Sunday 10 February 2008

Teacher's Pet (1958)

Barney Kovac works at the paper for which Jim Gannon is the city editor, and Mrs Kovac hijacks a tour of the office to come and talk with him. She wants him to fire Barney because she wants him to go back to school to get a real education, but Gannon believes that the only way to learn the newspaper business is to work in the newspaper business. Unfortunately for him he's forced into accepting a guest spot at a college course on journalism, after he's already turned it down in a letter full of vitriol aimed at the whole concept of the class.

He shows up, only to sit down unannounced and hear the lecturer, Erica Stone, read his letter aloud to the class, prompting him to quietly escape as unannounced as he arrived. After a week of giving hell to his staff he realises that his anger would be better spent attending the class under a false name and showing it up for the farce it obviously is. Naturally, it doesn't quite end up that way or we wouldn't have a plot. Gannon, under the name of Jim Gallagher, finds that Stone gives him quite an education and he alternates between loving her for it and hating her for it.

Clark Gable is Jim Gannon, which is hardly surprising, given that he was a newspaperman pretty often in his career and he always did a good job of it. Mostly though it was in the early days in a very old school way and he has no end of fun here playing the old school journalist in a new school world. Half the time he's completely out of touch and irrelevant, and the other half he's dominant and masculine in precisely the way that Gable always defined.

When I got to Gone with the Wind for my IMDb Project, I realised with shame that I hadn't seen a single Clark Gable movie. Less than four years on, this is my 56th and I'm fascinated with him. In many ways he's a success more as a success than as an actor. He got to the top through guts, enthusiasm and luck, only to discover that he had enough talent to have made it anyway. I wonder who got the biggest shock out of that: him, his colleagues or his public.

It's generally said that all the great Gable movies came early on when he was the King of Hollywood but I'm discovering that he imbued many of the later ones that I'd never even heard of with a lot of depth that may have been unfairly glossed over because he wasn't the King any more. Yet this is where his best acting is. In the thirties, he could get away with playing every character as Clark Gable but by the fifties that sort of thing was seriously on the way out, to the degree that he had to keep finding twists on the concept of playing himself. I think he did a generally understated but very successful job of it.

The names he's up against here aren't minor ones but they're ones that came along long after Gable and I don't know that much about. I always thought Doris Day was one of those fluffy inconsequential pinup girls that popped up, did their thing and promptly disappeared again. She may have had a longer run but that's not the point. Yet I'm quickly discovering that that's far from the truth. I've only seen a couple of her films but she's rapidly impressing me as an actress and through the fact that I haven't yet seen her in pinup mode.

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