Teacher’s Pet (US, 1958)

I’d never heard of this late Gable movie (or should it be a mid-era Day one?) and I was surprised I watched it to the end. I did so not because it was particularly good but it because it is an interesting period piece: Gable is a hard-bitten newspaper man who shows his contempt for education, in guise of journalism lecturer (Day). As an ex-Media Studies teacher I was intrigued to see how news professionals’ belief that academia has nothing to say to them (still current amongst older practitioners) was portrayed in the 1950s. As befits the actors’ ages, Gable is signified as old fashioned whilst Day is modern.

Spoiler alerts (though they hardly matter): Gable comes round to see the error of his ways regarding Day’s modernity; the hipness of the time is signified by a scene at the Bongo Club were Mamie Van Doren sings how she invented rock ‘n’ roll (like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, US, 1985). However if it seemed that a 1958 romance-comedy (the laughs are few 60-years on) was going to vindicate Media Studies the ending is quite a cynical recoupment: Gable has the final word where he states that Doris’ idealism is nonsense in the face of the newspaper business that has to deliver its readers to advertisers to survive and so they focus on sensational stories. A very honest assessment to be sure if it had been accompanied by a sense that this was a failure of journalism rather than a success.

Day’s character had made Gable realise that of the ‘what, where, when, who, why’ rules of journalism it was the last that mattered most to newspapers in the age of television and radio. A subplot involves finding out that a crime was committed because of social pressures (a reference to His Girl Friday‘s satire in 1939) but dealt with here seriously. Although the film had seemed to barreling toward social commentary it was, unsurprisingly, was negated at the end.

Gable’s perfect for hard-bitten but he’s no Cary Grant though he does his best. More risible are the sexual politics where all a manly-man needs to do is grab a woman and kiss her; today you expect such behaviour to lead to a smack in the kisser.

George Seaton’s direction is functional but the film’s more interesting for Fay and Michael Kanin’s script; Michael had made his name with the Hepburn-Tracy vehicle Woman of the Year (1942). Even though their contention that journalism should investigate stories in-depth is negated by the narrative they do at least dramatise the idea.

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