Friday, September 8, 2017

Back to School! - Classic Films About Teachers

Labor Day has passed and the crisp air of September has set in, so that can only mean one thing - it's back to school time! Teachers across America who have enjoyed three months of blessed silence are now back to facing a brood of bright-eyed and mischievous youngsters.

Their task at hand is trying to instill into their heads a little bit of wisdom and a lifelong love of learning....within the span of one school year. Some do it, other fails...but almost all give it a good college try. 

In celebration of these teachers, we've assembled an assortment of pedagogic productions from the 1930s-1970s. Take your seats now and get ready for the lecture. The good, the bad, and the brilliant are hidden somewhere among these teacher-features :

Goodbye, Mr. Chips ( 1939 )

The best film adaptation of James Hilton's classic novel which reflects on the life of a timid British schoolmaster and the winsome ways he had with his pupils. Robert Donat won an Academy Award for his performance. Greer Garson, John Mills, and Paul Henreid also star. 
Cheers for Miss Bishop ( 1941 )

The life, loves, and incidental happenings of a Midwestern school mistress named Miss Bishop are portrayed by Martha Scott in one of her most recognized films. William Gargan and Edmund Gwenn also star. 

Remember the Day ( 1941 )

An old school teacher ( Claudette Colbert ) pays a visit to one of her former pupils ( Douglas Croft ) who is currently a presidential-nominee. While she awaits her appointment she thinks back on her teaching days in the 1910s and the man ( John Payne ) she wanted to marry. 

The Corn is Green ( 1945 )

A determined middle-aged schoolmarm ( Bette Davis ) converts her Welsh home into a school for coal miners and discovers a young man ( John Dall ) with an extraordinary appetite for learning hidden among the sooty faces. This beloved MGM classic was based on the true life story of screenwriter/actor Emlyn Williams. Nigel Bruce, Rhys Williams and Joan Lorring also star. 

The Village Teacher ( 1947 )

This Russian classic spans pre-revolutionary tsarist times to the 1940s through the eyes of a young teacher who leaves St. Petersburg to teach children in a country village. While Russia changes around her, her pupils do not, and she sees them grow into statesmen, military generals, and even professors like herself. It's a cross between Cheers for Miss Bishop and Twenty-Four Eyes. Vera Maretskaya and Daniil Sagal star. 

The Browning Version ( 1951 )

Michael Redgrave stars in this rather sad story of a schoolmaster who realizes that he failed in life not only as a teacher but as a husband, too. Terence Rattigan's novel was filmed numerous times over the years, but never was Crocker-Harris given such a sympathetic performance as Redgrave brought to the role. Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Wilfred-Hyde White, and Brian Smith also star. 

Olivia ( 1951 )

An English schoolgirl ( Marie-Claire Olivia ) falls in love with Mademoiselle Julie ( Edwige Feuillère ), the vivacious headmistress at the private girls' school she attends in France. This Jacqueline Audry production, based on the Dorothy Strachey novel, caused quite a stir when it was first released, but earned Feuillère a BAFTA nomination for her performance. It tackles a subject rarely discussed: what happens when admiration for one's teacher turns to idolatry and then passion?

Bright Road ( 1953 )

Dorothy Dandridge stars as Miss Richards, a fourth-grade school teacher who has her hands full with C. T. Young, a backward rebel....until she finds that he has an interest in nature. Bright Road was based on an award-winning short story that appeared in the "Ladies Home Journal" in 1951 and sheds the spotlight on how a sympathetic teacher can find ways to re-channel negative classroom behavior into positive action. Look for the screen debut of actor/singer Harry Belafonte.
Her Twelve Men ( 1954 )

Jan Stewart ( Greer Garson ) is hired as the first woman to teach at The Oaks Boarding School for Boys and, from her first day at the school, she clashes heads with fellow faculty member Joe Hargrave ( Robert Ryan ). With no prior teaching experience, Stewart struggles to learn the ropes and gain the respect of the children, until an unlikely fellow gives her a helping hand. Barry Sullivan, Richard Haydn, Rex Thompson and Tim Considine also star. 

