(This one’s rhyme scheme was inspired by the title song.)
Mark Thackeray, an engineer with no career, selects
A teaching job worse than he expects.
London’s East End is full of kids all on the skids, and they
Don’t care what Mark has got to say.
He tries his best, but everyone just wants their fun and games.
The most he does is learn their names.
Soon he is sick of how they’re rude and always crude and loud,
So he decides to join the crowd.
He tells his class that from now on all books are gone; instead,
They’ll speak of topics few have read.
He treats them all as new adults, which sparks results of note,
And “Sir” sees changes once remote.
They talk of life, of what a man and woman can and should
Expect from life, both bad and good.
He earns respect, and is thought of in terms of love by Miss
Pamela Dare, who’d like a kiss.
Though he declines, Mark’s liked and slips museum trips within
His schoolday, sites they’ve never been.
One Denham still likes to backbite until a fight with Sir,
In which the teacher proves tougher.
By end of term, Mark has improved and wholly moved them all,
But there’s a job he cannot stall.
Pam bids goodbye; barring romance, he still does dance with her,
And wants to stay this small school’s Sir.

Sidney Poitier had a good year in 1967, starring in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and this classic teacher film To Sir, with Love. Based on E. R. Braithwaite’s novel, which was likewise based on his personal experience, the film presents the rebellion of the 1960s and one man’s contribution to the lives of his students, as well as some racial tensions that are certainly true to the period. It omits the outright interracial relationship that punctuated Braithwaite’s book, but perhaps that was because Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner would already cover that topic later the same year.

Sidney Poitier gives an astonishing performance as Mark Thackeray, evoking both initial unease, eventual accomplishment, and overall authority. Why he didn’t receive another Oscar nomination is beyond me. The young actors, including Judy Geeson as Pamela, Christian Roberts as Denham, and pop singer Lulu as Barbara Pegg, also do a good job playing the myriad students who come to affectionately call their teacher “Sir.” Unlike many films (such as Hoosiers), just the right amount of attention is given to discriminating among the students. While not everyone in the large class is given equal screen time, enough of them make an impression. Lulu also sings the title song, which is played periodically throughout the film and deserves a spot in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.

Many have stated that the sudden reformation of the young hoodlums in Thackeray’s class is unrealistic, and while that may be, it’s convincing enough to not detract from the film. As Thackeray is told, he’s probably the first real man most of his students have seen, one who doesn’t curse when he’s angry, who treats the ladies with courtesy, who is tough but doesn’t feel he must prove it. The girls are the first to move to his side, as they consider themselves becoming proper Misses, and many boys join in through the lasses’ influence. Once the students get to know Thackeray, he stands as a constant reminder that they can improve themselves through hard work and dedication. While it may seem unbelievable that delinquents would make such a sudden turnaround, it’s still satisfying to see the transformation of these young adults.

The film is a definite product of the sixties, particularly in its British Invasion-style music, dancing, and fashion. Yet there’s a thoughtfulness to it all, such as Thackeray’s lesson about rebellion, that is sorely lacking in other high school movies, such as Grease. There’s at least one more Sidney Poitier film higher on my list, but To Sir, with Love stands as one of his greatest accomplishments.

Best line: (one of many of Thackeray’s valuable lessons) “If you apologize because you are afraid, then you’re a child, not a man.”

Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual effects: N/A
Originality: 7
Watchability: 8
TOTAL: 42 out of 60

Next: #192 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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