To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love (1966)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Sidney Poitier, Judy Geeson, Christian Roberts, Suzy Kendall, Lulu
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Throughout the past we have seen a number of movies that revolve around teacher-student relationships in challenged neighborhoods, but if one of these movies truly stands out, it has to be “To Sir, With Love”. Not only has it become the template for most films of similar nature that followed, it is one of the few ones that really succeed in portraying a realistic relationship with tangible characters that have understandable motivations. Most of it has undoubtedly attributed to Sidney Poitier’s superb and charismatic portrayal of the teacher, but also the script by E.R. Braithwaite and director James Clavell always makes sure to strike the perfect balance between romanticism and realism. The result is a movie that moves, touches and makes you laugh, all at the same time.

Because he is out of work, engineer Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) decides to take on a job as a teacher in London’s rough East End. Mostly teaching the children of lower crust dock workers, the graduation class immediately takes a hostile stance towards the new tutor and is determined to destroy Thackeray. Inexperienced in the job and insecure in his methodologies, Thackeray is nonetheless full of hope that he can successfully teach these teenage problem children with a natural dislike for authority. But slowly the open hostility wears even the soft-mannered Thackeray down, and he realizes that you cannot teach someone, what he doesn’t want to learn. He recognizes that the only way to get these kids’ attention is by getting them interested, hopefully teaching them some valuable lessons for their future lives in the course of it. From one day to the other, Thackeray changes his entire approach, throws out the schoolbooks and starts creating real-life instructions for adults.
Soon, his students begin to appreciate the new treatment as grown-ups and the bond between teacher and students begins to flourish, allowing Thackeray to prepare his pupils for the life that lies ahead of them. But still, underneath the surface boils a sense of mistrust against the teacher that he must overcome, and many other challenges lie ahead of the handsome man who suddenly becomes a favorite among his female students.

While some parts of the movie appear dated, others are just as topical as they were back in 1966 when the film was made. Every class has its undisciplined and rowdy punks, and every generation gets to the point where students begin to wonder whether what they learn will ever be of any use to them or just a sheer waste of their time. “To Sir, With Love” takes this scenario nicely and shows how a little humanity can go a long way and make all the difference. While we see the ossified versions of teachers next to Thackeray’s character, we begin to realize how schools could be put to good use not only to teach children academic skills but also to give them the kind of survival training they need to make it on their own. Superbly acted by Sidney Poitier, this teacher is a one-class act who single-handedly relegates the entire faculty to shame by using his heart and humanity in order to teach common sense to some of the toughest kids in the school.
But not only educational issues are material for this film, it also deals quite interestingly with the subject of racial prejucides and their integration in society. Issues that were as much of importance back in 1966 as they are today.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has prepared an excellent presentation of this influential movie for this DVD release that is part of the “Columbia Classics” line. The film is presented in a <$PS,fullframe transfer>, as well as in its original 1.85:1 theatrical <$PS,widescreen aspect> ratio. The fullframe presentation found on the disc is an <$openmatte,open matte> transfer that does not crop the image on the side, but instead adds additional image information at the top and bottom of the screen. Both transfers are richly detailed, although the slightest signs of film grain are evident at times – naturally a technical limitation of the film material at the time the movie was produced. The disc is faithfully reproducing the muted color scheme of the production, rendering fleshtones very naturally throughout. Colors are well delineated without over-saturation or bleeding. The compression on this disc is flawless without any hints of <$pixelation,compression artifacting>, even under the most critical circumstances, nicely reproducing the shadow detail in the picture. The transfer does not show any signs of edge enhancement, making this a very balanced looking DVD release that is extremely film-like in its appearance.

The disc contains a monaural audio track in English that is presented in a 2-channel mix in <$DD,Dolby Digital>. It has obviously been carefully remastered, resulting in a much more natural sounding presentation than you would expect from a film of that age. The frequency response is quite good without overly emphasized high ends and a rather natural bass roll-off. Obviously there are limitations to the material, but the audio track on this disc never has the muffled or thin quality found on may other releases of the same era. The disc contains a large number of optional subtitles ranging from English and Spanish to Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

The disc also contains filmographies for director James Clavell and lead actor Sidney Poitier, but sadly biographical information is missing altogether. You can also find the movie’s original theatrical trailer on the disc, accompanied by trailers for some other movies by Sidney Poitier, which raise my hopes that these films will also become available on DVD sometime soon. Especially “A Raisin In The Sun”, which will actually be released in late February, is a movie that deserves the newly found recognition it will undoubtedly get out of the re-release on DVD.

“To Sir, With Love” is a heart-felt movie that avoids many of the melodramatic pitfalls many other movies on the same subject matter stepped into. It is an honest portrayal of the characters without superficiality, making them understandable and plausible. The movie oftentimes reminded me of my own days when I graduated from school, the rebellious attitude and renitence found in myself and many of my classmates. Sidney Poitier’s portrayal of the teacher who realizes that an iron hand doesn’t yield the desired success in this environment is an example of a teacher we all wish we would have had. Columbia’s release of this movie on DVD is absolutely amazing in its quality and this is a movie I would want to sincerely endear to every lover of great classic films.