busy on something else and also that Universal Pictures decided it needed a backup Durbin is the reason that Gloria Jean made her film debut in The Under-Pup. As good a reason as any for the film to be made and enjoyed. Not too much variation for Gloria Jean in the traditional Durbin little miss fix-it part.

Gloria gets a scholarship to go to a girl's summer camp that's reserved for the rich and snooty. Ann Gillis is the richest and snootiest there, a sort of greatest generation version of a Mean Girl, but Gloria overcomes and even gains a friend in the person of Virginia Weidler.

The place is run by Beulah Bondi with counselors Bob Cummings and Nan Grey to assist. The girls for dress wear these military outfits and the place has a marching theme which is John Philip Sousa's High School Cadets with some lyrics added.

Others in the cast are C. Aubrey Smith as Gloria's grandfather and Raymond Walburn as Gillis's father who has spoiled her rotten. Billy Gilbert is there as the cook for the camp with two bratty sons and Gilbert does his usual shtick.

The Under-Pup holds up pretty well with its two main assets, Gloria Jean's singing and the great cast Universal surrounded her with.
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