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Up the Down Staircase

Up the Down Staircase(1967)

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  • up the down staircase

    • kevin sellers
    • 11/8/14

    Good teacher movie. In a genre that lends itself to sappy romanticizing and cloyingly inspirational endings ("Dangerous Minds" and "Freedom Writers" being just the latest examples) this film is pretty evenly balanced between triumph and failure for its young teacher heroine. Yes, she turns around an unruly class in an unbelievably short amount of time (Tad Mosel's script is to blame, 'cause in the book it took longer) but she doesn't even come close to "reaching" several of her students that are most at risk. One attempts suicide, another mistakes her concern for sexual attraction, and a third simply drops out. Robert Mulligan is at the top of his form as a director here. This film is just below To Kill A Mockingbird and quite a bit above Fear Strikes Out on my list of favorite Mulligan movies. The performances he coaxes out of his teen actors are impressive, especially Ellen O'Mara as a love starved kid and Jeff Howard as an obnoxious, literally too cool for school delinquent. But then again, if you've seen Mockingbird, you know this guy is great directing kids. He doesn't do badly with the adults either. Patrick Bedford is properly creepy as a self obsessed, casually cruel English teacher, Ruth White is good as a tough, dedicated veteran teacher, Sorrel Booke, a veteran TV actor (he's played everything from corrupt businessmen to retards) is wonderful as the surprisingly perceptive principal and Sandy Dennis in the lead is mannered and full of actorish tics, as usual, but somehow it works here to emphasize her nervousness as a new teacher in a rough school. Let's give it an A-. (Mosel has a tendency to over-write and Fred Karlin's score, with its overuse of 60s kazoo music, is too cute.)

  • Wonderful

    • Movie Lady
    • 11/7/14

    This is a terrific movie as is the book it's based on. Surprisingly and happily, the movie retains much of the biting wit of the book. Sandy Dennis is marvelous as the new teacher who struggles to teach against student apathy at a minimum and outright hatred at the most; bitter or burned co-workers and an administrative nightmare of absurdity that would defeat even the staunchest optimist. While this description may make the movie sound like a real downer. It's not. It's funny and heart breaking at the same time. Even though not much has improved in the American education system since this movie was made 50 years ago, it leaves you with a real understanding of and appreciation for those courageous educators who continue the struggle.

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