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Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland
Remind Me
,The Male Animal

The Male Animal

It's the weekend of the Big Game at a Midwestern University and all thoughts are on the he-men who are the pride of the college. This weekend, however, some of that attention is stolen by mousy English professor Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) who innocently announces to his class that on Monday he will read examples of English prose by non-native speakers. His daughter's boyfriend, the firebrand of the school newspaper, notices a familiar name on the list of writers and publishes an editorial praising Professor Turner's decision to read a letter written by executed anarchist Niccolo Vanzetti. Soon the professor is in very hot water with school trustee Ed Keller (Eugene Pallette) who has only two goals for the university, to build a winning team and to get rid of any teachers who show even a hint of being a "red."

Meanwhile the Big Game has brought Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson) back to town. Not only was he the University's greatest football star but he was also the secret love of Professor Turner's wife Ellen (Olivia de Havilland). Between the pressure to cancel his reading of Vanzetti's letter and the fear of losing his wife to his manlier rival, the professor must find the "male animal" within him.

The Male Animal (1942) first appeared on Broadway as one of the comic highlights of the 1940 season. The authors were Elliot Nugent, the playwright and occasional movie director who also played the lead, and James Thurber, best known for his hilarious cartoons for The New Yorker. In an unusual move for a Hollywood studio, Warner Brothers decided to bring the play to the screen with notable fidelity, even hiring co-author Nugent to direct. Their only requirement was that Nugent recast the play using big-name stars. He couldn't have made a better choice for his replacement as lead than Henry Fonda. Fonda's bespectacled professor brings to mind the comedy of his retiring herpetologist in The Lady Eve (1941) while his final speech employees all the gravity he brought to his migrant worker in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Fonda and Nugent then both pursued Olivia de Havilland for the role of the professor’s wife, giving this actress best known for her period dramas a chance to shine in a comic role. Jack Carson, that thick-necked blusterer from so many Warner Brothers films, was a perfect choice for the former football star while gravelly-voiced Eugene Pallette is a delight as the trustee determined to exercise political correctness, 1940's style.

Also notable in the cast are a number of actors who would later become famous on television. The firebrand school reporter is played by Herbert Anderson, more familiar later as Dennis the Menace's TV father. Don DeFore, later to play Mr. B on the sitcom Hazel, is one of the football players and Raymond Bailey, Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies, is a reporter camped out on Professor Turner's porch. Also visible in a bit role is Gig Young, later Oscar winner for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969).

If you are one of those who always hated all the hoopla that surrounded the Big Game, The Male Animal is the send-up of college athletics you've craved.

Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Elliott Nugent
Screenplay: Stephen Morehouse Avery, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Based on the play by Elliott Nugent and James Thurber Art Direction: John Hughes
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editing: Thomas Richards
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Henry Fonda (Tommy Turner), Olivia de Havilland (Ellen Turner), Joan Leslie (Patricia Stanley), Jack Carson (Joe Ferguson), Eugene Pallette (Ed Keller), Herbert Anderson (Michael Barnes), Ivan Simpson (Dr. Damon).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady



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