Nov 4, 2018
We've got a watershed moment in the Gipper's career for you this week. In fact, it's two watershed moments in one - Reagan's first substantial role in a commercial hit film and our protagonist's first pairing with the Greatest First Lady Manquée of them all, Jane Wyman! Your humble panel takes enthusiastic note of these facts (and of Jane's stellar performance as Claire Adams); however, that enthusiasm dries up pretty quickly when they consider the puerile military college hi-jinks documented by Brother Rat. A matchless Warner Brothers ensemble cast (including Priscilla Lane, Wayne Morris, Eddie Albert, Louise Beavers, Olin Howland, Jane Bryan, Henry O'Neill, William Tracy, and Johnny "Scat" Davis) can only do so much with these jackbooted animal house antics.
It is striking, however, to observe the American officer class at play (and on penalty tours) during the final days of the country's irrelevance as a global military power. In line with the buffoonish expectations set by Sergeant Murphy (along with other Warner "service comedies" of the 1930s like Flirtation Walk and Shipmates Forever), the film provides a glimpse of a time when no viewer would ever have believed (or hoped) that the United States was just a couple of years away from world domination. We also consider the ways in which this film brings the Reagan persona into focus - was it just a fluke that Dutch was cast as the most grounded "rat"? Or can we already see intimations of his Avuncular/Grandfatherly Decider Telos just one year into his half-century as a public figure.