• To Sir, with Love is an actor’s vehicle for Sidney Poitier. It exists in the drama subgenre of empathetic teachers working with troubled youth. Blackboard Jungle from Richard Brooks in 1955 is the obvious companion- in that film Poitier himself played one of the students. Glenn Ford played the teacher. Dead Poets Society (1989), Stand and Deliver (1988), Dangerous Minds (1995) are others.
  • Here Poitier plays Mark Thackeray. Poitier was at the height of his powers in 1967. He had won his Oscar (1963) and had been a star already for nearly a decade (The Defiant Ones is really his breakout and that is 1958). But 1967 is Poitier’s big year. To Sir, with Love was released first and it was a hit, then In the Heat of the Night and then Guess Who is Coming to Dinner. This film here is way more of a one-man show than the other two (both superior to this) films.
  • Poitier is a commanding presence here- compassionate and rational.
  • If it is not Poitier the film is remembered for- it is the hit title song from Lulu. It is a great little song. It is used three times during the film- once during the opening tiles, once during the inspired still frame montage at the museum, and once (live by Lulu- a student) at the dance towards the conclusion of the film. Actually, the film is used four times if you could the final credits.
  • The film was shot in London. Poitier is certainly a bit of a fish out of water with his gruff, cockney students from working class families. There is a strong scene where the Theo Weston teacher (Geoffrey Bayldon) quotes Edward Bulwer-Lytton talking about “the great unwashed.”
  • Suzy Kendall plays Gillian- a colleague of Mark- a teacher at school. She is stunning- she is a Julie Christie lookalike (with glasses of course because she is a teacher) for sure (which had to be in high demand in 1967). Judy Geeson plays a pretty student of Mark’s- so the film really has dueling Julie Christie surrogates- one a teacher and one a student.
  • James Clavell is no auteur but the camera floats around during the first attendance of class in one very solid shot.

Near the end of the film at the dance and as Mark leaves- Clavell stages the faces of the students like a minor version of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. 

sublime staging

it is a different film if James Clavell carries this dedication to an aesthetic throughout

  • When Mark loses his temper at the 33-minute mark Clavell botches the scene and tramples the musical score all over Poitier’s fantastic acting.
  • Recommend but not in the top ten of 1967