Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon: The Male Animal (1942)





Today's article is a happy contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Thank you, ladies.  The internet celebration of Ms. de Havilland's 100th birthday on July 1st runs until July 3rd and you can join the party HERE.  

Playwright/director/actor Elliot Nugent starred in The Male Animal during its successful Broadway run of 243 performances.  He was the co-writer of the play with his college friend James Thurber.  Nugent would return to Hollywood to direct the feature film based on the play.  Also coming west from the play were Don DeFore (One Sunday Afternoon, TVs Hazel) as Wally Myers and Ivan Simpson (Captain Blood, Maid of Salem) as Dr. Damon.  Gene Tierney who played Pat Stanley was in Hollywood working on another film and that role is played by Joan Leslie (Jubilee Trail, The Sky's the Limit).

The romantic-comedy mix-ups of the film are fresh and funny today.  Unfortunately, the political angle has not worn with age either.

Hot-headed student Michael Barnes played by Herbert Anderson (Battleground, TVs Dennis the Menace) has published an editorial in his Midwestern University's literary magazine decrying the firing of three professors accused of being communists and praising his English professor for scheduling a class reading of a letter written by executed anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Professor Tommy Turner played by Henry Fonda (The Lady Eve, Fort Apache) is including other letters written by non-professional writers in his lesson on composition, but this particular example starts a row.  The Board of Trustees led by Ed Keller played by Eugene Palette (My Man Godfrey, Topper) are on a witch hunt.  They are out to get the "reds", and if they can't find any, they'll go after the "pinks".  Professor Turner's career is suddenly on the line.



Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda

Professor Turner's marriage is also at a fork in the road.  Outside of his Ivory Tower, the big doings on campus center on a championship football game, the rally and returning heroes.  One of the returning heroes is Joe Ferguson played by Jack Carson (The Strawberry Blonde, Mildred Pierce).  Joe just happens to be a former beau of Mrs. Ellen Turner played by Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress, Hold Back the Dawn).  Tommy can sense lingering feelings between the former couple which exacerbates Ellen's frustration with Tommy's unwillingness to back away from a fight with the Trustees.

The ongoing triangle among the married folks is mirrored by the love life of Ellen's younger sister Pat who is torn between the academic Michael and the football hero Wally.  This makes Tommy and Michael kindred spirits even though it is the latter's article which has gotten the prof into all this hot water.  The voice of the droll observer belongs to Ivan Simpson as Dr. Damon, the school's Dean.  The voice of support amidst the commotion belongs to Cleota played by Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind, The Mad Miss Manton).



Henry Fonda, Jack Carson

Nothing is going well for Professor Turner this weekend.  Former beau Joe recalls Ellen's birthday with a gift.  Absent-minded Tommy forgot about the date, but remembered that Cleota's birthday was coming up.  Joe and Ellen look lovely dancing together.  Tommy doesn't like to dance.  Former cheerleader Ellen is excited about the game and the rally.  All that business is lost on Tommy.  Ellen wants Tommy to bow down to the Trustees for the sake of his job.  Tommy is not political by nature, but refuses to be pushed around.  Jealousy and worry get the best of Tommy.  While Ellen is out having a good time with Joe, Michael and Tommy get soused.  The inebriated Tommy turns his philosophical bent to the true nature of the male animal and what he must do to protect his mate.  It all leads to a shameful and very funny bout of fisticuffs between Tommy and Joe.  Poor Joe is so confused by the mixed signals he gets from both Tommy and Ellen that he doesn't know which end is up.

If you want to know who ends up with whom, what happens in Tommy's class and who wins the big game be sure and watch The Male Animal when you have the opportunity.  Henry Fonda is always particularly fine in comedy and there is a lot for him to work with in the role of Professor Turner.  Any scene between Tommy and Cleota is a gem.



Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland

I do not know how Ms. de Havilland felt about the wifely role in this comedy, even with its Thurber and Nugent Broadway pedigree.  Perhaps it was one of those last straws that drove her to instigate her successful legal battle against the studio's strangle-hold on an actor's career.  Speaking strictly as an audience, Olivia de Havilland glows as Ellen Turner, expertly alternating between funny and playful, and devoted and thoughtful.  She's immensely attractive and likable, running the household and keeping her sometimes slightly vague husband on track.  Her excitement about the game and seeing Joe is girlish and sweet.  Her worry for Tommy is as genuine as her bewilderment at Tommy's mercurial change of attitude toward Joe and his sudden standing up to the Trustees.

