Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teacher's Pet (1958)

OK, I admit it. I was totally wrong about Doris Day. After seeing my second Doris Day movies in the last couple of weeks, I’m seriously hooked. Teacher's Pet, released in 1958, is in its own way every bit as much fun as Pillow Talk.

At first glance pairing Doris Day and an ageing Clark Gable in a romantic comedy might seem a slightly odd decision. But it’s not as if Gable was a stranger to the romantic comedy genre, and his character is supposed to be ageing and a bit weather-beaten. And the chemistry between the two stars works surprisingly well.

Gable is a hard-bitten newspaperman, city editor of The Chronicle. James Gannon is a self-taught self-made man who never finished high school. He has nothing but contempt for all these college types trying to break into the newspaper game. As far as he is concerned being a reporter is something you learn on the job, on the streets, and in the bars. You don’t learn it from a book! So he’s not terribly impressed when he receives an invitation from a university lecturer in journalism to be a guest lecturer at a college. He sends off a scathing letter to the lecturer, informing him that the very idea of college courses in journalism is a waste of time, and he doesn’t intend to waste his time on it!

He expects that to be the end of the matter, but to his dismay he discovers that the publisher of The Chronicle is rather keen on all this college nonsense (especially since the college in question awarded him an honorary degree). So Jim Gannon receives his orders - he’s going to do the guest lecture bit whether he wants to or not. A further disturbing discovery awaits him in the classroom - the Dr Stone who teaches journalism is a rather attractive woman. Being of the old school Gannon disapproves of women college professors even more than he disapproves of male ones, but he has to admit to himself that she is extremely attractive, especially in the amazingly tight skirt she’s wearing. But before he has a chance to introduce himself, she reads his letter to her class, and makes some scathing remarks of her own about anti-intellectual dinosaurs like himself.

Since he never got the chance to introduce himself, he hatches a plan to teach this uppity female a lesson. He pretends to be an aspiring journalism student, and enrols in her class. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, pretty soon he decides that although he still despises all this book-learning stuff, he’s strangely attracted to this woman. In fact, although he takes a while to emit it to himself, he’s seriously smitten. Of course he has a rival, a psychology professor (played by Gig Young) who seems to be good at just about everything.

One of the likeable things about this movie is that although it seems to be a typical Hollywood battle of the sexes movie, it doesn’t follow the all-too-familiar pattern of the career woman being taken down a peg or two. She is in fact taken down a peg or two, but so is he. This battle of the sexes will end in an honourable draw, with both parties realising they’ve been excessively dogmatic and with both parties ending up treating each other as respected equals. It also doesn’t follow the easy path of simply making fun of intellectuals - again the war between the practical hard-headed learn-by-experience type and the education enthusiast ends with both having to admit that they were both wrong.

Gable manages to be bull-headed but still rather likeable. The old charm was still there, even in 1958. Gig Young is a delight. And Doris Day has confounded me once again. Not only is she a strong female character who doesn’t have to accept defeat, she’s also charming and funny. And I have to admit that her sexless perpetual virgin image is somewhat unfair as well. In fact it’s remarkable just how often in this movie the camera focuses in rather lovingly on Miss Day’s posterior! And she plays up the sexy teacher bit quite a bit. Gable’s character certainly doesn’t find her sexless, and she isn’t.

The ending is also pleasantly surprising. It’s not giving away any spoilers to say that the implication is that Gable and Day will end up together. This is a romantic comedy, so you know right from the start that the two leads are going to fall in love and end up together. What’s surprising is that there’s no suggestion that she intends to choose life as a housewife or give up her career, there’s no suggestion that Gable wants her to do this, or that she should do this.

It’s a light-hearted fun romantic comedy in which both the romance and the comedy are equally effective, and it’s great entertainment. Especially if you’re a Doris Day fan, and I now cheerfully admit to membership of that exalted society.

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