The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953)

Grainbelt University is a school for the serious student, with the motto of “…LEARN, LEARN, LEARN — WORK, WORK, WORK” ruling the lives of its students.

(Image via
(Image via

One student isn’t quite prepared to live up to that motto: Dobie Gillis (Bobby Van), a girl-crazy young man who has come to college to have fun rather than to learn and work. He quickly finds a kindred spirit in Charlie Trask (Bob Fosse).

During his very first day on campus, at a freshman get-together, Dobie’s eye is caught by Pansy Hammer (Debbie Reynolds). Pansy embodies the school’s motto. She’s interested in the facts and doesn’t understand the “here to party” attitude of some colleges, so she’s proud to be a student at Grainbelt.

Determined to get the girl, Dobie decides to register for all of the same courses as Pansy. Lorna (Barbara Ruick), crushing on Dobie, also signs up for the classes… and Charlie, crushing on Lorna, does the same. Will these four students find romance, or stick to the “learn and work” plan during their first months as freshmen classmates?

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis was directed by Don Weis, from a screenplay and story by Max Shulman.

As soon as I began this film and saw the plaque adorned with the Grainbelt motto, I knew I was going to enjoy watching it. The film pokes fun at both the serious student at the lax student, playing on the still-relevant “work vs. play” duality that exists in the college environment. Rather than offering up a serious exploration of this concept or turning the film into a cautionary tale, it’s handled with humor and a fair bit of silliness (including a running gag about Pansy’s tendency to blow things up in the chemistry lab).

The story is kept very light and thin, with a focus on young love and fun, catchy songs. A little attempt at conflict is made with Pansy’s father not wanting her to date while in college, and with a few grumpy professors nagging Pansy and Dobie, but it never brings down the mood of the film.

(Image via Fine Art America)
(Image via Fine Art America)

Since the film is so lightweight, it requires a good cast in order to old the viewer’s attention. Luckily, the cast of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis is full of charm. Bob Fosse is a delight to watch in his supporting role, which of course includes a chance or two to show off his dancing skills. Debbie Reynolds, a TMP favorite, is as adorable and lovable as ever. I even warmed up to Bobby Van’s slightly-obnoxious wannabe womanizer character as the film moved along.

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis is a highly enjoyable watch, tailor-made for those who love a slightly-cheesy, music-infused teen flick. The score: 3.5/5

One thought on “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953)

  1. Wow, I never knew this movie existed! (And I’m a proud film nut.) It sounds very cute and I’ll put it on my list of to-sees. I grew up watching Dobie Gillis on TV and just loved the show, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this.


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