Thursday, June 5, 2014

A salute to mawkish tripe

If you like the sort of sentimental, romanitcized view of small-town America that's su sugary it'll eat out the insides of mere mortals, FXM/FMC has just the movie for you: Good Morning, Miss Dove, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Jennifer Jones plays the titular Miss Dove, a teacher in Liberty Hill, a small New England town that looks as picturesque as Peyton Place but which doesn't have the scandal going on underneath the surface; or, if it does, everybody's decided to repress it. Miss Dove is an irritating scold who expects all of her students to act just so, and when I say "all of her students", I could just as easily say the whole town, since this is one of those towns where nobody new seems to move in and everybody who lives there seems to have had Miss Dove for a teacher. That may be about to change, though, as Miss Dove's life is in mortal peril! This is not a joke. Miss Dove has kept one student after school because he wasn't acting just so, and while looking after him, Miss Dove feels a sharp pain. Would you oh-so-kindly fetch your father the doctor (Robert Stack), Miss Dove tells the young lad.

With Miss Dove's health in a possibly parlous state, what's a woman who's spent her entire life in this little town as a teacher to do, other than to look back on her life? So, we get a series of flashbacks, which is a groundbreaking technique since no moviemaker had ever thought to do something so radical before. In the first flashback, we learn why Miss Dove became a teacher in the first place. Miss Dove came from one of the town's well-to-do families, as her father was a banker. Dad was apparently well enough off that she could run off with an archaeologist to get married and escape Liberty Hill. The only problem is, Dad drops dead, at which point it's been discovered that he's been embezzling from the bank! Now, any sane person would just sell off the house and assets, which probably ought to cover the $11,000 that Dad embezzled. But not Miss Dove. She's got some bizarre sens of duty, which tells her to dump her fiancé and try to repay the debt by becoming a teacher and teaching the children of Liberty Hill.

Once Miss Dove goes off to hospital, where she's going to get an operation that will supposedly save her life (or at least prolong it; she probably had cancer which would have had a terrible prognosis at the time although I don't think the script ever mentions precisely what's wrong with her). The nurse at the hospital was of course one of her students, so Miss Dove thinks back to the influence she had on the nurse. The nurse's boyfriend Bill (Chuck Connors), the town cop, was also one of her students. Indeed, Miss Dove's influence on the town's children was so great that former students come from far away just to see her. Yeah, we get the point already.

Good Morning, Miss Dove way overdoes it with the sentimentality. Even though everybody is doing the best they can, they're working with a script that drags all of them down. In watching Good Morning, Miss Dove, I found myslef thinking of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and why that's such a great movie while Good Morning, Miss Dove founders on the rocks of sentiment. I think one of the big reasons is that Goodbye, Mr. Chips focuses almost solely on Mr. Chips; the students are almost an afterthought. Indeed, the passage of time is shown by using montages of the same children to note historical events and technological advances. Where Mr. Chips leaves it to the viewers to imagine the impact he's had on the lives of his students, Miss Dove takes us by the shoulders and shakes us, screaming "God dammit you're going to realize the impact this teacher had!" Well, Miss Dove herself wouldn't do that, as it would be ever so improper.

I'm not certain if Good Morning, Miss Dove is on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM/FMC showing.

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