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The Male Animal (1942)

Approved  |   |  Comedy, Romance  |  4 April 1942 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 780 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 ...
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Coach Sprague
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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


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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?


Burning leaves in the street was legal until the mid seventies 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 »


I Wanna Go Back
Sung by those on their way to the rally
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User Reviews

Slight comedy set on Midwest college campus
24 May 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"The Male Animal" is an enjoyable film about a Midwest college town and the faculty and alumni. It's a comedy-romance that's built around a theme of freedom of speech. Henry Fonda plays Professor Tommy Turner who creates a brouhaha by selecting a letter by Bartolomeo Vanzetti to read in his English class. Vanzetti was one of two convicted criminal anarchists who was executed in 1927 for the murder of a guard during a robbery. The case would have been remembered yet by people in the 1940s, but by few today. I had to look it up to see if it was fiction or real.

I read a great deal more about it, because it was very interesting. Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were associated with a gang that planted bombs and disrupted industry in the U.S. in the 1910s. But, because they were Italian immigrants, there was a lot of sentiment that they were unjustly tried. It became such an international incident that large throngs of people held protest riots around the globe. Huge damage was done in Paris, London and other cities. So, in these years well after that time, James Thurber and Elliott Nugent included a letter written by Vanzetti while in prison, that protested his innocence, as part of a play they wrote, "The Male Animal." It became a major Broadway hit in 1939, and that led to Warner Brothers getting the movie rights.

Anyone watching this movie without the background knowledge would rightly think Tommy's choice was lame of this letter to read as an example in his English course. But, because of the civil unrest associated with the Vanzetti case, Thurber and Elliott might have thought that would register in the minds of the audience as a reason for the subsequent student protest in the play and movie.

Well, that was just the premise that the rest of the story is built around. The freedom of speech aspect itself was pretty lame. I suspect that the comedy went over much more on stage than it does in this film. The script is not overly witty or funny. A few of the situations are funny, but the humor is provided most often by other characters in the film. Olivia de Havilland is quite good as the doting wife of the professor, Helen Turner, who's bent on his moving up in the college leadership. And, this is another film when Jack Carson shines in his supporting role, here as Joe Ferguson. As the former star of the Midwestern University's football team, Carson is very funny. To the writer's credit, he isn't made out to be an oaf. He's an alum and dedicated sports fan around whom the college benefactors can be expected to rally to continue their support for the school. The film becomes consumed with Tommy's fear that Helen may still love Joe.

Other supporting members of the cast do credible jobs in their roles. But, overall this film is just so-so. And that may be more because of Hank Fonda than anyone else. Fonda was a very good actor, who didn't do comedy very well. He couldn't hold a candle in comedy to Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Fred MacMuray, William Powell or half a dozen other top actors. Fond had few comedies to his credit, but for every one that was a success, there were two that weren't. And, the successes were due more to his co-stars than to Fonda. He was best in dramatic roles. He made some nice mysteries as well, and also did very well in Westerns. But comedy was not his forte.

"The Male Animal" is a film that many would enjoy on a weekend afternoon. But it's not a movie to add to a film library.

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