Brother Rat (1938): Keighley’s Service Comedy, Starring Ronald Reagan and Eddie Albert in his Screen Debut

One of the most popular films of Ronald Reagan (president to be, 1980-1988) Brother Rat, a serio-comedy directed by William Keighley, concerns a group of  cadets at Virginia Military Institute.

The movie also stars Priscilla Lane, Eddie Albert (in his screen debut), Jane Wyman (Reagan’s wife to be, in 1940)), and Wayne Morris.

The feature is an adaptation of the successful Broadway play written by two former VMI cadets, John Monks, Jr. and Fred Finklehoffe, which ran for 577 performances between December 1936 and April 1938. Albert and William Tracy reprised their roles of the stage productions.

The title refers to the term used for cadets in their first year at the Institute.

At the Virginia Military Institute, roommates Billy Randolph (Wayne Morris), Dan Crawford (Reagan) and Bing Edwards (Albert) are trying to clean up their act before graduation, but they cannot seem to stop breaking the rules.

Edwards is secretly married, so his concerned attention to the pregnancy of his wife (Jane Bryan), things really get out of control.

The transfer to the screen was faithful to the original play, and Keighley’s light touch infuses the service comedy with good-natured humor that makes the proceedings enjoyable.

Some scenes were shot on location in Lexington on the Institute’s historic Parade Ground, and the baseball game scene was filmed at Alumni Memorial Field.

A sequel, Brother Rat and a Baby, with several of the same actors, was released in 1940.

Ronald Reagan as Dan Crawford
Priscilla Lane as Joyce Winfree
Eddie Albert as Bing Edwards
Jane Wyman as Claire Adams
Wayne Morris as Billy Randolph
Johnnie Davis as A. Furman Towsend, Jr.
Jane Bryan as Kate Rice
Henry O’Neill as Colonel Ramm
Gordon Oliver as Capt. ‘Lacedrawers’ Rogers
Larry Williams as Harley Harrington
William Tracy as Misto Bottome
Jessie Busley as Mrs. Brooks
Olin Howland as Slim
Louise Beavers as Jenny
Isabel Withers as Nurse