Thursday, February 10, 2011

Our Miss Brooks - 1956

“Our Miss Brooks” (1956) is probably one of the earliest, if not the earliest, movie spinoff of a successful television show. It pales in comparison to the string of TV-to-movie hits (or flops as the case may be) that we’ve been subjected to for a few decades now. This movie is much less flashy and not at all campy. However, it serves a simple purpose: to re-unite us with old friends.

The prosaic adventures of high school English teacher Constance Brooks were first told on radio from 1948 through 1957, an extremely successful nine-year run that coincided with a foray into a television series from 1952 to 1956, and finally, this movie when the TV show ended. Hitting all media, and winning all kind of awards and tributes, Eve Arden finally slipped out of the second banana billing of her film career, and became the star she deserved to be.

The original radio cast included the incomparable Gale Gordon as the blustering Principal Conklin, Richard Crenna’s adenoidal whine voiced nerdy student Walter, Jane Morgan as the scatterbrained landlady Mrs. Davis, Leonard Smith as the dimwitted Stretch Snodgrass, whose malapropos and mangled English gave Connie Brooks a chance to show off her English teaching skills, and Jeff Chandler as the shy, and unassuming biology teacher Philip Boynton. He was later replaced by Robert Rockwell in the role. Gloria McMillan plays Harriet, the principal’s typical teen daughter with the rapid-fire giggle.

The cast was so tight and smooth, that they worked with precision radio screwball comedy for the better part of a decade, and probably the chief interest in this 1956 film, then and now, is for fans of the radio show to see what the characters looked like. The plot doesn’t offer much else. Strangely, the movie “introduces” us to Connie and the gang at the beginning of their all meeting at Madison High School. It makes for an awkward leap, when we already know the characters so well.

A sub plot involves Eve Arden making a special effort to reach a troubled, angry boy in her class, played by Nick Adams. His rich publisher father, played by Don Porter, ignores him, and Miss Arden, while fending off the romantic advances of the father, must bring these two together.

This aspect of the story deepens the tone of the film and shows Miss Brooks as a selfless, compassionate teacher. All well and good, and there should be more such teachers in the world, but what was really special about Connie Brooks wasn’t her deeper qualities, but her superficial ones. The radio Connie was always in financial arrears -- she makes several jokes about a teacher’s salary -- and buys everything on time. She pines for a romantic relationship with Mr. Boynton, and gets herself entangled in embarrassing situations because of it. She is more fallible on radio, and more loveable.

Also missing from the film are Mrs. Davis’ inedible breakfasts, with running gags about MixMasters and Rye Crisp. The movie Mrs. Davis is far more cunning and on the ball than the radio landlady.

The archetypal teens, Walter, Harriet, and Stretch get much less play in the film, and the boys are clearly men by this time, despite their perfect voices that would hide the fact on radio.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Walter croons the Doris Day hit, “It’s Magic” to his lady-love. I love his unselfconscious flaunting of that tortured voice.

Chiefly missing is the snappy pace of the radio show dialogue and plots. The movie drags its feet here and there. The viewer is bludgeoned with awkward facial reactions and double takes to emphasize a line or joke. They did not have need such visual emphasis on the radio.

Radio also offers a wider screen, if you will. Gale Gordon’s blow-ups or snide retorts are magnified in our imagination when we hear them. When Miss Brooks steps on his glasses, the crunch is funnier for hearing it. The vision in our minds of disastrous surprise parties, indelible Easter egg dye on their faces, Miss Brooks being hoisted down a second-story ladder so that Mr. Boynton can practice being a volunteer fireman, or Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton, and Mr. Conklin sinking in a rowboat are hard to top by this weak, but well-meaning movie.

One episode, which involved them driving out of town to attend an “away” school football game is like a Seinfeld episode where “nothing happens” but everything that could possibly happen, happens.

It was a perfect match of witty writing to a suitable medium. We will never see the like again.

The “Our Miss Brooks” radio episodes are all in public domain now. Listen, or download them here from the Internet Archive website.

The movie is pleasant, but it is really more of a curtain call, or victory lap for the TV show. The radio show would actually run another year, truly surpassing the other two versions.


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Because I'm such a huge fan of both the radio and television versions of Our Miss Brooks I wish I could enjoy this film more...I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the romance between Miss Brooks and Mr. Boynton takes center stage here and it just doesn't work for me. After all, the title of the show isn't Our Mrs. Boynton.

In the last season of the TV series, they jettisoned most of the cast save for Arden, Gordon and Morgan and Connie became a teacher at a private school with Conklin as principal (they even razed Madison High in the first episode of the season to accommodate this). So I always wondered if they did the same thing on the radio show (seeing as how it ran a year or two longer) or if things were pretty much the same in some sort of odd alternate audio universe.

