TeachersPetcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes (except for the very young)
1958, 119 min., Black-and-white
Not rated (would be PG for adult drinking)
Warner Bros. Archive (not available elsewhere)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: None
Trailer

If you believe that a steady diet of contemporary films ought to be supplemented occasionally by an interesting foreign film or black-and-white classic in order for the kids to have a broad sense of culture, you might consider Teacher’s Pet for a family night movie.

Along with Pillow Talk it’s one of Doris Day’s most delightful and enduring romantic comedies, and the kids get a two-for, since she’s paired with pop culture icon Clark Gable.

Yes, eyes will roll as Day sings the cheesy (albeit catchy) title sequence song, but in the first scene the Internet generation gets an introduction to old-school newspaper production. We watch a group touring the New York Evening Post and see what they see: presses rolling and the chaotic excitement of the newsroom. The film’s theme is introduced in this early sequence when a mother who had snuck onto the tour begs city desk editor James Gannon (Gable) to fire her son so he’ll go back to school. Gannon, who never went to high school, is convinced that real job experience is more worthwhile than college.

Most of Day’s romantic comedies depend on an opposites-attract formula that pits the former band singer’s screen naiveté and virginal attitudes against a more promiscuous male, and while there’s a little of that here, the main contrast is still college instructor Erica Stone’s belief that journalism can be taught vs. Gannon’s resistance to education. 

TeachersPetscreenThings get complicated when Gannon, who had responded to Professor Stone’s invitation to be a guest speaker in her journalism class with a sarcastic turndown letter, is forced by his publisher to go to that class. But before he can say he’s James Gannon, the professor reads his letter in front of the class and makes fun of him. Not willing to swallow his pride and admit who he is, Gannon pretends to be a student in her class. And he keeps pretending, as he finds himself attracted to her. Soon he’s outperforming everyone and she thinks she has a real prodigy on her hands.

Gable and Day play off of each other nicely, but it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without a third wheel, and character actor Gig Young (who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance) admirably fills the bill. He plays psychologist and author Hugo Pine, a know-it-all who seems to one-up Gannon on every subject and in every department . . . except where it counts.

There’s a funny nightclub scene where the two men compete for Erica’s affections and equally funny moments as Gannon agonizes over how and when to confess who he really is—worried that if he says or does the wrong thing, it might spoil his chances with Erica. The film is also buoyed by a few nice plot turns, plenty of solid writing—the original screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award—and engaging performances.

While there is some sexuality—this is, after all, a romantic comedy—it’s all pretty tame. At its core, Teacher’s Pet isn’t a story about a man trying to bed a woman, and if there is a message it’s that Gannon has been going out with all the wrong women (like nightclub singer Mamie Van Doren, “The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll”). Brains and wholesomeness are peddled just as much as education, but done in such a way that it all seems integral to the plot.

In the end, it isn’t just James Gannon who’s old-school. Teacher’s Pet is an old-school romantic comedy that still plays well today. Though this film merits an HD release, at present it’s only available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

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