CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP (1941)


Hollywood loved to make films about doctors, nurses, lawyers, scientists, truck drivers,  electric linemen,  oil riggers; and, of course, teachers. The noble occupation of teaching  makes one think of the various narratives: GOODBYE MISTER CHIPS (1939),  TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS (1940) and  THE BROWNING VERSION (1951).   The Tay Garrett   directed CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP puts the writing on the board as another neglected work.

 

The story presents Martha Scott in a bravo performance as Miss Ella Bishop, who grows up to become  a teacher.  It begins when she and her childhood sweetheart Sam Peters  (William Garrgan) are older  and a series of  flashbacks tells their story. This  was  one of the first films to explore flashbacks plus narration to bring the story in to focus.    The audience finds Miss Bishop attending college, dreaming to be a teacher.

 

 

Ella meets lawyer Delbert Thompson ( Don Douglas) while locked out on the roof of the family home one snowy  evening.  Their relationship begins; however, Delbert is also fraternizing with Ella’s more precocious cousin  Amy (Mary Anderson).  This is the  conservative Midwest, so Delbert has to marry Amy while still loving Ella. Amy and Delbert move away.

 

Amy returns to the family home and Ella, who was abandoned by Delbert after she becomes pregnant.     Twists and turns, lost loves and  academic colleagues and students grow up as Ella’s life continues.   She does marry briefly,  only to have that change suddenly. The constants throughout are the students, her work and  the presence of Sam Peters.   Peters starts off with little but end up owning a grocery store. He always has a shoulder for Ella.  Peters is one  of the first in the town to buy an automobile. He keeps running over  grass and flowers with it much to torment of Chris Jensen (Sterling Holloway).

CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP does have some similarity to GOODBYE MISTER CHIPS (1939) in the setting and  certain events, except this is from a  female point of  view and not in a  English school.   The picture also features some  subtle moments of a bumbling , awkward  student Anton Radcheck (Knox Manning), who dreams of nothing more than becoming a famous astronomer.  He does, with Ella’s encouragement early in her teaching career.   This  was the  first picture to hint at the  effect teachers have on the lives of their students.

 

 

Female student Stena (Sue Moore) , of  whom  Ella Bishop has given a chance is thought  be slow and dreams of being a librarian.  Stena is almost expelled from the  school for getting  high marks on an exam when she is suspected of cheating.  She  recites the  Declaration of Independence and  the Constitution for the  Academic Board in her nervous,  accented voice. It turns out she is gifted with photographic memory.

Martha  Scott is wonderful as  Ella Bishop. She  takes the role through from young girl to old age.   Scott and  Gargan  are aided in their roles by some of the best non- overpowering age make up by Don Cash.  Ella and  Sam age with dignity via subtle diction changes, physicality and  facial expressions.

CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP  also marked  the  debut of  Rosemary DeCamp. She went onto be the calming mother and level headed  character in many pictures and  television series to come.

Veteran Actor  William Farnum is in a brief role as  Judge Peters. Farnum was once one  of the highest paid actors in Hollywood,  receiving the  sum of  $10,000 from William Fox  during the mid twenties.  Farnum also played the role of Ben Hur on  stage for  five years. When he passed away, pallbearers  at his  funeral included Cecil B DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Clarence Brown, Frank Lloyd,  Leo Carillo and  Charles Coburn The eulogy was delivered by Pat O Brien.

CHEERS FOR MISS  BISHOP  was edited by Willam F. Claxton, who had  a huge career as an editor in film and later on in television. He worked on BONANZA, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, HIGH CHAPARRAL and  many others

CHEERS  FOR  MISS BISHOP is  a sanitized version in the Hollywood style of treading the  right path.  Uplifting? Yes, for the  time and the world situation in 1941. Good performances by both Martha Scott  and William Gargan, along with many smaller portraits of  students and characters  intertwined  throughout their lives.   The picture was nominated  for an Academy award for best musical score.  The constant is friendship and tragic love between  Ella  and Sam; yet it is one that sustains them both through the years.  You wonder what might have been.

 

 

 

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