This week’s mystery movie was the 1941 film “Cheers for Miss Bishop,” with Martha Scott, William Gargan, Edwin Gwenn, Sidney Blackmer, Dorothy Peterson, Sterling Holloway, Donald Douglas, Marsha Hunt, Lois Ranson and Mary Anderson.
From the novel “Miss Bishop” by Bess Streeter Aldrich. Screen adaptation by Stephen Vincent Benet. Screenplay by Adelaide Heilbron and Sheridan Gibney.
Music by Edward Ward. Assistant to the producer Grant Whytock. Photographed by Hal Mohr, casting director David C. Werner, art direction by John DuCasse Schulze, costumes for Miss Scott by Irene Saltern. Makeup by Don Cash, sound by Earl Sitar.
Edited by William Claxton, re-recording by Richard Heermance. Set decoration by Julia Heron. Assistant director Joseph C. Boyle. Production manager Sherman A. Harris.
Released through United Artists. Produced by Richard A. Rowland. Directed by Tay Garnett.
“Cheers for Miss Bishop” is available on DVD from TCM and via streaming at Amazon.
I chose “Cheers for Miss Bishop” as it was on a reviewers’ list of Best Films of 1941, and it ended up being another weeper after last week’s “The Sin of Madelon Claudet.” According to IMDB, Mystery Photo regular Jack Mulhall appears in the film, but this multi-generation dupe is so murky I couldn’t pick him out.
Then there’s the plot of what ought to be called “Tears for Miss Bishop.” If anyone is looking for a movie about the crushed hopes and sad love life of a never-married English teacher (Martha Scott) at a small Midwestern college in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Cheers for Miss Bishop” is just the movie for you.
Bess Streeter Aldrich’s novel has been reprinted numerous times, so it exists online primarily in preview and “no preview available” formats. A little digging leads to a public domain copy in Australia and here you are. Based on a scan of the book, it appears to be only marginally better than the film, but at least raises the question of what careers and what sorts of educational opportunities were open to a woman, just off the farm, in a small Midwestern town in horse-and-buggy days.
The major question for me is why this film resonated so much in the 1940s as it was surely dated even then. “Miss Bishop” is supposed to pay tribute to a great and inspiring teacher, but we see little of that. It’s mostly about her sad love life.
I should say something about the stalkery character played by William Gargan, but I’m not sure what. He is the dull, lukewarm perennial suitor, always lumpy and always coming around. Then there’s the cad (Donald Douglas) who dumps Miss Bishop for her bad-girl cousin Amy (Mary Anderson) – or at least as bad as one can be in a small, Midwestern town of the 19th century. And of course Amy conveniently dies in childbirth because that’s what happens to man-stealing women in these kinds of novels, leaving a daughter (Marsha Hunt). She and her granddaughter (Lois Ranson) provide youthful elements as the characters age. Amy’s daughter gets married in Miss Bishop’s symbolically unfinished wedding dress – let the tears flow!
Trivia notes: Barbara Stanwyck was originally cast to play the lead in what was then titled “Three Cheers for Miss Bishop.” Portions of the film were shot on location in Lincoln, Neb. Sterling Holloway performed some scenes from a wheelchair after breaking his leg.
A charming, sentimental drama, revolving around a teacher, who, because of her ability, sympathy, and understanding, came to be loved and respected, not only by the students at the college but also by everyone who came in contact with her. Her personal life receives a great deal of attention — her two unhappy loves. There is very little comedy in this picture, but there are several situations that bring tears to one’s eyes.
Reach for your handkerchiefs, gals, here comes a sobbie. And in case you gents let that approach keep you away from the picture, you’re just plain suckers. It’s one of the best of the season, and Martha Scott’s characterization is magnificent.
Terry Ramsaye, writing Richard A. Rowland’s obituary (Motion Picture Herald, May 17, 1947), noted that “Cheers for Miss Bishop” was Roland’s last film. Ramsaye said:
The picture had extraordinary merit as a sympathetic study of a devoted and virtuous schoolteacher, but its appeals were for oldsters, not the box office majority.
And let’s see which New York Times critic hated the film….
It’s Bosley Crowther, and he didn’t exactly hate it, writing in the New York Times (March 14, 1941):
These are bitter times, when looking backward is much more pleasant for a lot of people than looking ahead. And that is why a goodly number will probably find much comfort and delight in Richard Rowland’s sentimental survey of a simple and homely life well-spent — a little picture called “Cheers for Miss Bishop,” which opened yesterday at the Music Hall. For there is nothing about this Miss Bishop and the even and ordered world in which she lived to disturb or upset the thoughts of anyone in this hectic day. In fact, there is little about her to disturb anything, save perhaps a random tear. “Cheers for Miss Bishop” is decidedly a lavendered and lace-adorned memorial to a sweet and tender way of life now spent.
For Monday, we have a mystery woman.
Update: This is Lois Ranson.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery woman.
Update: This is Rosemary DeCamp.
The characters age over the course of our mystery movie. Here’s one of the characters in his early days …
… and much older.
Update: This is Knox Manning.
Here’s another character when he is younger ….
… and here he is much older. With Back of the Head Woman, who will appear Friday.
Update: This is Edmund Gwenn and Martha Scott as Back of the Head Woman.
Brain Trust roll call: Tucson Barbara (mystery movie and both mystery guests), Jenny M. (mystery movie, both mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and both mystery guests), Bob Hansen (Tuesday’s mystery guest), Gary (mystery movie and both mystery guests), David Inman (Tuesday’s mystery woman), Mike Hawks (Tuesday’s mystery woman), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast), Roget-L.A. (mystery movie and both mystery guests), Sheila (Tuesday’s mystery woman), Candace R. Copley (Tuesday’s mystery woman) and Sylvia E. (Tuesday’s mystery woman).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have guests of varying “aha-ness.” The first is this mystery gent.
Update: This is Sidney Blackmer.
The second is this mystery woman.
Update: This is Mary Anderson.
And the third mystery guest for “Aha Thursday”….
Update: This is Sterling Holloway.
Brain Trust roll call: Blackwing Jenny (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery woman and Wednesday’s mystery astronomer and mysterious college president) Tucson Barbara (Wednesday’s mystery astronomer, mysterious college president and Back of the Head Woman), David Inman (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mysterious college president), Mike Hawks (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mysterious college president), Sheila (Wednesday’s mysterious college president), Patrick (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery guests and Back of the Head Woman), Roget-L.A. (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery guests and Back of the Head Woman), Megan and Thom (Wednesday’s mysterious college president), Sylvia E. (Wednesday’s mysterious college president) and Anne Papineau (the enigmatic college president).
For Friday, we have our leading lady and her mysterious persistent suitor.
Update: This is William Gargan and Martha Scott.
As with “The Sin of Madelon Claudet,” our leading lady ages throughout the film. Here she is in heavy age makeup.
Update: This is Martha Scott.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guests), Tucson Barbara (Thursday’s mystery guests), Sue Slutzky (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests), Charles Kjelland (Thursday’s mysterious campus groundskeeper), Noir Allie (Thursday’s mysterious groundskeeper), Roget-L.A. (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests), Funky PhD. (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery woman, Wednesday’s mysterious college president, Thursday’s mysterious campus groundskeeper, and Back of the Head Woman), Megan and Thom (mystery movie, Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s mysterious groundskeeper), Earl Boebert (Thursday’s mysterious groundskeeper), Sylvia E. (mystery movie, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s mystery guests), Dan Nather (Thursday’s mysterious campus groundskeeper) and Benito (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mysterious college president and Thursday’s mysterious campus groundskeeper).