Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The forthcoming release of Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction—and the recent release of the excellent Approaching The Elephant—has us thinking back on other movies about teaching.
Teacher’s Pet was one of the last successes of Clark Gable’s career; he died just two years after its 1958 release. The film could have come across as a desperate move, pairing him with Doris Day, a star over two decades his junior. Gable looks noticeably older in the film, especially for fans accustomed to his famous roles in It Happened One Night or Gone With The Wind; his face has filled out, looking squintier and more cock-eyed, and he even appears a little sweaty at times. But like late-period vehicles for Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood, the film trades productively on Gable’s cinematic past.
He plays James Gannon, a seasoned self-made newspaper editor and high-school drop-out invited to speak at a night class in journalism taught by Erica Stone (Doris Day). He so virulently dislikes and distrusts education (“amateurs teaching amateurs how to be amateurs”) that he decides to enroll in the class in secret, to pester and possibly humiliate the teacher with his unteachable professionalism. It’s easy to imagine Gannon as a crankier, pettier version of Gable’s newsman from It Happened One Night, especially since, following his skepticism over a “dame” teaching journalism, he starts to (of course) fall for Day’s sunny—and in this movie, no-nonsense—charisma.
Shot in lovely black and white, supposedly in part to hide Gable’s aged physique, Teacher’s Pet isn’t as zany or fast-talking as earlier newspaper comedies, and not quite as confectionary as some of Day’s most famous rom-coms. Instead, it’s a light comedy with a surprising amount of sincere reflection on the competing values of education and experience, as well as journalistic integrity. By enrolling in the course, Gannon is surprised to find himself belatedly receiving the kind of encouragement and support he’s supposed to disdain. Day personifies a sweet optimism about what a difference good teaching can make, not just in her students’ self-esteem but in the kind of work they go on to do.
Teacher’s Pet creaks a little under the weight of its protracted two-hour running time; its reflective pauses, sometimes-speechy dialogue, and spirited debates about journalism add up. As a result, some of its big scenes, like one where Gable crashes what he thinks is Day’s date, drag on. Gig Young actually received an Oscar nomination for his role as Day’s companion and Gable’s unexpected confidante—seemingly just for nursing a mild comic routine about a massive hangover and offering Gable some helpful advice—and the movie’s screenplay was also recognized, despite coming across more literate than literary. Still, it’s easy to see why audiences were taken with it; Teacher’s Pet is as charming as a movie with Clark Gable and Doris Day ought to be, and thoughtful besides. Maybe that’s a better way to approach the inspirational teacher movie: charm, rather than bombast.
Availability: Teacher’s Pet is out of print on DVD, but it can be obtained through Netflix or possibly your local video store or library. It’s also available for rental or purchase from the major digital services.