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.
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.
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.