Thursday, April 4, 2013
Based on Booth Tarkington's novel, albeit very loosely I imagine, this is the story of one Willy or William Baxter (Jackie Cooper), who is nearly 18 and wants his family and friends to treat him like a man. He tells everyone he hasn't got time for girls, as he has too much studying to do for his future, but his attitude changes when he meets a supposedly sophisticated young lady from Chicago named Lola (Betty Field). Before long his whole life centers around this spoiled, silly creature, and his future doesn't matter half as much as having proper clothing for a swank night club and the right car to take his girl out for a spin in. In some ways this slight film seems modeled more on the Andy Hardy or Henry Aldrich series than on Booth Tarkington. [The Hardy series began in 1937, while Cooper starred in what would turn out to be the first of the Henry Aldrich films, What a Life, in 1939.] But as easy as it would be to dismiss Seventeen, it's so well-acted by Cooper, as well as Ann Shoemaker and Otto Kruger as his parents, that they help the film's sentimental charm come through; Cooper is really excellent as the young, proud sap who gets his first taste of heart break. Betty Field affects a strange irritating voice and makes much less of an impression as Lola. Peter Lind Hayes plays George, a rival for Lola's affections, and "Snowflake" Toones is cast as Genesis, the likable handyman.
Verdict: Good-natured, with a winning Cooper. ***.