Clark Gable is Doris Day's... Teacher's Pet (1958)

No, you don't need your eyes checked, you read my title right -- Clark Gable and Doris Day made a movie together, and you know what? It's really good. When I first heard of this film, I was thrilled. I mean, Doris and Gable worked together? But then a bit of dread set in. Will this be super terrible? I mean, isn't it a weird pairing? And then I saw the posters, which all have Clark staring wide-eyed at Mamie Van Doren's behind. Oh no, I thought. This is going to be one of those awful, cliché-ridden sex comedies. I'm so happy to say that I was wrong.

Teacher's Pet is a smart, witty, and surprisingly thought-provoking romantic comedy. Fay and Michael Kanin's screenplay is fantastic, showing real character development and depth, as well as looking at both sides of the coin fairly -- it's not often that I can watch a rom-com and understand both of the leads' point of view as clearly as I do with Teacher's Pet. If I may be so bold, I'm going to venture to say that this film is one of Day's best, and possibly one of Gable's best too. Let's go to the blackboard, shall we?

We open on a group of people taking a tour of the New York Evening Chronicle newspaper offices. When the tour reaches the office of city editor Jim Gannon (Gable), one of the women slips away and introduces herself to the fast-talking, multi-tasking Gannon as Mrs. Kovac, the mother of Barney, the office's errand boy. Upset that her son is choosing the newspaper over going to
college like her deceased husband wished, Mrs. Kovac begs Jim to fire Barney so he'll continue his education, but Jim is thoroughly against it. Having little education himself, he doesn't see the point in forcing Barney to go to college -- after all, working for the newspaper is its own kind of school. To prove his point, he mentions a letter he got from Professor E.R. Stone, asking him to come lecture at a night journalism class. Mrs. Kovacs is steady, though, and Jim agrees to talk to Barney, not disclosing the fact that he intends to encourage the boy's reporter career.

After that discussion, Jim is called into his boss's office, where they argue about Jim's refusal to attend Prof. Stone's class and the nasty letter of rejection he sent to Stone. When he learns that the professor is a woman, he's doubly against going. The problem is that the paper's publisher is on the board of trustees at the university, therefore necessitating Jim's apology to
Ms. Stone. Reluctantly, he goes to that evening's class and is shocked to find that the teacher is, well, Doris Day -- his expectation for a severe, stereotypically spinster-ish schoolmarm is quite worthy of an eyeroll. She begins the class by reading aloud Gannon's rude letter, which enrages the class. All they want is some guidance and this jerk has the nerve to say he doesn't have the time for them! Gannon sinks in his seat, especially when Erica proceeds to mock the editor, giving a surprisingly on-the-nose description of him.

For days afterwards, Jim is a snarling monster at the office, muttering under his breath about how terrible Erica and her class are. But then he gets an idea: he'll prove how inferior her class is to real experience by becoming one of her students. That night, he arrives late and immediately tries to antagonize Erica by correcting and finishing her sentences. Annoyed, she reminds him he must be
enrolled and sends him away. However, he quickly comes back with an enrollment card. Erica then assigns him the homework of writing a 250-word article, which he finishes in five minutes. Dubious, she reads the piece to the class and is floored by how good it is. Smirking in his seat, Jim is expecting a continuation of their battle of the sexes, but is dumbfounded when Erica apologizes to him. To add insult to injury, she excitedly uses his article as a teaching tool for the rest of the evening.

Presenting himself as Jim Gallagher, Gannon sells Erica a phony backstory, explaining that he works in wallpaper and a reporter friend of his recommended he switch to journalism. Erica reveals her reason for leaving the newspaper business to become a teacher, saying it's "not a trade, Mr. Gallagher, it's a profession. And the basic fundamentals can be taught the same as medicine. ... Journalism is so much more than blood and sex." She wants to improve newspapers, a goal that Jim seems to admire. Maybe this dame isn't so bad...

The next morning, while buying flowers to send to Erica, he calls the university and tries to reach her as Gannon, but still stinging from his words, she refuses to talk to him. Realizing he'll have to continue being Mr. Gallagher, he attends class again, where Erica asks him to stay after class: "I have a proposition to make to you." Jim clearly hopes it's an intimate proposition, but
it's really an educational one -- how would he like to engage in more intense studies? Naturally, he isn't interested at all, until he hears that it would require additional instruction in the evenings. His first assignment is a think-piece which examines the larger societal circumstances surrounding a young criminal. Jim protests that the average Joe doesn't care to read that kind
of stuff, but Erica counters that he isn't giving people enough credit. Nowadays, they want to know the "why" of things; the antiquated way of journalism that Gannon specializes in is no longer enough. Jim, of course, isn't about to waste his time writing the piece, instead pushing it off on a young reporter at the office. Meanwhile, he attempts to call Erica for a dinner date, but is promptly shut down by her secretary, who reveals that the teacher's schedule is often occupied by a Dr. Hugo Pine (Gig Young).