The Male Animal with its clever and amusing script and polished performances is a classic movie treat for fans and a special part of Olivia de Havilland's filmography.  TCM is screening the film on Friday, July 29th at 4:00 am as part of the Star of the Month salute to Olivia de Havilland.





      

24 comments:

  1. How did I miss this one? Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland AND Jack Carson?

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    1. The title doesn't really give any clue as to the movie. I know I passed it by for years, but when we finally came together it became a favourite.

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  2. I has many films to choose from for the blogathon, and in the end I was left with three: The Strawberry Blonde, It's Love I'm After and The Male Animal. I chose #1, but I'm definetely checking out the other two. The Male Animals may have cool comedy moments.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. You had three excellent movies to choose from and did a nice job on "The Strawberry Blonde". I think you will find the clever script of "The Male Animal" very much to your liking.

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  3. I wondered if maybe this film did push her into seeking more challenging roles, but as you said, she is wonderful. I loved her in this.

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    1. While I don't think comedy is any easier than drama, I also don't think the role was particularly challenging for Ms. de Havilland. I'm glad she's in the movie as she is delightful.

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  4. I do think of this film more as a Henry Fonda comedy with Olivia in support. And I agree that roles like this may have led to her overwhelming desire to seek out more serious parts.

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    1. Somebody's gotta play "the girl". In this case, at least the girl is smart and well-liked. She is well worth Hank relating to his inner male animal.

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  5. What a great cast! I will check this one out--not sure I ever saw a comedy with Fonda outside of THE LADY EVE, and the title is just so evocative!

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    1. The humour doesn't get in the way of the message, and the message doesn't get in the way of the humour. It is easy to see why the show was a Broadway hit and the movie, I think, stands the test of time.

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  6. Yup, gotta see this one, especially when it has such a great cast and what appears to be a timeless message. What's not to love about a clever script?

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    1. Exactly. Each generation seems to have to learn the same lessons over and over. A few laughs along the way certainly don't hurt.

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  7. Thanks so much for joining in on the blogathon, and for introducing me to this movie, which sadly I have never seen. After reading your great post, I've added it to my "To Watch List"

    I would also like to invite you check out my contribution to the blogathon

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/happy-100th-birthday-olivia-de-havilland/

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    1. Thank you, Crystal.

      Looking forward to your piece on Ms. de Havilland very much.

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  8. I really enjoyed this movie and your write-up of it!! It's a great cast and Jack Carson is always a plus. Olivia is fantastic as always :)

    Thanks for this great contribution to the Blogathon!!!

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    1. You're welcome. Thanks for hosting the event.

      We can never get enough Jack Carson and I can't think of anyone more perfect in his part.

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  9. Hi Caftan Woman. This movie is one of my favorites and your review does it justice. Henry Fonda was really good in comedies. He didn't do enough. Jack Carson would drive me insane in real life, but he sure is fun in movies.

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    1. Thanks.

      I agree about Fonda. He had a nice touch with comedy that should have been utilized more often.

      Yes, Jack Carson certainly had a personality that would fill a room - perhaps even take it over. My daughter always refers to him as "Officer O'Hara" from the first time she noticed him in a movie.

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  10. So glad to hear that TCM will be showing this! I've often passed by this film because I mixed the title up with the plot of another film (can't remember which) and I thought it best to avoid it -- that was silly of me! I would have loved to have seen Gene Tierney do this on Broadway, but I'll console myself about the loss by catching the movie this month. Great write-up!

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    1. I imagine at the time the movie was made audiences would have been familiar with the popular play and through movie magazines and such have known what the deal was. For years I would confuse it with "The Animal Kingdom" (the mind plays tricks), and basically ignored it. When I finally saw it - what a lovely surprise! I've seen it a few times since and enjoy it more and more.

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  11. This was a good choice CaftanWoman as a relatively unknown Olivia de Havilland film and you gave a very fitting tribute to her on her 100th birthday. This was indeed a great cast and it should have come off much better even than it did. Still, I hope it comes back around.

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  12. This was a good choice CaftanWoman as a relatively unknown Olivia de Havilland film and you gave a very fitting tribute to her on her 100th birthday. This was indeed a great cast and it should have come off much better even than it did. Still, I hope it comes back around.

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  13. Sometimes it takes the right time and the right mood for a movie and a fan to come together.

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  14. I'm still working on catching up with all the posts for this blogathon. This sounds like a movie I would have to be in a very silly mood to enjoy, so I'll keep it in mind for one of Those Days :-)

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