Reviews

Teacher's Pet (1958)

Erich Kuersten

Gable here is grown older, alone, and confronting his own irrelevance at the dawn of the '60s.


Teacher's Pet

Director: George Seaton
Cast: Clark Gable, Doris Day, Mamie Van Doren
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: Paramount
First date: 1958
US DVD Release Date: 2005-04-19
Amazon affiliate

Note: Plot spoilers below.

The phrase "a Doris Day movie" typically evokes two kinds of expectations. It's either a feminist scratching post or a campy comedy, with Day as the unmarried, virginal executive fending off sexual advances from a stereotypical member of the white boy elite. Teacher's Pet, however, takes another focus, a contest between street smarts and formal education as means to success.

In the late 1950s, thanks to the GI bill, a college education could lead up the corporate ladder. Also unexpectedly, the film casts this tension against a New York City backdrop, and displays a gritty social conscience, much like the previous year's 12 Angry Men, with which it also shares an affection for craggy white male faces, such as Clark Gable's. He plays hardboiled Manhattan newspaper editor Frank Gannon, who never graduated high school and subsequently thinks college is a lot of baloney. When asked to give a guest lecture at a continuing adult education college, he responds with a venomous letter asserting that one can't teach journalism; college, he writes, is just "amateurs teaching amateurs how to be amateurs." But his boss twists his arm, so away he goes.

It turns out the teacher is the pert, slightly dyke-ish Erica (Day), conspicuously teaching mostly men, most older than she is. This is not portrayed as odd within the context of the film, though it sure does rile Gannon. He decides to pose as a student rather than reveal his identity as the would-be lecturer. As a middle-aged editor who doesn't quite know how to grow old gracefully, Gable is the Clint Eastwood of the late '50s, deconstructing the masculine myths he embodied in his younger days. Gannon is like any number of characters Gable played in the 1930s, the reporter in It Happened One Night (1934) grown older, alone, and confronting his own irrelevance at the dawn of the '60s. Day, on the other hand, is just coming into her own here, as if she and the times are in perfect harmony. Her signature "awkward" line readings (stopping and correcting herself, or stepping on Gable's lines, then saying, "Sorry, go ahead") only underline her "naturalistic" performance style, quite the opposite of Gable's mannered affect.

What's most interesting looking at Day in Teacher's Pet is how her masculine style of dress and butch haircut make her fit the role of the "empowered" woman, even as she is playfully "feminine." Thus Gannon can respect Erica as a teacher, but also lust after her in a condescending manner. Setting an example of how the right man for Erica behaves is a professor Gannon assumes is his rival for her affections, psychologist Dr. Hugo Pine (Gig Young, in an Oscar-nominated performance). In a long scene at a joint called "The Bongo Club," Gannon runs into Pine and Erica while drowning his sorrows with a blonde singer named Peggy DeFore (Mamie Van Doren). He engages Pine in a sort of good-natured pissing and drinking contest, the sort of thing the "old" Gable, the Gable who flew around in dangerous planes and socked guys on the jaw, would have no trouble winning. But here, Gannon loses his hold on Erica when it's revealed he doesn't know the mambo.

Eventually Gannon gets the girl, and he seems all set to bed her when he's stopped by the realization that her late father was a small town journalist who once won the Pulitzer. Suddenly Gannon recognizes the deception of his own come-on. The next morning Gannon shows up at Pine's doorstep looking for help. Pine exposes Gannon's desire to seduce Erica as a means to "prove" his superiority, basically covering up his long-held deep anxiety about being uneducated. It takes reading through some of Erica's father's prizewinning old newspaper columns (which Gannon says "stink") to realize his own value as a writer, despite this lack of formal education.

At the same time, Erica is forced to admit daddy's shortcomings when she examines his work with an unbiased critical eye. This becomes more important to the film than any "will they or won't they?" contrivances. If anything, the whole sexual farce aspect dissolves in the light of these loftier issues. Teacher's Pet is an intelligent look at a time when the old guard of tough-talking gumshoes and snappy reporters were about to surrender to a new breed: educated and self-aware men and women.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.