Curious (and jealous), Jim looks into Pine, a psychologist with an incredible resume, a dozen books written, and a handsome face to boot. At a meeting with Erica, she praises his think-piece, which Gannon himself is impressed with. She encourages him to quit the wallpaper business and further his studies. When Jim mentions taking Dr. Pine's class, he is disheartened by
Erica's efferverscent praise of the doctor and decides to give up, but not before planting a kiss on the teacher as a farewell. Day's reaction is priceless as she goes rubber-legged once Gable leaves the room, fanning herself as she sits down. At a club that night, Jim is sitting with his occasional date Peggy (Mamie Van Doren) when Erica and Pine walk in. Jim seethes, irritated
that Pine never had to work his way from the bottom like he had to. When Peggy goes backstage to prepare for her number, Jim joins the couple, but he quickly regrets it -- Pine is an insufferable know-it-all, one of those pretty boys who can do anything, including matching Jim drink for drink, playing the bongo drums expertly, and dancing the mamba with Erica when Jim proves inept. To make everything worse, Peggy comes out to do her dance and the cheap gaudiness of it mortifies Jim, especially in comparison to Erica's quieter, more effective sensuality. You can see the scene here.

Jim's night improves when he, Erica, and Pine go outside to grab a taxi home and the composed Pine suddenly passes out from all of the alcohol. After taking him home, Erica and Jim share a taxi, where she admits that it's difficult being around Mr. Perfect all the time. Thrilled, Jim takes the opportunity to kiss her again, which she reciprocates. When he sees her home, she invites him in for
coffee. As they talk, Erica reveals that she and Pine aren't an item, they're just collaborating on a book! With that out of the way, their banter becomes relaxed and quick. The best part is when Erica teases Jim by playfully recreating Peggy's number, Gable watching her in bemusement and Day proving how lovely and sultry she could be without really trying.

The evening comes to a head when Jim turns on a light to find a chair and discovers a wall dedicated to Erica's father. Throughout the film, we hear her mention her dad, including the fact that he was a newspaperman, but she passes him off as a simple man with a simple newspaper when in reality he was nationally known and highly respected. (There's a picture of him with FDR, if you can believe it. Oh, and he won a Pulitzer.) Jim is awestruck, even though Erica explains that her father's fame never changed his honest, down-to-earth roots. Feeling like a louse for deceiving Erica about his identity, Jim sneaks out while she's in the kitchen.

The next day, Pine is dealing with a massive hangover when Jim comes to call. Gig Young is pretty hilarious in this scene, as he mixes the most disgusting hangover cure while gingerly trying not to do anything to make the pain worse. Meanwhile, Jim talks to him about his friend "Max," describing his situation in the third person to get Pine's expert psychological advice. When Pine asks if
this friend intends to marry the woman he is after, Jim replies that he isn't the marrying kind. "Yet he didn't take advantage of this 'hit-and-run proposition,'" Pine points out. "It's therefore obvious that Max has affection and deep respect for this lady." It isn't too much of a stretch that "Max" might be more of the marrying kind than he thought, the doctor reasons. As long as "Max" comes clean and apologizes as soon as possible, Pine believes that the woman will forgive him.

Pine also sees through this "Max" nonsense, disclosing that he knew something had changed with Erica the minute he picked her up for their date last night -- all she could talk about was this brilliant new student. Jim confesses he's really Gannon, giving Pine a nice chuckle since he saw firsthand how steamed Erica was about that letter. In actuality, he agrees with Gannon's sentiments; journalism should be about experience. Jim must admit, though, that he's beginning to understand Erica's idea about education. I adore how this scene ends: Jim tells Pine that he tipped the waiter at the club $5 to spike Pine's drinks. "Ohhh! Now I understand! I only gave him $2 to spike yours!" Pine exclaims. I absolutely love how complex these characters are. It would have been so easy, and so typical, to have Hugo be Jim's nemesis, his opposite in every way, but instead, the script allows them commonalities and shows that there is more to a person than the first impression. At first glance, Jim doesn't like Pine, and neither do we, but this scene between them illustrates how wrong we can be. It's similar to what Erica is talking about regarding journalism -- we need to look further and to ask "why" instead of being content with the bare minimum.

Jim goes to the newsroom and is immediately called into the publisher's office, where he comes face to face with Erica. She had stopped by to see if she could get a job for Jim Gallagher, which clearly isn't necessary now. Jim follows her into the elevator and tries to explain, but Erica is too hurt to listen. What makes her even more angry is that he took her time away from her real
students, the ones who actually needed her. You can watch their confrontation here. Feeling low, Jim sits down with Barney and encourages him to quit the paper so he can go to school. Barney is devastated, but Jim believes now that "experience is the jockey, education is the horse." In a wonderful speech, he admits that all he knows about is the newspaper, hurting his interactions
with others: "I've spent one-third of my life going to, staying in, and coming back from men's rooms. And that's not going to happen to you. You're fired." Gable honestly takes my breath away in this moment. Goddammit, he was good.

