Slightly ludicrous as drama (acting, dialogue, direction all risible), but fascinating as a compendium of Eisenhower Era social & sexual repression/ regression, and a must for anyone hunting up thesis material on ‘50s culture & generation gap fissures. Leaving swimsuits & M-G-M water tanks behind after 13 years, Esther Williams tries straight drama @ Universal as a small-town high school music teacher who only wants to help the mixed-up student stalking her. Ignoring a possibility that he’s also the local perv currently on a murder spree(!), she keeps a secret rendezvous that leads to her reputation being torn to a tatter. Lucky for her, George Nader, the cop on the case, goes from sarcastic to sympathetic, taking her side against John Saxon, in his first major role as the hormone-addled high school football star. Screwed up (and possibly being screwed . . . the film only hints) by psychotic, controlling, female-phobic dad Edward Andrews, these two manage to destroy Williams' rep & career. A lovely woman living alone in a well-appointed house, unmarried, too close to her students; she's an obvious threat to civic norms. Add in wild dancing at the soda shop, a school dance that turns into a guilt-trap; the big home game; secret dates & sneaking in late at night, the works. With a story originally developed by Rosalind Russell for herself, this is one weird witch-hunt nightmare of perverted American Values. Too bad cinematographer William Daniels is the only talent up to the challenge of finding depth in all the surface gloss. And no one is going to mistake director Harry Keller for Douglas Sirk.
DOUBLE-BILL: From the same year, a classier (even odder) look at sexual coming-of-age pressures in Robert Anderson’s TEA AND SYMPATHY, with Deborah Kerr, John Kerr & Leif Erickson (even this film’s Edward Andrews) under Vincente Minnelli. But when you watch these overripe ‘50s sex-problem dramas, and you will, please be kind.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: There’s quite a plot hole when the ‘mash’ letters go missing and no one believes they ever existed. Yet Williams showed one to a pet student, imagining he’d written it. Oops!