Cast & Crew
John Ebony, disillusioned with his career in advertising, accepts a half-term teaching position at the Chantry School, a second-rate boy's school located on the English coast. Cary Farthingale, an alcohlic, cynical art teacher, takes John on a tour of the school. Amused by John's idealism about teaching, Cary informs him that Pelham, the teacher whom he is to replace, had fallen to his death over a cliff, and calls Pelham's demise a "merciful release" from the tedium of the classroom. John and his wife Silvia are to live in Pelham's old cottage, and as Silvia tries to make the disheveled place livable, John tells her that he finds the school stuffy and strange. The next morning when John meets with his students, he learns that Zigo, one of the boys on the roll, is permanently absent, even though his name has never been removed. As John tries to teach history, the unruly boys make fun of their dimwitted classmate Wittering and insolently interrupt John to tell him how Pelham ran the class. When John warns that he will make them come to class on Saturday if they will not behave, Cloistermouth, one of the boys, remarks that they had to kill Pelham because he instituted Saturday classes. Thinking that the boys are teasing him, John at first becomes angry, then tries to humor them. Later, as John watches the boys rappel down the cliffs above the shore for their cliff-rescue class, he is suddenly surrounded by several of his students, who earnestly testify that they hit Pelham over the head with a stone, then chucked him over the cliff because he made them go to class on Saturday. In class the next day, when John challenges the boys' boast that they have committed the perfect crime, they respond that they all have an alibi for the time of Pelham's death and thus could never be convicted. Disconcerted, John begins to visit the local pub with Cary and withholds his difficulties at school from Silvia. The next day in class, Cloistermouth directs John to look in his desk drawer, and upon opening it, John finds Pelham's blood-stained wallet. Shaken, John leaves in the middle of class to show the headmaster the wallet. The headmaster chastises John for deserting his students and discounts his suggestion that Pelham's death may not have been an accident. Upon returning to class, John finds the other boys taunting Wittering. Having known that the headmaster would never believe John's story, the boys now say they also have Pelham's blood-stained shoe. Aggeridge, one of the students, then proposes they work out a "modus vivendi" in which they will appear to be a model class in exchange for John giving them passing grades. Afterward, while drinking with Cary, John states that he believes the boys murdered Pelham and is determined to find the ringleader. Returning home drunk that night, John tells Silvia that his students insisted they killed Pelham, but she reassures him that they are just playing boyish pranks. John would like to believe her until he finds Pelham's bloody shoe stuffed among his books. In chemistry class the next day, John asks about the modus vivendi, and Aggeridge replies that he and five other students are bright enough to comprehend the course material by spending only half the time allotted for class. He continues that the rest of the class time will be spent calculating which horses to bet on in their races, and that John will deliver the bets to their bookie. In addition, John is to give all the boys good grades. In exchange, the boys will appear to be the model class, thus assuring John tenure at the school. John accedes to their demands, and after delivering their gambling winnings that night, dreams that the boys attack him, rip off his clothes and carry him naked through the woods. At chapel services that Sunday, the boys leer at Silvia's shapely legs. Afterward, at dinner at the headmaster's house, Mr. Winstanley, who has been in charge of Latin and Greek at the school for thirty-two years, treats John with condescending disapproval. On their way home, Silvia and John begin to argue, she criticizing him about his teaching ability, he criticizing her about her comportment at the dinner. The next day, the headmaster summons John to his office to inform him that he is to be replaced by a Chantry alumnus. Knowing that he will be fired no matter how his class behaves, John refuses to place any more bets and, declaring that he cannot be bothered with them anymore, calmly reads a newspaper as the boys beat up Wittering. That night, John and Cary go into town to get drunk. As Silvia is walking home alone late that night, the boys tell her to come quickly because John has been injured on the squash court. Once inside the court, the boys lock the doors, switch off the light, and inform her that her husband is not towing the line. After pushing her down, they take off their clothes and threaten to rape her, but when she reacts with contempt, the boys, flustered, try to force Wittering on her. Wittering is impotent, however, and humiliated, runs out of the room. In the ensuing chaos, Silvia escapes and flees to the alarm box, which she threatens to set off unless they leave her alone. Shaken, Silvia returns home and finds John passed out. The next morning, after Silvia tells John about the attempted rape, the boys burst into the cottage, panicked because they cannot find Wittering and fear that he will turn them over to the police. Obsessed with finding out who the ringleader was in Pelham's death, John insists on going with the boys, even though Silvia warns that she will leave him. As they search the cliffs, they find Wittering's body sprawled across a rock, a victim of suicide. In his suicide note, Wittering tells his parents that hoping to win his classmates' respect, he proposed killing Pelham. After the boys haul Wittering's body up the cliff face, they hoist it onto their shoulders, defiantly pushing by the headmaster as they walk past him.
Michael J. Lewis
In the film's end credits, at the bottom of the cast and character list, the name of the character "Zigo," who is referred to but does not appear in the film, comes last. Instead of an actor's name for the character, the the word "Absent" appears. Onscreen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "the producers wish to acknowledge the great assistance given by: the R.A.F. Valley Mountain Rescue Team, Ilandudno Urban District Council, Valley Rural District Council and in particular express their gratitude to the staff and pupils of Reading Blue Coat School and St. David's College, Ilandudno, without whose generous help and co-operation this film could not have been made. The film opens with a subjective camera shot taken from the cliffs above the sea. As a bird screeches and a rock plummets to the sea, the camera plunges downward, rendering "Pelham's" point of view at the time of his death. The students attending the lower five B form would be fifteen or sixteen-years-old.
According to Filmfacts, location filming was done in Berkshire and Caernavonshire, England. The Hollywood Reporter review adds that the film was produced in Scotland. Mediarts, Ltd. was an Anglo-American company run by Americans Gareth Wigan, Richard Gregson and Alan Livingston. In 1965 the television series Unman, Wittering and Zigo was broadcast in England by the BBC. The series was written by Giles Cooper, the author of the original radio program on which the television series and film were based. It was directed by Donald McWhinnie and starred Peter Blythe and Noel Davis.