Blu-ray Review: To Sir, With Love - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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A seminal “inspirational teacher” movie, the 1967 drama To Sir, With Love arrives on Blu-ray via boutique label Twilight Time. This limited edition (a total of 3,000 copies released) is tricked out with a bunch of brand new extras, making it a great value for fans of the film as well as fans of its legendary star, Sidney Poitier. Set in then-contemporary London, the film (written and directed by James Clavell) sort of tiptoes around several heavier issues. Born in British Guyana, down on his luck engineer Mark Thackeray comes to London’s North Quay Secondary School to teach. A person of color in a nearly all-Caucasian school, Thackeray is looked at by many of the students as an object of curiosity. He quickly learns he has his work cut out for him as the teens in his class are defiantly disrespectful of any authority figure, especially someone new and different.

In truth, this isn’t a particularly troublesome group of kids. They’re rowdy and prone too immature (and sometimes disgusting) behavior, but they’re hardly criminal-minded delinquents. Thackeray whips them mostly into shape pretty quickly, getting them to address him by the extremely formal title of “Sir.” Pamela (Judy Geeson) immediately takes a shine to Thackeray, while Bert (Christian Roberts) remains wary for a far longer period. Bert is something of a class leader, with the other students turning to him for cues rather than always thinking for themselves. These are really the only two students who are fleshed out as characters to any significant degree.

The plot meanders a bit, though when Seales (Anthony Villaroel) loses his mother to illness things come more sharply into focus. Seales is the only person of color in the class. When tasked with delivering flowers to his home, the white kids balk at the idea of being seen in a black family’s home. This is a suitably surprising turn of events, as Thackeray has clearly connected with his class and they seemed to accept without prejudice. But where director Clavell falters is by allowing Seales to virtually disappear from sight for the remainder of the film. We never see any interaction between Seales and his “friends” once their deeply-ingrained bigotry is revealed.

To Sir With Love cover (215x280).jpgUltimately the most easily recommendable element of To Sir is Poitier’s charismatic, commanding performance. Well, that and Lulu’s hit title song. However, the filmmakers completely foul up any impact this musical dedication to their teacher might have had by utilizing it twice prior to its climactic appearance near the end. It’s corny enough that student Babs (Lulu) is suddenly revealed as a skilled singer and performer, but we already hear the song earlier. Instead of serving as the soundtrack to an unimaginative montage of still photos (depicting the kids’ field trip to a museum), they should’ve saved the song for its true diegetic purpose. By then, we’re hearing it for the third time and it simply doesn’t have the emotional impact needed in order for the students’ farewell to Thackeray to carry any real resonance.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is a pleasure, with Paul Beeson’s somewhat gritty cinematography presented with satisfactory clarity and detail. To Sir, With Love displays the authentic grain inherent in a production of its era while looking better than it ever has on home video. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is totally acceptable without being remarkable in any particular way. Rob Grainer’s score is available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix.

As for special features, Twilight Time has put together a first-rate package of newly-produced material, including a pair of audio commentaries: one with cast member Judy Geeson and film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, the other with To Sir, With Love novelist E.R. Braithwaite and author/teacher Salome Tomas El. There are a number of featurettes as well, including “Lulu and the B-Side” (five minutes), “Principal El: He Chose to Stay” (11 minutes), “To Sidney with Love from Marty Baum” (six minutes), “Miniskirts, Blue Jeans, and Pop Music” (15 minutes), and “E.R. Braithwaite: In His Own Words” (24 minutes). There’s also a booklet essay by Julie Kirgo.

Despite its general air of superficiality and its narrative shortcomings, To Sir, With Love still packs a fair amount of entertainment value and remains something of an icon of its era. For those interested, visit Twilight Time distributor Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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