Teacher’s Pet

Teacher's Pet. Paramount Pictures 1958.
Teacher’s Pet. Paramount Pictures 1958.

Before watching the movie:

A 50s screwball romantic comedy is pretty much always welcome, and often a relief. This week, I think I really need to see Clark Gable and Doris Day verbally spar their way into each other’s arms.

The setup of a teacher and a student and a false identity vaguely reminds me of the original The Nutty Professor, but an adult educator and a reporter taking her class for petty reasons is a lot better than a college professor and a coed.

After watching the movie:

Newspaper editor James Gannon receives an invitation to guest lecture a night school journalism class, but as a man of earned experience who never went to high school, he considers academic study of journalism a scam wasting students’ time and money, and says so in a strongly worded letter. Because of the paper’s affiliation with the school though, his publisher orders him to go apologize and do the lever, but he’s not able to speak to Professor Stone before she reads his letter to the class and eviscerates the worldview it came from. Determined to show her up, Gannon begins attending her class under a pseudonym with the idea of making a pest of himself, but he’s quickly impressed by the skill she clearly didn’t just get out of a book, and she’s floored by his writing ability as a “novice”. As she’s not bad looking either, Gannon is quite eager to take “advanced private study” with her, but discovers her colleague, the brilliant, handsome, and generally perfect Dr. Pine seems to be in the way.

I didn’t expect this to be so much about ethics in journalism, and the duties of the Press in society. It’s also very concerned with the relationship between academia and blue collar, on the job experience, and the dogmas and prejudices either are susceptible to, as well as the perennial tension between commerce and integrity. Who would have expected a romantic comedy from 60 years ago to be so relevant to the state of the modern news industry and modern education? If anything, the wisdom of this movie is more needed today than it was at the time.

Hugo Pine’s initial role is just to be infuriatingly good at everything, which he excels at. But that’s only for one scene, and he has three more pretty long ones after that, where he’s not a rival anymore, and he might be too perfect for a sympathetic character. As a psychologist, he’s in a role to state exactly what the lessons the other characters need to learn, and his motivations are flawless. But he’s also so nice of a person, it’s impossible to not enjoy his presence, even as he acts more as device than character.

I’m not all that in love with the idea that on Stone’s end, the push she needed to think of Gannon/Gallagher as more than a prodigious student was for him to force a kiss on her, as part of a declaration that he’s finished trying to woo her, no less. It seems to have mainly made her conscious of what she was already feeling, or at least recontextualized her existing feelings in a non-platonic fashion, which doesn’t make it any more of an idea that needs to be modeled, 50s or now.

I thought I was getting into a light, uncomplicated little movie, but this turned out to be a refreshingly level-headed exploration of what’s constant in a changing world and what baggage should be left behind. Fair to the old school as well as the new school, the wisdom of this movie is what makes it beautiful.


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One thought on “Teacher’s Pet

  1. Mark Wood January 14, 2017 / 5:12 pm

    Go thou and do likewise. It’s past time for more stories about how the world really works, how we mess things up when we get funny uninformed ideas and insist they are real, and how things work out when we let the truth in.

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