Director: George Seaton
Producer: William Perlberg and George Seaton
Writer: Fay Kanin and Michael Kanin
Cinematographer: Haskell B. Boggs
by Jon Cvack
Every time I see Clark Gable in his later films, I’m left wondering how in the world this dude ever pulled off the charming and attractive older man who was able to get beautiful women; with his rugose and pot marked face, his lower mouth which is either missing a tooth or in serious need of some fine orthodontics, or that disgusting mustache. Gable isn’t the phlegmatic or stoic type by the likes of Eastwood or Charles Bronson, so how this haggard man had become one of the most popular Romantic Leads of all time is beyond me.
Teacher’s Pet is the epitome of the Rom Com structure - featuring a structure that would continue to this day with films like She's All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc. - with the rough, though charming Leading Man who meets a Beautiful Woman, tells a Big Lie in order to increase his chances with the Beautiful Woman, which the Beautiful Woman will of course discover, leading to the Official Break Up, reconciled by the Leading Man’s Changed Behavior and then they Fall in Love. It’s a tale that I’ve seen so many times that the only thing I could appreciate was that this formula has been around in films far longer than I ever knew.
The Leading Man in this case is James Gannon (Clark Gable), a successful and older newspaper man, whose office is filled with young aspiring writers. Gannon believes it best that they all start from the bottom and work their way up, whether a high school dropout or Phi Keppa Beta Ivy League honor student. Gannon is invited to Professor Eric Stone’s (Doris Days) classroom, where she teaches novice students the fundamentalism of journalism. Gannon resents the offer, but is implored to accept by his boss, eventually giving in and there he meets the beautiful Doris Da, later pretending to be a student in order to woo her over.
His first assignment is a 250 word piece on a recent murder, which Gannon completes in minutes, much to Stone’s amazement. She believes she has found a wunderkind and wants to take Gannon under her guidance to hone and craft his skill. This eventually leads to her hitting up Gannon’s boss, urging him to hire Gannon, and blah blah blah - you know where this goes. She finds out who Gannon actually is, breaks things off, and it’s only once her friend and psychological Dr. Hugo Pine (Gig Young) implores her to given Gannon another chance that the two reconcile and all is resolved.
I haven’t seen much from Doris Day, but the song that kicks off the film during the title credits reminds me just how great her voice is. She’s an exceptionally charming and attractive individual, sexy in that conservative and clean cut way, exuding confidence, and giving her all to the role. While it’s a little hard to believe she couldn’t piece the puzzle together within the first five minutes of Gannon’s arrival, her enthusiasm and commitment to creating honest future journalists always plays true. I never saw her as the larger than life Doris Day playing a fluffy character (as a few of her the films provide), but as a strong woman, pushed a bit too much in the role of hot teacher, though still giving the character depth. Her love for her father is one of the most touching moments, providing a great quote that further depresses me to the state of modern media - “If you deceive, you’ll sell papers tomorrow… If you’re honest, you’ll sell papers for all of time” (or something like that).
I always have appreciation for Rom Coms that attempt to integrate heavier ideas into the shallow story. Beneath the hackneyed plot is a great discussion about the state of journalism at the time, offering a prescient view of where we were going, and making you all the more frustrated for where we are today. If only more of these lessons were taken to heart, then maybe we wouldn’t be at this point where the we’re covering presidential races as a form of reality television, ostensibly ignoring every other piece of news going on in the world, unless it’s about another mass murder or disaster, or a politician’s infidelities, or whatever bleeding news there is. As much as I’d want to believe that deceit can only last so long, I just don’t think it’s true. Deceit directed toward the right minds will last just as long as any amount of honesty. It leaves me wondering if maybe that’s why Netflix streams these films. Between this and Desk Set’s analysis of the oncoming technological revolution, I think Netflix is providing a look back at history - of how some films knew what was coming, with a few anticipating exciting new directions, and others seeing the terror in where we’re going. Teacher’s Pet is 75% Rom Com. The other 25% has left me thinking for quite a few days.
BELOW: I'm not sure if Doris Day falling for Clark Gable should be disgusting or commendable (due to his writing abilities, that is).
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