Back at Pine's apartment, Jim talks with his new bud about how mixed up he is: "Before, I had contempt for eggheads
like her, and you! I was wrong. Brother, was I wrong, but at least I was definitely wrong. I was an obstinate, prejudiced, inconsiderate, cold-hearted louse, but at least I was something. Now that I've learned to respect your kind, I'm just a big, understanding, remorseful slob." Jim is at a total loss -- for all of his life, he thought he was right in his thinking and now he is realizing that he was
wrong. He finds himself constantly asking "Why?" and he hates that he isn't well-educated like Erica and Pine. "You're confusing education with schooling," Hugo says. Education and experience go hand in hand; they're not mutually exclusive. It barely consoles Jim, who is starting to question if he even knows the newspaper business.

At that point, the doorbell rings. Jim stays in Hugo's bedroom reading old copies of Erica's father's newspaper while Hugo answers the door to find Erica. He goes about informing her of Jim's new insecurities, but as she starts to soften, Jim comes in and says he has his confidence back -- he's sure he knows what good journalism is because the Eureka Bulletin is one of the worst papers he's ever read! Erica snippily invites him to tell her what's wrong with it and boy, does he. Jim then challenges her to go through the paper herself, this time without her sentimental attachment. She does later that night, realizing that Jim is right.

She returns to the Evening Chronicle and proposes that she and Jim co-teach the class. She then hears that Jim told his staff that while he still wants the paper to be exciting and commercial, he also wants them to interpret the news better and do more think-pieces. As the two get ready to go to lunch together, Mrs. Kovac appears to thank Jim for firing Barney; her son
may be angry now, but he looks up to Jim, who guarantees that Barney will have a job when he is finished with school. In the newsroom, Jim finds Erica talking to that reporter who wrote his think-piece for class, learning that he's a former student of hers. Jim gruffly tells him to drastically edit his article down for publication as Erica looks on, demonstrating that their two styles work well together and they'll be able to create better journalists as a team.

Let's discuss the supporting cast for a second here. This is the only film I've seen Mamie Van Doren in, so I feel like I can't fully judge her, but I will say that she doesn't really leave an impression on me. She has just the one scene and although she is supposed to be a Marilyn Monroe type, she doesn't have the charisma that Monroe had. Gig Young, on the other hand, is definitely
memorable. I like Young, but I don't always like his characters -- if he wasn't given just the right part, he doesn't seem to shine. Teacher's Pet might be my favorite role of his so far, and it was actually nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, which shocks me. It's a great performance, but Oscar-worthy? I'm not so sure.

Young could have stolen the whole film if it weren't for Day and Gable. Seemingly mismatched at first, the power of both stars quickly vanishes any doubts. Clark Gable is one of my favorites, a guy whose acting skills combined with his magnetism makes for a true entertainer. He also has one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen; as funny as it sounds, his eyebrow work continually impresses me. With Gable on the screen, it would be easy to focus solely on him, but Ms. Day is a force of her own. Strong, intelligent, funny, and warm, Erica Stone is a wonderful role, and Doris plays her perfectly.

An underrated gem, Teacher's Pet is a movie that surely won't waste your time. From the cast to the script to the fine direction by George Seaton, it's a marvelous thing to behold. You can catch it on Netflix Instant right now, too!


















With love,
Michaela


P.S. Here's a shot of Doris and Clark at the 30th Academy Awards in 1958. They presented the Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, and it was one of the few times Gable ever went to the ceremony, or indeed ever appeared on television. You can see it here, starting at 4:52. On a side note, you should also watch Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas's "It's Great Not to Be Nominated" from the same ceremony. It's fantastic stuff.

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This is my entry to the Back-to-School Blogathon. You can read the posts of the other participants here.

Comments

  1. Oh, I love this movie so much! Thanks for such a fantastic review! I don't understand why it is not better known. It's great how they both come to see each other's point of view. In so many films, it doesn't feel equal - someone always seems to be more right than the other.

    You're right - they are such an unexpectedly great team.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, I am co-hosting a blogathon called Characters in Costume that I wanted to invite you to join. It is all about character's appearance, costumes, make-up, the people who design the costumes, etc. It is occurring in October.

    https://christinawehner.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/announcing-the-characters-in-costume-blogfest-fiction-and-film/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're pretty great. I don't know how this movie got buried. The leading couple alone should have piqued people's interests enough to check it out.

      I've been mulling over what to do for your blogathon this whole weekend! I'm planning on sitting in front of my DVD collection and getting it figured out tonight.

      Delete

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