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The Male Animal (1942)

Approved  |   |  Comedy, Romance  |  4 April 1942 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 788 users  
Reviews: 20 user | 9 critic

The trustees of Midwestern University have forced three teachers out of their jobs for being suspected communists. Trustee Ed Keller has also threatened mild mannered English Professor ... See full summary »



(screen play), (screen play), 3 more credits »
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Complete credited cast:
Herbert Anderson ...
Ivan F. Simpson ...
Dean Frederick Damon (as Ivan Simpson)
Don DeFore ...
Jean Ames ...
Minna Phillips ...
Regina Wallace ...
Frank Mayo ...
Coach Sprague
William B. Davidson ...
Bobby Barnes ...
Nutsy Miller


The trustees of Midwestern University have forced three teachers out of their jobs for being suspected communists. Trustee Ed Keller has also threatened mild mannered English Professor Tommy Turner, because he plans to read a controversial piece of prose in class. Tommy is upset that his wife Ellen also suggested he not read the passage. Meanwhile, Ellen's old boyfriend, the football player Joe Ferguson, comes to visit for the homecoming weekend. He takes Ellen out dancing after the football rally, causing Tommy to worry that he will lose her to Joe. Written by Will Gilbert

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Romance


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

4 April 1942 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Assim é que Elas Gostam  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The play by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent opened at the Cort Theatre in New York on 9 January 1940 and closed on 3 August 1940 after 243 performances. Don DeFore, Ivan F. Simpson, Minna Phillips and Regina Wallace originated their movie roles in the play. The opening night cast also included Leon Ames as Joe Ferguson, author/director Elliott Nugent as Tommy Turner, and Gene Tierney as Patricia Stanley. See more »


Ellen Turner: You'd better take a hot water bottle to bed with you.
Prof. Tommy Turner: Nice of you to arrange for a substitute.
See more »


Version of She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) See more »


(1925) (uncredited)
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Otto A. Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II
Played and sung twice on the phonograph and played during the closing credits
See more »

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User Reviews

"Had it not been for these things...."
12 March 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

James Thurber is best recalled for his wonderful cartoons (mostly printed in The New Yorker magazine in the 1920s through 1950s) and his remarkably fine short stories and essays. He recently got an ultimate accolade (posthumously) by having a volume of his prose and cartoons published in "The Library of America" series. The two longest pieces of writing that he created that people remember are his short story, turned into a film, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", and his other short story turned into a television dramatization, "The Greatest Man in the World". Also his writings were the basis of a wonderful television series (in 1969 - 1970) "My World And Welcome To It" starring William Windom. Quite a bit of mileage for Thurber's work.

He only (as far as I know) wrote one play. He collaborated with Elliott Nugent on THE MALE ANIMAL, a comedy set on a college campus, that dealt with the limits of free speech and academic freedom on a college campus. Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda), and English professor in a mid-western college, is happily married to Ellen (Olivia de Havilland) when two disasters hit him in one weekend. One of his students, Michael Barnes (Herbert Anderson), is the editor of the college newspaper, and he writes an article praising Turner's outspokenness and encouragement of democracy, and mentioning that Turner is going to conclude a course on great epistolary (letter) writing with the final letter of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the convicted anarchist murderer(?) / martyr. This turns out to be unwelcome publicity to Tommy. Secondly it is timed for the alumni weekend, when the arrivals include the bullying head of the Board of Trustees Ed Keller (Eugene Palette) and Tommy's former rival for Ellen, Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson).

Sex and the battles of the sexes play as much a role in the play as does political correctness and censorship. First off, Michael/Anderson apparently wrote the article because of his disappointment concerning his floundering romance with Patricia Stanley (Joan Leslie), who has been showing interest in the football hero of the campus Wally Myers (Don De Fore). This younger triangle mirrors the older one of Fonda, de Havilland, and Carson. Fonda is a fine teacher, but he was giving a pep talk to the disheartened Anderson. That was why he wanted to show his appreciation in writing his piece in the paper.

Everyone on campus is upset by Fonda's choice of literary example. Carson (now a successful car salesman, whose marriage is rocky and he can't understand why), feels it's wrong. So does de Havilland, who can't understand why Fonda would jeopardize his job by reading that anarchistic trash. And Palette is livid - a prime example of super capitalism triumphant, he has no use for those trouble-making lefties like Vanzetti. And since Palette is the head of the Board of Trustees, his anger can't be simply brushed aside.

The play has many nice moments in it - Carson and Palette reliving football glories of the past, with the winning "Statue of Liberty" play, that Fonda manages to simply reduce to absurdity that Carson is left wondering what happened when he is literally ball-less. The pep talk that Palette gives regarding messages from various people who can't come in that weekend - and how banal the messages from all of them are. The attempts by Fonda to protect De Havilland with an unsuspecting (and surprisingly honorable) Carson in case Fonda's future is over. And the climax, when the letter is read to the entire school body.

It is still quite an effective movie, though not thought of among Fonda's or de Havilland's leading performances. Interestingly enough, the letter (while still a masterpiece of English prose) is now known to have been ghost written between Vanzetti and a news reporter who befriended him. But that does not take away from it's effectiveness. As a study in the pros and cons of free speech and academic freedom, you could not do wrong starting out with this film.

17 of 19 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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