Long before Rodney Dangerfield went Back to School, Bing Crosby was hangin' with the college co-eds in High Time. The 1960 Blake Edwards film plays dated these days, though what now seems like a pitch straight down the middle probably seemed more like a screwball fifty-two years ago. "Der Bingle" gets to sing a couple of tunes and impress the youngsters on screen, if not in real life.
Shaving five years off his own age, Crosby plays fifty-one-year-old Harvey Howard, a widowed, wealthy burger-chain owner who decides to get the college education—and experience—he once forewent. His bemused grown children (Nina Shipman and Angus Duncan) actively disapprove, but Harvey won't be dissuaded, and immediately gets into the swing of campus life with Pinehurst College dorm roomies Gil Sparrow (pop idol Fabian), Bob Bannerman (Richard Beymer), and T.J. Padmanagham (Patrick Adiarte) and their ever-present female friend Joy Elder (Tuesday Weld). A go-getter with years of experience getting things got, Harvey has a knack for winning friends and influencing people. Wherever he goes, though he just wants to be treated like any other student, Harvey can't help being the campus hero.
Working from a story by Garson Kanin, screenwriters Tom Waldman & Frank Waldman lay a four-year trail of uninspired silliness and wan romance. The material makes a reasonably comfortable fit for Crosby—perhaps too comfortable, since his teenage chums immediately accept him as a hep cat, cutting off an avenue of potential conflict. That leaves Harvey to prove his mettle as a fraternity pledge (an excuse to stick Crosby in drag), to overcome his kids' stodgy resistance (a fifties' role reversal: see what they did there?) and, most importantly, to manage his affections for French Lit professor Helene Gauthier (Nicole Maurey), lest he cause a campus brouhaha (sorry, Harvey: no chance of avoiding that one in a Blake Edwards comedy).
The campus comedy includes such iconic imagery as a freshman bonfire, a hay ride, that bygone fad of students cramming into a phone booth, and an orderly student protest (never mind the torches: these kids politely hear out the dean). The film's most distinctive element are the colorful, dynamic scene and act transitions, which anticipate the MTV style by a couple of decades (less exciting: a drippy Fabian singing "Foggy Foggy Dew"). An energetic Beymer shows some youthful wattage just before landing the role of Tony in West Side Story, while Filipino actor Adiarte must suffer the thankless, token Indian role. Weld has to play within the tight range of flighty to fickle as she constantly reinvents herself for men; what could have been a bit of dicey sexual politics instead inspires a solid admonishment from Bing: "She's just trying to figure out who she is, like the rest of us."
Despite these and other familiar faces (Gavin McLeod as a comic-punching-bag/professor and Yvonne Craig as a flirty co-ed), and Henry Mancini's typically sprightly assist to Edwards, this is Bing's world, and they're just living in it. The star sings the Oscar-nominated "The Second Time Around" ("Nobody's Perfect" and Fabian's "Be My Girl" hit the cutting-room floor)—High Time's high point—and proves once and for all he's the big man on campus with a valedictory speech that's as cheerily implausible as the rest of the movie. Consider us schooled in pre-cynical campus high times; by the end of the decade, such an innocent tale of finding oneself in college would be unthinkable.