Based on a play by James Thurber and director Elliott Nugent, a professor may be fired as a red, and his wife rekindles her romance with a football star.
At Midwestern University Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) brings home flowers and liquor and tells his wife Ellen Turner (Olivia de Havilland) he will be made a full professor. They recall her old flame Joe Ferguson, a football All-American. English chairman Dr. Damon (Ivan F. Simpson) reads the Turners an editorial by Mike Barnes (Herbert Anderson) complaining that liberal teachers were fired in a red scare and thanking Turner for reading anarchist Vanzetti. Ed Keller (Eugene Pallette) calls Damon to get rid of reds and pinks. Eavesdropping Patricia (Joan Leslie) falls off the window. Ellen welcomes Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson), and he kisses her. Joe says he is divorced, and in fun he tackles Keller, who learns of the editorial and warns Tommy. Ellen and Tommy argue. Joe and Ellen dance to "Who" and ride in an open car to the bonfire rally. Keller speaks, and Joe has Ellen lead a cheer. Tommy stays home and tells Ellen to go out with Joe.
Keller reads that the trustees were called Fascists. Joe shows a football play to Patricia and Ellen with dishes on the floor. Mike tells Tommy that Patricia wants halfback Wally Myers (Don DeFore). Ellen tells Tommy that Joe kissed her. They quarrel until Joe comes in. She says that Tommy is leaving her and goes upstairs crying. Tommy sends Joe to comfort Ellen. Mike tells Tommy that he wishes he were middle-aged like him. Ellen comes down ready for the game; Tommy gives her a thermos, but she breaks it. At the game with Joe, Ellen is worried, but Wally scores a touchdown. At home Tommy gets drunk with Mike and says that male animals fight for their mates. Ellen and Joe come back. She packs to go as Tommy provokes Joe to fight.
Patricia tells recovering Tommy that she is jealous. Mike comes in and apologizes to Patricia. Joe arrives to apologize and says that Tommy bit his hand. Ellen wants to go away with Joe, but he makes excuses. Tommy finds that his class is meeting in the auditorium. Keller tells him if he reads the letter, he is through; but Damon defends Tommy. Patricia sits between Wally and Mike, who was already expelled. Tommy calls the class to order and argues with Keller for academic freedom. Tommy reads the Vanzetti letter before he and Sacco were executed about how their deaths now have meaning for tolerance and justice. Joe tells Ellen it was not bad; but Keller tells Tommy he will lose his job. Ellen says that Tommy is wonderful, and in the final scene everyone cheers Tommy and Ellen as they kiss.
This satire of the conflict at universities between
liberal intellectuals and football fanatics suggests that it takes
courage to stand up for an education that allows freedom of thought.