Military Academy (film)

Military Academy is an American film directed by D. Ross Lederman, scripted by Karl Brown and David Silverstein from a story by Richard English and released as a low-budget programmer by Columbia Pictures on August 6, 1940. It is one of numerous military-school or patriotic-adventure-themed, quickly-produced second features for a primarily juvenile audience, which every studio rushed before the cameras following the September 1939 outbreak of war in Europe and, subsequently, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, passed by Congress on September 14 and signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on September 16.

Starting in November 1939 with Warners' On Dress Parade, which became better known as The Dead End Kids on Dress Parade, virtually all male adolescents working in Hollywood were put through their on-screen paces. Tommy Kelly and Jackie Moran who had starred as Tom and Huck in 1938's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer appeared in Military Academy and 1939's The Spirit of Culver, respectively. Culver, another version of the military-school classic, Tom Brown of Culver, starred former child stars Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew, who were also being cast in other similar productions. Bartholomew's next titles, in fact, were Naval Academy, Cadets on Parade and Junior Army.

Military Academy presents top-billed Tommy Kelly as a fifteen-year-old sent to the title institution under an assumed surname, because his father, a well-known crime figure, although now reformed, has made the family name so notorious that his relatives find it difficult to relate to society at large once the truth becomes known. At the school he makes friends with two other misfits — second-billed Bobby Jordan, primarily known as a key member of the Dead End Kids acting ensemble, but here revising his usual character to portray a cocky champion athlete whose self-aggrandizing behavior alienates him from most fellow cadets, and third-billed David Holt who played the pampered sissy and prissy cousin Sid Sawyer to Tommy Kelly's Tom in the 1938 film, and was again cast as a similar type, an overprotected son of a wealthy family who cannot adjust himself to the strict regimen. Fourth-billed Jackie Searl, at nineteen, playing a senior cadet, had the longest career among the junior cast members, with credits going back to the beginning of sound in 1929, almost always portraying sneaky, nasty, pampered, disagreeable kids, including an earlier prototype of cousin Sid to Jackie Coogan's Tom in the 1930 Tom Sawyer and its 1931 sequel, Huckleberry Finn. True to form, his upperclassman character immediately becomes the nemesis of the three younger boys. At midpoint, Tommy Kelly's family name is exposed and he faces ostracism from fellow cadets, except for his two friends who continue to support him. Ultimately, however, all the boys prove themselves to be fine, upstanding, patriotic young Americans on the eve of World War II, with Pearl Harbor little more than a year away.

The remaining cast members are Don Beddoe as Tommy Kelly's former-gangster father, Jimmy Butler as Cadet Dewey, Walter Tetley as Cadet Blackburn and Earle Foxe, Eddie Dew and Warren Ashe as the officers in charge, Major Dover, Captain Kendall and Captain Banning, respectively. Last-billed, and introduced to Tommy Kelly in the final scene as David Holt's appealing sister, Marjorie, is fifteen-year-old Joan Brodel who, rechristened Joan Leslie, would be launched by Warner Bros. as an ingenue and, subsequently, leading lady of the 1940s in a film released five months after Military Academy, High Sierra.

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