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Dartmouth ca. 1950

These old Dartmouth videos are a hoot for their view of Dartmouth autrefois, but this one is special because it was made as a collaboration between various notables: Film Studies Professor Maury Rapf ‘35 (a well regarded screenwriter, co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild, and charter member of the Hollywood Blacklist); John A. Gambling ‘51 (one of the three generations of Gambling men on the Rambling with Gambling radio show on WOR-AM in New York); and Buck Zuckerman ‘51 (later and still famous as Buck Henry ‘51 for directing films, writing screenplays, and appearing repeatedly on Saturday Night Live, not to mention creating Get Smart! with Mel Brooks).

Our young auteurs blessed their film with quick cuts, dramatic close-ups, moody and atmospheric classical music, and long sections without any narration at all, as their story follows a freshman through his first week in Hanover. Almost the entire voiceover is the text of a letter (pen on paper, no less) from the young man to his parents.

A few notes about how the College was different back then: Baker Tower was open for a casual, unsupervised visit at any time; the Bible was a required text in English 1; freshmen arrived by train in sportscoats and ties, though their trunks were shipped directly from home to their dorm rooms; and the ‘shmen wore beanies and did errands for sophomores.

Like today, new students felt lonely at first, and the film has much reassuring commentary about meeting friends and feeling a part of the College.

Addendum: Maury Rapf helped found the Dartmouth Film Society, which has declined in recent decades, at least to my mind. Back in the day DFS presented several movies each week, almost none of which you knew anything about: indy flicks, small European and other foreign movies, and classics from film history. The folks in the film society had taste, and I would often go to see movies in the confidence that they chose well. Disappointment was rare.

Back then the Nugget had only two screens (up from one, I am told, in a previous incarnation), and it showed the usual Hollywood fare. DFS today seems limited to six-weeks-later showings of first-run films, many of which have already been at the Nugget. The only vestige of the ambition to show unusual films in Hanover is the Telluride at Dartmouth film festival.


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