Because of his reputation as a prep school track star, freshman Hugh Carver (Donald Keith) arrives at Prescott College as a BMOC-in-training. He’s ready and rarin’ to go when it comes to collegiate life…though he explains to his dorm mate Carl Peters (Gilbert Roland) that he will not be indulging in the wild party shenanigans because he doesn’t want to break training. Carl, no slouch himself when it comes to athletics, doesn’t seem too concerned about the necessity in maintaining a healthy physical regimen; he’s more the Lothario type, and has plastered one of the walls in their room with photographs of his “harem”—including a comely lass named Cynthia Day (Clara Bow).
Hugh will eventually make young Cynthia’s acquaintance when he and another frosh crash her residence while being “hazed” by a fraternity. Cynthia is most taken with Hugh (particularly when he serenades her with All Alone), and the two quickly become a campus item. Cyn runs with a pretty fast crowd, however, and before too long Hugh is neglecting both his studies and athletic program to spend all his time with her. In his sophomore year (you won’t believe how quickly this picture puts him through the halls of ivy, by the way), he blows an opportunity to set a school record in track because he’s been exercising in an entirely different manner…if you know what I mean, and I think you do. His parents (Henry B. Walthall, Mary Alden) are most displeased that their son is a failure; Pa Carver tells him not to return home until he’s made good.
(I would just like to say that it has been my experience that f**king up in college doesn’t actually work in the manner depicted in this film. My parents issued no such ultimatum—they just yanked my ass out of Marshall, though in their defense I was not there on an athletic scholarship.)
A narrow escape from a roadhouse that’s raided by the gendarmes puts Hugh at a crossroads: if he continues to party hearty with Cynthia, he’s in danger of not fulfilling his destiny as a Prescott legend (not to mention never being allowed to visit the folks again, which I still think is complete bullsh*t). He must break it off (the romance, I mean)—but will it be enough to save the day when Prescott takes on rival Tremont in THE BIG GAME?
The Plastic Age was one of fifteen Clara Bow films released in 1925 (a year that included Free to Love and My Lady of Whims), so even if it was the movie that established the “It” Girl’s stardom (she was signed to Paramount after Age became a huge success) it seems only fair that she should receive some sort of reward after all that hard work. I’ve stated numerous times here on the blog that I’m a big fan of her movies (and lament that so many of them are lost) …while freely acknowledging that Clara was more a screen presence than actress (not that she wasn’t good—she just had to make do with what she had in her toolkit). (This is why I can’t wait until my copy of the Flicker Alley release of 1927’s Children of Divorce arrives in the mailbox here at Rancho Yesteryear—I have received an e-mail confirmation it’s on the way—since I promised Kristen “K-Lo” Lopez I’d have a review at the ready for ClassicFlix.)
The source material for Age came from a 1924 novel (with the same title) by Percy Marks, a Brown University professor who drew upon the lives of his own students (the “flaming youth” of that era, to make another silent classic reference) and their fast-and-furious lifestyle during the Roaring Twenties. Producer B.P. Schulberg, the CEO of independent studio Preferred Pictures at that time, bought the rights to Marks’ novel for a cool $35,000 (outbidding all the major and not-so-major studios) with the confidence that pictures depicting collegiate life (witness Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, among many others) would net a tidy sum at the box office. Schulberg was also available to use the hefty take obtained by Plastic Age to his own advantage; when Paramount’s Adolph Zukor expressed an interest in Bow, he “re-dopted” Preferred into the Paramount fold, and B.P. was hired as an associate producer so he could continue working on Clara’s new Paramount vehicles.
I enjoyed The Plastic Age despite it’s being pretty corny stuff. It hits every predictable note (notably the sequence of THE BIG GAME), and yet it’s impossible to dislike. As always, I couldn’t take my eyes off Bow and I found her co-star, Donald Keith (who also appeared alongside Clara in Parisian Love  and Dancing Mothers ), a little more palatable here than his bland turns in Free to Love and My Lady of Whims. To be honest, I found the chemistry between Clara and Gilbert Roland even more interesting—something that was hot-and-heavy off-screen as well, since the two of them engaged in an affair while Age was in production (Roland remained good friends with Bow after their ardor had cooled). Knowing this makes the ending of Age kind of bittersweet.
Henry B. Walthall and Mary Alden turn in solid performances as Keith’s concerned parents, and that’s future director David Butler (A Connecticut Yankee, Ali Baba Goes to Town) playing the athletic director, James Henley. (There’s a funny bit where Butler’s Henley is also coach of the football team, and he has this nervous habit of snapping twigs during the game—the camera even moves in for a close-up of a twig pile under the bench. Toward the end of the contest between Prescott and Tremont, Coach has run out of twigs…until a team member enters stage right with a handful of replacements.) That gentleman I joked about above is Clark Gable, of course, and Age also invites you to look for Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott and Janet Gaynor. (The [always reliable] IMDb lists the future Mrs. Gable, Carole Lombard, as appearing in this movie…but a note in the “Trivia” section says she’s not in the film.)