Thelma “Teddy” Shaw (Ginger Rogers) is a New York office girl, working as a typist for a big company. Not one to turn “party animal” in her free time, Teddy is sophisticated, spending every spare moment “improving [her] mind.”
Much to the envy of her office friends, Teddy gets the chance to take a vacation and selects Camp Kare-Free — a camp for cultured, sports-loving individuals — as her destination. She’s looking forward to having a break from work, and a break from her overbearing family, who have been trying to set her up with Emil Beatty (Jack Carson).
Teddy’s vacation starts off with a mishap as she arrives only to have her luggage dropped by Chick Kirkland (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), a handsome but somewhat rude employee of Camp Kare-Free. Will romance bloom between the intelligent city gal and the apparently-less-polished camp waiter?
Alfred Santell directs 1938’s Having Wonderful Time. This film marked the screen debut of Red Skelton, who appears as a supporting player alongside the likes of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Peggy Conklin.
Having Wonderful Time is a bit of a time capsule, featuring some very corny and very typically 20th century humor (Skelton’s donut bit), and taking place in a setting you won’t find in today’s world: a communal “camp” resort.* Resorts and cabin rentals still exist, but very few of them involve large, coordinated group events or dining hall meals. Families at campgrounds and resorts tend to stick to their own pre-existing groups save for some polite small talk with neighboring campers, and the job title of “social director” is rarely seen. I’m more of a tent-camp person than a resort-camp person, but I found this film interesting to watch simply for the fact that it shows a variation on the type of vacation I’m used to taking.
*The play on which this film was based centered more specifically on a “Borscht Belt” Jewish resort in the Catskills, also seen in A Walk to the Moon and Dirty Dancing. The character names and camp details in Having Wonderful Time were changed from play to film due to rising anti-Semitism in the US.
My personal camp-based interest aside, Having Wonderful Time isn’t a great watch, but it’s a decent little film. Ginger Rogers is always a delight to watch, and the supporting cast is full of familiar faces here as well, making for a fun watch for fans of classic stars. Lucille Ball is all sass and Eve Arden brings a few laughs in their small but nicely-executed roles.
Rogers and Fairbanks have nice chemistry, making the film very pleasant to watch, even if the story isn’t quite spectacular or “new.” In typically classic Hollywood fashion, the romance is cute and the ending is happy.
Having Wonderful Time is a sweet and light romantic comedy, worth watching if for no other reason than its big-name cast and its portrayal of a forgotten pastime. The score: 3/5