Depicting a naive teacher in an integrated school, this film seemingly inspired TV's "Welcome Back, Kotter" and several other movies that used the same backdrop, beginning with THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. It was based on an article in the Saturday Review that later became Bel Kaufman's
best-selling novel. Dennis is a newly graduated teacher who is bound and determined to introduce the finer points of English literature to her motley charges. The other teachers and administrators are darn near as motley, so she faces problems galore. The chief administrator is Poole, who wants to
run his school the way Patton ran his army, with heavy discipline and total obedience. Booke is the principal and your basic softie, so he is ever harassed. Bedford is an unpublished author who will probably never finish his Great American Novel but does find enough time to chase after Dennis.
Heckart is a shrill, emotional teacher always on the brink of a nervous breakdown; Karam is a dingbat who is not fit to instruct kindergarten students; and Stanley is a pompous pedant. The students are far better drawn though also cliched. Howard is a youngster in whom Dennis takes a teacherly
interest; the result is that the boy misinterprets her attitude and comes close to violating her. Fantauzzi is a bitter black who feels that nobody ever gives a dark-hued person an even chance at making it. O'Mara is a lovesick, unattractive girl who finally musters the courage to give Bedford a
love letter, then almost kills herself after he reads the letter and gives it back with the grammatical and spelling errors corrected. One excellent scene finds the students and teachers mixing at a school dance without any academic talk. The best subplot (after the O'Mara-Bedford tale) is Dennis'
relationship with shy, retiring Rodriguez (who used his real name in the movie). Dennis is ready to give up and find some other employment, but she is inspired by Rodriguez when he is assigned the task of being a classroom judge and suddenly gains confidence and leadership skills. His
transformation convinces Dennis that her work has not been in vain. She stays at the high school (as expected), and the movie ends on an uplifting note as she prepares to tackle her next class. The major problem with the movie is that it has a tendency to be white bread when pumpernickel was
called for. Shot in New York City, the film avoids many subjects that might have made it a far more important picture. The teachers get the blame for the educational system, and the students are shown to be the better people; whether or not that's true is a bone of contention. Dennis remains the
most mannered actress in film, and even under Mulligan's sensitive direction, her fluttery, stop-and-go way of performing can become grating. Nevertheless, she won the Best Actress award at the Moscow Film Festival (the movie was submitted by the US State Department to show that there was racial
integration in schools). In her fourth movie, Jean Stapleton appears here in a small role.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Depicting a naive teacher in an integrated school, this film seemingly inspired TV's "Welcome Back, Kotter" and several other movies that used the same backdrop, beginning with THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. It was based on an article in the Saturday Review that l… (more)