This article was written by Rebekah Brannan as part of the Breening Thursdays series.
Due to necessary preparations for her upcoming event, Pre-Code vs. Pro-Code, my sister, Tiffany, was unable to write this week’s breening article. Therefore, I, Rebekah Brannan, will be breening the 1958 film, Teacher’s Pet. This comedy starring Clark Gable, Doris Day, and Gig Young is an amusing and entertaining film which has been a favorite of my family’s for many years. It follows the story of a hard-bitten newspaper editor who begins taking journalism classes from an attractive young teacher as a joke and ends up falling in love with her. Although the film is generally innocent and funny, it has many unacceptable elements in it, including indecent costumes, graphic newspaper stories, and vulgar jokes. Now, the lights dim, the theaters hushes, and the screen comes to life! Get ready for a front page full of fun, because here comes Teacher’s Pet!
- The first problem occurs in the opening scene at the newspaper’s city office. A stack of newspapers is thrown down on a table, which bear the headline, “Hatchet Murderer Slain in Love Nest.” This is unduly violent and suggestive and must be changed.
- Later in the scene, one of the reporters tells Clark Gable’s character, Jim Gannon, that a girl tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, but, when they pumped out her stomach, all they found was a quart of bourbon. Any discussion of sleeping pills as a form of suicide is forbidden under the Code, since it educates people about methods of suicide, and the other dialogue relating to it is rather vulgar. If the story discussed here must be an attempted suicide, it should be through an acceptable method such as shooting, drowning, asphyxiation, etc.
- In a later scene, Doris Day is shown in an extremely tight black pencil skirt which indecently shows her posterior and legs. The skirt is unacceptable and must be made decently loose.
- In this scene, when Doris Day’s character, Erica Stone, is discussing journalism with Mr. Gannon, who is masquerading under the name Gallagher, she picks up a newspaper bearing the headline, “Blood-Crazed Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” She disgustedly says, “Look at this. Blood and sex. Journalism is so much more than blood and sex.” Jim says that she liked his article about a murder, which contained blood, and she tells him that she isn’t against blood altogether. He mischievously replies, “How do you feel about sex?” Caught up in what she’s trying to say, she accidentally blurts, “Well, I’m all for it.” Finally, extremely embarrassed, she says goodnight and leaves. Although the character is making a good point by stating that journalism is so much more than that, by the same token, movies are more than that as well, and it really shouldn’t be mentioned at all. After her earlier, inspiring speech about why she wants to teach journalism, Erica should just say goodnight and leave, thus removing the unacceptable situation altogether.
- In a later scene, Erica asks Jim to stay after class, and says, “I have a proposition to make to you, Mr. Gallagher.” He looks pleased and follows her into the classroom. Later that night, when he comes to her office, she tells him that her proposition is for him to take on extra work, so that he can practically cover two semesters in one. He looks disappointed and says, “That’s the proposition?” This misunderstanding over the word proposition is suggestive and must be removed. She should instead say, “I have a very important proposal to make to you,” and he must not read any immoral meaning into it.
- In this same scene, when the discuss her proposition, Erica wears another pencil skirt which is indecently tight, especially in the back. It must be made tighter, and there must not be undue emphasis on her posterior.
- Later in this scene, when she is discussing his writing plans for the future, she asks him, “What sort of thing would you like to tackle next?” As she says this, she walks past him, and he looks very suggestively at her rather plainly outlined posterior and says, “Well, I, uh….” This is suggestive and must be removed. The line may remain, as long as an immoral meaning is not read into it through any notice of her figure on his part.
- In a later scene, when Erica and Jim are having one of there first private sessions, she is once again wearing a skirt that is too tight. It must be loosened.
- In the next scene, Jim is in a nightclub with a blonde name Peggy DeFore. She is wearing a dress that is very tight and very low-cut. The neckline must be made decently high and the dress must be looser, so that it doesn’t reveal her figure unduly.
- When Peggy has to go backstage for her number, she says, “Well, I gotta go get undressed.” This is unacceptable and should be changed to, “I gotta go get dressed.”
- After this, she flirtatiously leans on his shoulder and says, “Comin’ over after?” This is also suggestive and should be removed.
- In this scene, Jim is not very interested in Peggy, since his attention is directed toward another table, where Erica is sitting with her psychologist friend, Dr. Pine, who is played by Gig Young. He grumbles to Peggy about the doctor, saying he’s probably a dead pigeon in any topic aside from psychology, and she says, “Well, don’t get mad at me. I’ve got plenty of experience.” He looks at her suggestively and replies, “I know. That’s what I like about you.” This is very suggestive and must be changed. She should instead say, “I haven’t got any education,” and his reply may remain the same, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm, instead of lechery.
