Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"To Sir With Love" Rates a Yessir
Cleveland Press July 26, 1967
"To Sir With Love" is a good movie made excellent by a towering and sensitive performance from Sidney Poitier.
The film is based on E. R. Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about a Negro teacher whose first job is in a school in London's tough East End.
The movie makes less of the prejudice problem than did the novel, builds its drama about the attempts of a teacher to overcome the ignorance and contempt of a group of tough and unruly youngsters.
THEY CALL HIM SIR, first with a sneer and later with affection, because of his insistence on manners. He probes their veneer of toughness to find and correct the fear and uncertainty that lie beneath, to prepare them for a world he knows will defeat them if they are unprepared for it.
"To Sir With Love" was produced, directed and written for the screen by James Clavell. His script is frankly sentimental but so sincere that it never gets sloppy. The situations that bring about the eventual rapport between slum student and novice teacher are at times too pat and predictable, but credible dialog, good direction and superior acting make it all believable.
The total affect is a broadly romantic and sentimental message set in a realistic locale and involving real people. Part of the movie's success comes from having been filmed in the teeming East End of London.
BUT THE MAJOR burden of holding it all together is Poitier's. Sometimes playing with careful restraint, at other moments exploding with honest rage, his is a performance which realizes all that is best in the script and makes the rest better than it is. He is wonderfully alive to all the nuances of a complex character in a complicated situation.
The other performers are unknowns, at least to American audiences, but are absolutely wonderful. Judy Geeson as one of the students looks like a young Julie Christie. Christian Roberts is tough and moody as Poitier's most troublesome student.
All of them, along with Poitier, make "To Sir With Love" refreshing and entertaining.