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Girls' Dormitory

Girls' Dormitory

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Girls’ Dormitory, Dr. Stephen Dominick is the head of a German girls’ finishing school and a published author who is very popular with his students. When Professor Augusta Wimmer, a snooping busybody, finds a love letter in a wastepaper basket, she goes immediately to Dominick and demands an inquiry to determine the writer’s identity. Handwriting comparisons point to Marie Claudel, a 19 year old French girl. Despite threats, the senior refuses to disclose the object of her affections. Could it be the headmaster?

STARS: Herbert Marshall, Ruth Chatterton, Simone Simon

66 min | Drama, Romance | 1936 | Color


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Glorious, romantic old film
A May-December romance may not be to modern tastes, but there can't be many young women who wouldn't fall for a man like Herbert Marshall if he was their headmaster. He's devastatingly attractive here in an oblivious-to-his-own-charms, mild and scholarly kind of a way, with that legendary voice.

The film is what it is in terms of being a product of its era. The rhythm of the scenes is different from what we are used to today. The social mores are obviously of another era. There's no way a schoolgirl of today would face an intrusive inquisition by the entire teaching staff for something as trivial as an unsent love letter, you can hear the 21st century lawsuits flying.

But this was a different era, and it's a strange delight to just step back in time and absorb it all.

Simone Simon is absolutely luminous on screen. The love scene is exquisite: from Marshall's rain-wet hair falling over his forehead to Simon's declaration that shakes him to the core.

It's a sad film too. You can't help but feel for Ruth Chatterton, and even half wish he'd change his mind and discover his love for her instead of Simon, who is surely young and beautiful enough to love again. Apparently there's a 1931 German film where the headmaster does end up with this colleague. But here he doesn't, and is reunited with Simon in what feels like a somewhat rushed ending.

Girls' Dormitory is only 66 minutes long: there's room for a better ending. More screen time and a subplot for Tyrone Power could have been interesting. Films have become longer each decade, but the average movie in the 1930s by one analysis I found was 96 minutes - half an hour longer. I'm not film historian enough to know why Girls' Dormitory is so short, but perhaps we may feel that its brevity adds to its charm.

Anyway, this is one to enjoy and not agonise too deeply over. Simone Simon's character is 19 after all, and this is from an era where a girl would expect to marry soon after finishing school.

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