First-rate essay, Jacqueline.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks so much, fellow "Our Miss Brooks" fan. You're probably right about the romance taking center stage that makes the film seem rather leaden and contrived. I haven't seen too many of the TV episodes, and most of the radio episodes I've heard were of the early years, so I don't know how they wound things up.

Yvette said...

Never saw the film and after reading this, don't know that I want to. Hard for me to 'see' Miss Brooks and wannabe hoody Nick Adams (later one of the obnoxious members of the gang in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE)in any universe together.

Anyway, must tell you, Jacqueline: I LOVED THE EARLY TELEVISION SHOW! I must have, also listened to the radio show because we didn't have a television until I was about 10 or so. But what I remember most is the tv show. Eve Arden. Wow, did I love her. She was the epitome of the perfect wise-cracking teacher. She was just SO much fun. And Gale Gordon. Was he born to play that part or what? And that boobie Mr. Boynton. What a perfect name for a character. HA! Oh, can't remember details now, just that I loved this show and never missed an episode. I'm going to listen to the radio programs when I get a chance. Thanks for letting me know they're available.

How come there are no more women in films or tv like Eve Arden??? I know why, she was one of a kind!!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Yvette. Yeah, Eve Arden was born to play that role. Her way with a line, and Gale Gordon, too. There's that famous line from "Sunset Blvd." about "they had FACES then", but I would paraphase and add, they had VOICES then. It seems odd to say that proper diction can be funny, but there's so much more you can do with precise speech than you can with lazy slurring. It carries shades of meaning beyond a facial expression or physical posture.

There are even a few times on the radio show where you hear Eve Arden trying to stifle her own laughter. Priceless.

Miss Fierce said...

Fun times! Thanks for the link to the radio shows, I'm going to download some for work tomorrow. Radio shows are always a good way to brighten up a day at the office.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Miss Fierce, that sounds like fun.

The Lady Eve said...

I know and love the TV show, and only recently saw this movie spin-off for the first time on TCM. I didn't think it compared to the great series, but enjoyed watching it just to see all those much beloved characters one more time...Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton, Mrs. Davis, Osgood Conklin and Walter Denton. You are so right, Eve Arden long deserved to step from supporting to lead roles...she was wonderful as Miss Brooks.

Classicfilmboy said...

Great post. I haven't seen "Our Miss Brooks" the TV show in 30+ years. I should revisit it and search out this movie.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by Lady Eve and Classicfilmboy. It's great to see so many Eve Arden fans. I thought it was cute that in the film "Grease" (1978), they brought Eve Arden out to play the high school prinicpal. Even though it was a different character, it's almost as if Connie Brooks finally got a promotion.

John said...

Watched this many years ago and use to watch the TV series in repeats every day for a long time and remember loving it. A great cast, Richard Crenna and Gale Gordon. Gordon was lucky enough to work with Arden and Lucille Ball! I have never listened to the radio shows so I appreciate the link. Will have take a listen.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome, John. I hope you like the radio episodes. I don't think the TV show has been broadcast in repeats for a while. It would be nice if TV Land or some such channel would run it again.

ClassicBecky said...

Had to stop by and leave a quick comment - I absolutely ADORE Eve Arden, and I am an old time radio show junkie. I pulled up the site you gave, and put it in my favorites! Thanks so much for a great post and for guiding me to another OTR site!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, Becky. I've been pleased to discover a lot of classic film fans are also OTR fans. Internet Archive is really a treasure trove. Happy hunting.

Anonymous said...

I for one, loved it. It was good to see Mr. Boynton being featured a bit more in the Our Miss Brooks film. For those who didn't like it, relax & try & enjoy the film for what it was. Silly to overanalyze it all.

Miss Brooks never got her happy ending in the series, so their relationship being prominently featured in the movie makes perfect sense for those of us who wanted to see Connie get her happily ever after.

Our Miss Brooks is forever the definitive classic to me. Eve Arden & company worked just beautifully. It's no wonder she won best radio comedienne of 1948/9. Actors were perfectly cast, which is why the show became the great success it was. I never tire of listening to the show. I also greatly enjoy the tv series. It's nice putting faces to the voices. Though Joel Samuels whose appeared in a handful of the radio episodes is a huge mystery. No trace of information or photo of his, either in the OTR star archives or Our Miss Brooks logs. Only his listed episode credits. He was Mike & Danny's Pop, Mr. Gillis in the Twin Orphans & Mr. Murdoch in the Jiffy Vacuum episodes. Loved his soothing voice.

In closing, I'd just like to add that whether it be the original radio show, television series or this cute theatrical outing, Our Miss Brooks is timelessly enjoyable. And as far as I'm concerned, the more we see of Mr. Boynton, the better. <3

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Glad you enjoyed the movie. The cast on film, TV, or radio, all worked well together, with terrific timing, and Eve Arden, of course, was a treasure

Related Products