- In this scene, Erica’s dress is too tight, particularly in the back. It should be made looser, and have a full skirt which does not show her posterior at all.
- In this same scene, Erica does the mambo with Dr. Pine. Even if she is wearing a full skirt, there should not be so much focus on her posterior, and Jim should not seem to be watching her do the Cuban motion.
- Later in the scene, Peggy comes out to do her number. She is wearing an extremely indecent costume, which must be changed. The neckline must be decently high, the top must be decently thick, she must be properly supported, there should not be a slit high enough to show her jeweled garter, the skirt should be looser, and her midriff should not be showing. Although her navel is not visible, the bare midriff makes her seem too much like a tramp. This is not a feeling we want to have, since nightclub singers aldready don’t have the best reputation.
- Peggy’s number is a song called “The Girl Who Invented Rock n’ Roll.” The entire song is unacceptable and must be replaced with an acceptable song.
- In her new number, Peggy’s choreography must not be so suggestive. There must be no jerky, isolated movement, no shaking her shoulders , no running her hands over her person, etc.
- Also, Peggy must not toss away her muff or take off her scarf, since this gives the number the feeling of strip-tease routine.
- During Peggy’s song, Jim is shown reacting to cymbal crashes and loud drumbeats. Although she is not actually shown jerking her pelvis forward, this movement is implied by his reactions. This must be eliminated.
- Later, when Jim and Erica are riding in a taxicab, he kisses her rather lustfully. This kiss must be toned down, so that it does not seem lustful or suggestive.
- The next morning, Jim goes over to Dr. Pine’s apartment, where the doctor is preparing a very strange hangover remedy. Dr. Pine tells him that the recipe is used by a tribe of cannibals in the Melanesia Islands, saying, “They drink this brew whenever they eat a poisoned enemy.” This line is unduly violent and should be changed. He should instead say that the recipe is from a tribe of natives from the Melanesia Islands, who drink this brew if they eat a sick or poisoned animal.
- In a later scene, Jim decides to fire a young man in his staff so that he can go to school, like his mother wants him to. When he points out that the young man can’t even spell philanthropist, the boy asks him how he learned to spell it. Jim replies, “The way I learned to spell everything else, one lousy letter at a time.” Lousy is a forbidden expression under the Code and must be changed to an acceptable word such as crummy or rotten.
- In a later scene, when Jim is telling Dr. Pine that he doesn’t know what he is, now that Erica has made him lose his contempt for education, he tells him, “I was an obstinate, prejudiced, inconsiderate, cold-hearted louse.” Louse is also a forbidden expression and must be changed to an acceptable noun such as jerk.
- In a later scene, after reading a few copies of the newspaper owned by Erica’s father, Jim exclaims to Dr. Pine, “This is one of the lousiest papers I’ve ever seen.” Once again, the word lousy and any form of it is forbidden under the Code. It must be changed to an acceptable word such as worst or crummiest.
This concludes my breening of Teacher’s Pet. As you can see, with just these few changes, this could have been a perfectly clean, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable film. Although there are far fewer objections than in most of the Disney films I’ve breened, as my sister pointed out to me, although those were supposed to be children’s films, this was supposed to be a Code film. Although it had only been four years since Mr. Breen’s departure from the PCA, shocking things such as flippant use of a certain word, extremely suggestive musical numbers, and completely unacceptable focus on women’s posteriors were common in films. It’s amazing to see how just a few years of mismanagement can ruin a perfect organization such as the PCA. However, we hope to bring back the PCA that existed from 1934 to 1954. Well, that’s all, folks! I’ll see you next time in the Breening Thursday column!
By the way, please join our month-long celebration of Code films, #CleanMovieMonth85! Throughout July, we are going to watch nothing but American Breen Era films, and we are inviting participants to do the same. Writers can join this celebration with articles about their own favorite films and discoveries during the month, and we will republish them on our website. Here’s to 85 years since the formation of the Production Code Administration!
As a special high-point of our month-long celebration in July, we are hosting a blogathon on the first weekend in July in honor of the formation of the PCA and the twenty wonderful years of decent cinema which followed during Joseph Breen’s tenure. It will be called The Favorite Code Film Blogathon. On July 5-7, participants will choose their single favorite Code films and write about why these movies from the era of film decency were so good. Please join!
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