A Yank at Oxford

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A Yank at Oxford
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jack Conway
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Roland Pertwee
George Oppenheimer
John Monk Saunders
Malcolm Stuart Boylan
Walter Ferris
Leon Gordon
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sidney Gilliat
Michael Hogan
Angus MacPhail
Frank Wead
John Paddy Carstairs
Starring Robert Taylor
Lionel Barrymore
Maureen O'Sullivan
Vivien Leigh
Edmund Gwenn
Music by Hubert Bath
Edward Ward
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Margaret Booth
Charles Frend
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • 18 February 1938 (1938-02-18)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $1,374,000[1]
Box office $2,736,000[1]

A Yank at Oxford (1938) is a British film, directed by Jack Conway from a screenplay by John Monk Saunders and Leon Gordon. It was produced by MGM-British at Denham Studios. The film was parodied in the Laurel and Hardy film A Chump at Oxford (1940) and remade as Oxford Blues (1984) .


A cocky American named Lee Sheridan (Robert Taylor) receives a scholarship to attend Cardinal College, Oxford University in 1937. At first, Lee is reluctant to go to the college owing to his father Dan's (Lionel Barrymore) limited income, but he finally does attend. Once in England, Lee brags about his athletic triumphs to Paul Beaumont (Griffith Jones), Wavertree (Robert Coote), and Ramsey (Peter Croft) on the train to Oxford. Annoyed, they trick Lee into getting off the train at the wrong stop. However, Lee does make his way to Oxford where the students attempt to trick him again, this time into thinking that he is getting a grand reception. Seeing through the deception, he follows the prankster impersonating the Dean and after chasing him is thrown off and ends up kicking the real Dean of Cardinal (Edmund Gwenn) before retreating.

Lee considers leaving Oxford but stays on after being convinced by Scatters (Edward Rigby), his personal servant. Lee meets Elsa Craddock (Vivien Leigh), a married woman who "helps" the new campus students, and starts a relationship with Paul Beaumont's sister Molly (Maureen O'Sullivan). Lee makes the track team and just when he begins to fit in he is hazed for pushing Paul out of the way during a track meet when asked to rest. In a fit of anger, Lee goes to a local bar and finds Paul in a private booth with Elsa. He starts to fight with Paul when Wavertree comes in and warns them of campus officials coming. Lee and Paul run and when they are almost caught by one of the campus officials Lee punches him. Wavertree tells his friends that he saw Paul throw the punch and it is Paul who gets in trouble for hitting the official. He is scorned for saying it was Lee who punched him and Lee is soon the favorite of Paul's old friends. Molly begins to see him again, but Lee still feels poor for what has happened between her and Paul.

Lee begins rowing for Oxford University Boat Club and in the bumps race for Cardinal's boat club, and tries to make amends to Paul after winning a race, but Paul rejects the offer of friendship. Though his offer of friendship was rejected, Lee still helps Paul by hiding Elsa in his own room when Elsa is looking for Paul. The Dean catches the two of them together and expels Lee from Oxford. Lee's father comes for the races having not heard of Lee's expulsion from Oxford University. When Lee tells him that he had been having an affair with Elsa, Dan believes he is lying. Judging from Lee's letters about Molly he feels that Lee could not possibly have had an affair with Elsa due to the way he feels about Molly. Dan meets with Molly and the two devise a plan to get Lee back into college. Dan meets with Elsa at the bookstore and convinces her to talk to the Dean. After flirting with the Dean and telling him that Lee was only hiding her from Wavertree, Lee is allowed back into Oxford and Wavertree—who wants to be expelled for an inheritance from his uncle—receives, to his disappointment, only a minor punishment. Lee and Paul make amends and win The Boat Race.



This was MGM's first British production, and so MGM head Louis B. Mayer took a personal interest in casting, and visited the set several times. British playwright Roland Pertwee was one of several uncredited writers, and F. Scott Fitzgerald also spent three weeks working on the script, touching up rough points and adding bits of dialogue.[2] At first, Mayer was reluctant to cast the then little known Vivien Leigh in the role of Elsa Craddock, until persuaded by Michael Balcon, who stated that she was already living in Britain and it would cost much more to fly someone else out to England.[2] Mayer and Balcon later got into a fight on set, within earshot of Vivien Leigh and Maureen O'Sullivan, that led to Balcon resigning[2] from MGM.

This film was instrumental in getting Vivien Leigh noticed by David O. Selznick for Gone with the Wind." However it was known perhaps as early as 1938 that Vivien Leigh had (secretly) secured the role of Scarlett O'Hara, which she started filming in 1939. There is a moment in A Yank at Oxford just a couple of minutes before Vivien Leigh first appears when Lee Sheridan goes in to his tutor. His tutor asks him what he's reading, meaning in British parlance what is th esubject of his degree. Confused, Lee replies he is "about half way through 'Gone with the Wind'". Events surrounding Leigh at the time either make this a coincidental piece of scripting, or a knowing reference to those events.[citation needed]

The film pairs Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor as a romantic lead couple, a configuration repeated in the remake of Waterloo Bridge (1940). Before this film, Taylor was seen as the "romantic love interest" and thus as a 1930s equivalent to Rudolph Valentino, with men therefore starting to doubt Taylor's masculinity. His casting in this film (by Mayer) was a successful attempt to put paid to such doubts, and dramatically boosted his reputation with both men and women.

Taylor himself runs in the races his character competes in. He competed in track and field as a student at Doane College.[3]

During the filming of A Yank at Oxford, Leigh gained a reputation for being "difficult" to work with. According to her biographer Alexander Walker, Leigh felt judged by Maureen O'Sullivan, (whom she had befriended years earlier at school) because O'Sullivan was happily married and Leigh was in the midst of an affair with Laurence Olivier and awaiting word of a divorce from her first husband, Leigh Holman. Therefore, the relationship was "strained." Also Leigh had developed a foot problem whereupon she asked to go to London to seek treatment. As Leigh was preparing to leave, the wardrobe department developed a manner in which they cut a hole in her shoes so that her toe would be at ease. According to Leigh, she was forced to pay for her own shoes and demanded that MGM help her make some of the payments. On the other hand, MGM said that they bought all of Leigh's shoes and she didn't have to pay a penny on the film. Due to the dispute, her manager, Alexander Korda, sent Leigh a message stating that if her behavior did not improve, he would not renew her contract. Leigh's behavior did shape up and her contract was renewed. Regardless of her prior behavior, Leigh managed to make her way through the filming without much acrimony and made an impression on her costar, Robert Taylor. Taylor returned to Hollywood talking of the great English actress he had worked with and suggested to Selznick, who was still searching for his Scarlett O'Hara, that they ought to look at her.


Although this film and its sequel (the 1942 A Yank at Eton) portrayed the United Kingdom in a mainly positive light, it was thought to harm US-British relations at such a sensitive time.

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,291,000 in the US and Canada and $1,445,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $513,000.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ a b c Courtesy TCM
  3. ^ Kral, E A (Winter 1994). "Robert Taylor of Beatrice: The Nebraska Roots of a Hollywood Star". Nebraska History 75 (4): 280–290. 

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