It's "Back to School" time. What could be better than a story about the classroom? To Sir, With Love (1967) fits the bill.
Caring Teacher- Rude Students Plot
A resolute teacher (Sidney Poitier) turns a rebellious class into winners. You've seen this plot before in films such as Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, The Ron Clark Story, Sister Act 2. The list goes on.
Usually, the students perform abysmally in academics. The teacher discovers it is a discipline problem, teaches them self-control, and they earn high scores at the end or they win the big contest.
To Sir does something slightly different. The emphasis is not on scholastic achievement. After days of frustration, the teacher realizes that the seniors believe academics are irrelevant to their lives. The turning point is a scene where the Poitier character tosses school books into the garbage bin and says, "these are of no use to you." He then teaches them decorum, self-respect and how to apply for jobs. They must now refer to him as, "Sir."
I doubt seriously if the scene with the garbage bin would happen in the current era of film-making. Every student in a movie is expected to attend a university these days. This might be the reason most of the more recent films showcase younger students -people who are less set in their ways and have more time to correct scholastic mistakes.
The film is based on the memoirs of a teacher - E.R. Braithwaite- who said in an interview with the BBC,
"Whatever was in the film, happened, but by the time the film makers got through with it, it took on a different kind of patina....I had to remind [writer/director/producer] James Clavell on more than one occasion that my book was autobiographical, not a novel."
Authors of source material for a film commonly hold these observations when filmmakers embellish true stories.
Still, there is nothing fake about the number of charming and emotional scenes between the caring teacher and his increasingly respectful students. I recently watched this film again with a group; there wasn't a dry eye in the place at the end. Yes, Poitier will have you in tears.
A Pop Song and a First in Hollywood HistoryThe film sparked a popular song based on the title and performed by recording artist Lulu, who plays a student in the film. It's set in London during the epic '60s Mod fashion craze, so look for beehive hairdos and go-go boots.
By this time, Poitier had already taken home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963). The popular actor commanded a million-dollar-per-picture salary. Due to budget constraints, To Sir, With Love could not afford Poitier's usual paycheck. The actor accepted what turns out to be the first net gross deal in Hollywood, according to Indiewire. Poitier received a share of each ticket sold (as opposed to merely a share of the profits, which had been done before). The film was an unexpected hit and Poitier made far more than his usual salary from the deal.
I recommend To Sir, With Love if you are a Poitier fan and/or you enjoy films that champion educators.