Cinema Odeon > 11:00


Elliott Nugent


Friday 28/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

“Fonda, in horn-rimmed specs, is pretty close to perfectly cast. Yarn is fortunately wrapped in plenty of comedy. Those who recognise its deeper meaning will recommend it to their friends as a must-see” (“Variety”, 4 March, 1942). Between their scripts for Arsenic and Old Lace and Casablanca, the Epstein twins wrote another stage-to-screen adaptation: The Male Animal, a hit play by Elliott Nugent and James Thurber. On stage, Nugent had performed the part that is now Fonda’s: Tommy Turner, professor of English literature, well-married, well-meaning and well-adjusted until “the world began to shake, great institutions trembled and football players descended upon me and my wife”. All this because Turner has chosen to read a letter to his class, an attempt to show that even broken English can be moving and eloquent. That letter was written in 1927 by the anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti in his death cell. At the onset of war, The Male Animal discusses infinite shades of manhood and ‘Americanism’, recognising that plate-smashing comedy and political argument, melting-pot irony and the brassy rhetoric of the sports business are best served together. There’s the fear of ‘Reds’ infiltrating the university and a ‘fascist’ trustee (Eugene Pallette) who likes to build stadiums. There’s smart, fun-loving femininity (Olivia de Havilland) and proudly regressive, semi-toxic masculinity (Jack Carson). And there is the perception, on Fonda’s part, that noble calls for intellectual freedom can only improve with a strong counterbalance – ideally, an alcohol-fuelled 10-minute solo about love and marriage as taught by tigers, sea lions, and elephants: “You do something, you don’t just sit there! Even the p-p-penguin, that little thing, will stand for no monkey business where his mate’s concerned!”.       

Alexander Horwath

Cast and Credits

Sog.: from the eponimous play (1940) by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent. Scen.: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Stephen Morehouse Avery. F.: Arthur Edeson. M.: Thomas Richards. Scgf.: John Hughes. Mus.: Heinz Roemheld. Int.: Henry Fonda (Tommy Turner), Olivia de Havilland (Ellen Turner), Joan Leslie (Patricia Stanley), Jack Carson (Joe Ferguson), Eugene Pallette (Ed Keller), Herbert Anderson (Michael Barnes), Hattie McDaniel (Cleota), Ivan Simpson (Dean Frederick Damon), Don DeFore (Wally Myers). Prod.: Wolfgang Reinhardt, Hal B. Wallis per Warner Bros. Pictures. DCP. Bn.