‘To Sir, With Love’ teaches the talent of Sidney Poitier

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Sidney Poitier may have been called “Mister Tibbs” in one of his most iconic roles, but in another he was “Monsieur”.

In 1967, the legendary Oscar winner – who died on January 6 – had the kind of year any actor would dream of, with no less than three box office triumphs. One was “To Sir, With Love,” which leads an evening of teacher-themed dramas (which had already been scheduled before Poitier’s death) Friday on Turner Classic Movies.

Sidney Poitier stars in “To Sir, With Love” Friday on Turner Classic Movies.

The star plays Mark Thackeray, an engineer who struggles to find work in his chosen field, so he takes up a teaching job at a school in London’s East End. He soon discovers what awaits him, as his new students challenge him at every turn, forcing him to maintain his composure and rely on his dignity to complete his job and make his mark with them.

Among his main adversaries: Denham (Christian Roberts), a brooding young tough guy who ultimately can’t resist trying his luck against Thackeray in a boxing match during PE class; and Pamela Dare (Judy Geeson), a beauty from a troubled home life who eventually develops a very pronounced crush on Thackeray.

Also notable among the students is Barbara Pegg, or “Babs”…played by British pop singer Lulu, who scored huge lasting success with the film’s title track. The Mindbenders are also present musically, performing during the Picture School’s climactic dance; by then they had had hit tracks with “The Game of Love” and “A Groovy Kind of Love”.

Novelist James Clavell (“Shogun”) directed “To Sir, With Love” and also adapted E. R. Braithwaite’s novel (inspired by the author’s own teaching experiences) for the screenplay. Poitier would play Thackeray again in the 1996 sequel “To Sir, With Love II,” made for CBS. The story took the character from England – but not before original co-stars Geeson and Lulu also made returning appearances – on a new teaching assignment in Chicago. The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who, by a sad coincidence, died the same day as Poitier.

As mentioned, 1967 was a huge year for Poitiers. Besides ‘To Sir, With Love’ he has also starred in two Oscar-winning classics: and he appeared alongside fellow screen icons Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the socially conscious comedy-drama ‘Guess Who come to dinner”.

Perhaps because of how it has spanned the generations, “To Sir, With Love” is a special Poitier credit. To his many fans, he’s welcome anytime…but especially now, shortly after the loss of his widely admired star, he has added significance.

—Zap2It

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