Sunday, January 30, 2011
JEFF FROM THE CINEFILES: HALL OF FAME: FILE #0010: TO SIR WITH LOVE (1967)
Written & Directed By: James Clavall
Based on the book by: E.R. Braithwaite
Cinematography By: Paul Beeson
Editor: Paul Thornton
Cast: Sidney Poitier, Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall, Christian Roberts, Lulu, Michael Des Barres
Engineer Mark Thackeray arrives to teach a totally undisciplined class at an East End school. Still hoping for a good engineering job, he's hopeful that he won't be there long. He starts implementing his own brand of classroom discipline: forcing the pupils to treat each other with respect. Inevitably he begins getting involved in the students' personal lives, and must avoid the advances of an amorous student while winning over the class tough. What will he decide when the engineering job comes through?
This is one of my Favorite films of all time. Certainly one I can watch over and over again. The film is not my usual cup of tea as I usually like films that are more darker and experimental. This is more uplifting and a feel good film, which I certainly usually enjoy but are rarely my favorites. This film manages to put a smile on my face each and everytime I watch it. I get excited by it so much. It’s almost like everytime I see it it’s the first time though I know everything that will happen.
Yes this is another role where Sidney Poitier is relationshipless and sexless but he obviously has sex appeal. Since one of his female students has a crush on him and his female co-worker and him have definite chemistry, though nothing ever comes of it in the film. It is hinted that you never know what the future holds. It seems he stays single in the film purely by choice.
In the film, He is a black man in a mostly white world (He has one asian student who has no lines and no one seems to notice her ethnicity and one bi-racial student who looks to him for guidance a little more then the other students) one of the remarkable things is though it is hinted in his past from his own stories that he grew up poorer then his students looking at the man he has become is a great testimony to the character. That he truly is a self made man. This makes it even more inspiring for his students to show what they have the ability to become themselves.
What’s really interesting is that this movie made in the sixties. Where a black man is teaching white characters to be civilized. Most films after this followed this model only it became white teachers inspiring their urban students but most of those films, Like this one were loosely based on a memoir. There are comments about his race now and then but as the film goes on it shows it is not a big deal. With this film it helped a lot of white audiences see that black people were just as normal as they were. In some instances it showed blacks could be even more civilized at times then whites. Sure in this film there is the stereotype of the saintly black man. As the film goes on though he is shown to be perfectly normal.
Sidney Poitier was attacked at the time this film was made by other blacks for always playing the Uncle Tom type character. While to a certain point it is true at the time he wanted to play characters, Men regardless of race but what he also helped do was show there is room for black actors not only to play lead roles, but that the films could be profitable as this film was a huge hit. He also gave black people pride and opened up discussions on race. He was one of the leading representatives for change and for that I will always respect him and he will stay as one of my favorite actors. Though he barely works now, By choice he has more then earned his retirement.
The Debonair worldliness of Sidney Poitier comes through on screen as well as dignity he is the ultimate gentleman. Just so suave, smooth and polished. To this day He still is one of my style icons. A dignified gentleman instead of a cad. Who could charm the ladies and impress the men. He spoke well with a huge vocabulary and was very distinct with his words. Everything he did seemed proper but manly.
There of course is a troubled student who is his nemesis but you never truly see him as a threat. He is just challenging change along the way Poitier’s character realizes that the other students idolize him. He knows that soon though they will have to think for themselves and can’t leave them to be followers. So once a incident happens he intentionally makes a unpopular decision ad the class turns on him. In a way he has them still in the palm of his hands.
Not the most polished looking film but considering it takes place in a working class English neighborhood and schoolhouse. It is understandable. The colors seem to try to be a bit vibrant but still make the film look stale. You can tell the films age from the use of still photography to depict the students school trip to a museum Instead of just filming it. Which might have been a sign of a limited budget or it might have had to been cut down due to running time. Out of the cast, I’m kind of disappointed Actress Judy Geeson never went onto anything big again. She looked like a star and had the talent.
This is a movie I could watch I watched countless times after I first saw it in high school. It was first in a double feature with the other film being THE COMMITMENTS. It was a holy double feature for me. In fact it was almost a regular ritual for me to watch it on Friday nights late with the lights off to give it a movie theater ambiance. Friday was my favorite night to watch movies on and each time I watched the film I discovered something new about it. From the movie’s cover I always thought the film was about a tough no nonsense teacher, whose tactics showed or taught his students what they needed to survive in the real world, but they don’t realize how much he cares and how much he eventually helped them until near the end. Then at the end him letting his guard down. It is close to that. Years later Sidney and Bill Cosby tried to almost do the same thing with a mostly black cast The film 1997's A PIECE OF THE ACTION. Only in that film there is a lame con man storyline involved. It’s not a bad film but not as memorable or symbolic as this film. Unfortunately Decades later TO SIR WITH LOVE was followed by a terrible sequel Tv-movie which spelled out and answered what happened to sir between the years. I like how the original is open ended
He decided to stay, but with all the students hoping to visit him the next year and thinking he is leaving, does he decide to tell them or let them discover his decision? Will he romance his one friend of the faculty or maybe there is hope for him and the student who has a crush on him.
The sequel Squashes all of that and tells you directly what happened.
If you haven’t seen this film by now shame on you. Go out right now and buy it trust me you won’t be sorry.