Twenty-Four Eyes ( 1954 )

On a small Japanese island during the war, a young new kindergarten teacher ( Hideko Takamine ) reaches out to her twelve pupils. She remains in contact with them throughout their lives witnessing some make good in life, while others marry, die in war, or be stricken with poverty. It's a very touching film that earns its reputation as one of Japan's most endearing classics. 
Blackboard Jungle ( 1955 )

Sentimental tales of beloved teachers were out of vogue in the 1950s and Blackboard Jungle was one of the first to realistically portray the hooliganism that was becoming prevalent in high schools at the time. Glenn Ford stars as a WWII vet who takes on a teaching position at a rough NYC boys school and fights resistance from both his students and the faculty. Anne Francis and Louis Calhern co-star. 

Good Morning, Miss Dove ( 1955 )

Students in the small New England town of Liberty Falls reflect back on their school days and their favorite teacher Miss Dove ( Jennifer Jones ). This Fox Cinemascope production looked pretty but the story was overly mushy and Jones' performance fails to convince anyone that Miss Dove would be remembered so fondly on her sickbed. Also in the cast: Robert Stack, Chuck Connors, and Kipp Hamilton. 

The Unguarded Moment ( 1956 )

Esther Williams attempted to evolve from being the million dollar mermaid into a dramatic actress for The Unguarded Moment. Here she stars as a beautiful high school teacher who is victimized by a student ( John Saxon ) in and out of school. After he assaults her she seeks the aid of the police, which comes in the form of handsome Lt. Harry Graham ( George Nader ).
Because They're Young ( 1960 )

New teacher Neil Hendry ( Dick Clark ) locks horns with the stodgy principal ( Wendell Holmes ) of his high school over his teaching methods but manages to win the heart of the pretty school secretary ( Victoria Shaw ). Tuesday Weld, Michael Callan, and Doug McClure also star. 

The Miracle Worker ( 1962 )

William Gibson's engrossing stage play about Helen Keller's first year with her lifelong teacher Anne Sullivan was made into an equally enthralling 1962 film starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft, both plucked from the original stage version. Seeing Miss Sullivan struggle with Helen, who could neither see, speak, nor hear, is difficult to watch at times, but Anne knew what the girl was capable of and you have to admire her for sticking to her task and bringing out the best in Helen. 

To Sir, With Love ( 1967 )

Sidney Poitier, who had a prominent role as a student in Blackboard Jungle ( 1955 ), took on the part of the teacher, now instructing rambunctious high school students in London's East End. Lulu, Judy Geeson, and Suzy Kendell portray some of his students. 
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ( 1969 )

A free-spirited Scottish schoolteacher unknowingly leads her "gairls" astray, instructing them in becoming non-conformists, Fascists, and giving their love freely...until one student reports her to the headmistress. Ronald Neame's powerful production gave added depth to Muriel Spark's 1961 novella and earned Maggie Smith a Best Actress Oscar. Pamela Franklin, Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson, and Celia Johnson also star. 

La Maestra Inolvidable (1969)

Maria Rivas stars as an idealistic young woman who takes a position as a schoolteacher in a small backwoods town. She encounters more than a bit of trouble when she meets the students of the area's two feuding families and finds herself in the middle of their war. Enrique Lizalde and Fanny Schiller also star.


  1. Wow! An absolutely wonderful list of worthy films and characters.

    I got my daughter to watch To Sir, With Love recently. She'd be avoiding teacher movies since Goodbye, Mr. Chips broke her heart and made her cry for hours. I'm afraid Miss Dove, Miss Bishop (two faves of her grandfather), and Miss Trinell would absolutely do her in! I'll have to come up with some sneaky way to make her watch.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, CW. You can get her to watch Her Twelve Men and Remember the Day....if I recall, both films were very sweet and didn't have any sad tear-inducing moments. I can understand why your daughter would cry over Mr. Chips!

  2. I haven't seen any of these, I better "get crackin'"!

    1. I'd recommend starting with The Corn is Green or Goodbye Mr. Chips, both films feature admirable teachers!

  3. I ADORE Blackboard Jungle. One of my favorite movies.

    1. It's been years since we've seen Blackboard Jungle, so we'll have to re-visit it.

  4. Some great films here! More people should see THE BROWNING VERSION. I would also add UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, which I just saw recently.

    1. You know Rick, I thought about adding that title but completely forgot about it when I wrote this up. I'll have to check that film out....another one semi-teacher related is "Passionate Summer" with Bill Travers and Yvonne Mitchell at a school in the Caribbean.

  5. You miss the movie "Up the Down Staircase" (1967), with Sandy Dennis.