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Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)

Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)

Tay Garnett directed this drama which comes off as a female version of Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939) though this one was based on a Bess Streeter Aldrich novel that was adapted by Stephen Vincent Benet; Sheridan Gibney (The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935)) and Adelaide Heilbron wrote the screenplay. Edward Ward’s Score received an Academy Award nomination.

Sentimental and not particularly affecting the story chronicles fifty years of the title character’s life Ella Bishop somewhat overplayed by Martha Scott. It begins with Ella as a student then valedictorian; unable to find a job elsewhere she becomes a freshman English teacher at her alma mater Midwestern University thanks to the college’s president James Corcoran (Edmund Gwenn) in the 1880’s. Uninterested in the local boy she’s known all of her life as a friend Sam Peters (William Gargan) she practically throws herself at two outsiders who come to work at the university or in its small town. The first is an attorney and new junior partner Delbert Thompson (Donald Douglas) but he finds Ella’s niece Amy (Mary Anderson perhaps the only one to overact more than Ms. Scott) more attractive or at least more willing (e.g. to go with him to “sit” in the moonlight by the river one night). Delbert jilts his fiancée Ella to wed Amy whereupon the two newlyweds quickly leave town. But Amy soon returns home pregnant and abandoned by her husband and later giving birth to a daughter that takes her life. Selfless Ella raises Hope particularly since she’s just spurned visiting professor John Stephens (Sidney Blackmer) after finding out he’s married.

Hope (Marsha Hunt) grows up to be a beautiful brunette attends Midwestern herself and later marries Richard (Ralph Bowman aka John Archer) before they move away. Meanwhile Corcoran retires and appoints Watts (John Hamilton) president. Old (and fairly bitter) maid Ella resists President Watts’s new ideas until a conversation with Corcoran inspires her to catch up with the new and modern times. Hope’s daughter Gretchen (Lois Ranson) grows old enough to attend Midwestern about the time that Watts’s replacement President Crowder (Pierre Watkin) institutes a policy to retire older teachers and raze the college’s original building to make room for new facilities. This leads to the film’s predictable conclusion whereby Ella is herded to the old building by her family to attend a dinner in her honor and accept accolades from former students who’ve grown up to be well known persons – an astronomer (Knox Manning) a senator (John Arledge) and an historian (Rosemary DeCamp).

Sterling Holloway appears as the university groundskeeper and janitor Chris Jensen whose flowers are always being trampled; Dorothy Peterson plays Ella’s mother Ma Bishop.

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