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.