Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

2 School Films Are Tops

Cleveland Press August 19, 1967

With all the knocks the film industry has taken -- with justification -- over excess violence and blatant sex it is only fair to give credit for a positive accomplishment when one comes along.

Two excellent movies which have appeared in recent weeks finally give teachers a break The motion pictures are "Up the Down Staircase" and "To Sir, With Love."

It is not that films have ignored teachers in the past. But the profession has most often been portrayed with sticky sentiment and gushy nonsense.

TELEVISION SERIES and movie comedies have portrayed them as nice but witless people, only a trifle smarter than screen fathers who get the worst treatment of all.

Even the more memorable screen dramas, "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "Good Morning Miss Dove," were heavily overlaid with sentiment. Too often the classroom has been a mere setting, not an intrinsic part of the drama.

"Staircase" especially and "To Sir" to a lesser extent (the latter is a more contrived drama) have an authentic look about them.

(They do, at least, to the layman. Teachers may be more critical. Most policemen scoff at crime drama and a newspaper movie or play, no matter how sincerely done, makes me squirm.)

"STAIRCASE" GAINS much of its strength from its authentic setting and its use of New York performers -- professional and non-professional. Instead of making the movie in a studio a New York high school was used. There is nothing pretty about it with its crowded, dimly lighted halls, dingy rooms, battered desks and broken window.

(One Cleveland educator reportedly commented on seeing the movie that one broken window was nothing.)

And through it all there is constant movement, the turmoil of crowded classes the frustrations of miles of red tape, the petty annoyances and small crises for which no new teacher can possibly be prepared.

As the new teacher Sandy Dennis is most appropriately cast. Her attitude of dedication is sincere without being overdone. There is a mixture of humor and pathos in her puzzlement and indignation.

"TO SIR, With Love" depends even more upon the abilities of its leading character. Sidney Poitier delivers a powerful performance as an inexperienced teacher working in a London slum school with problem teenagers.

He gives his performance a feeling of integrity that makes believable a plot that leans toward sentiment.

Both movies are similar and notable for keeping the action in and around the school. It is the education process itself that provides the substance.

And in both films teaching has been treated with the dignity the profession deserves. Movies such as these are a credit to the companies that made them.