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Up the Down Staircase wasn't the first inspirational-teacher movie, but along with To Sir, with Love (also released in 1967), it seemed to set a pattern that gets brushed off every few years: Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, etc. etc. And this one still holds up, thanks to the sensitive direction of Robert Mulligan and the central performance by Sandy Dennis. The latter plays an idealistic teacher starting the new term at an inner-city high school (stop me if you've heard this one before), and discovering that the teaching life has as much to do with corralling and motivating kids as it does with rote recitation of facts. All right, it's a familiar tale, but the impeccably authentic approach by Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and longtime producer (future director) Alan Pakula captures a bracing, semi-documentary feel at times. And then there's Sandy Dennis, fresh from winning a Supporting Actress Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the year before. Dennis was a famously polarizing presence in movies of this era; her reliably neurotic Method acting drove some viewers up the wall. Here the style works, as her overmatched but stubborn teacher weathers the usual, so to speak, ups and downs of a school year; Dennis's very fragility shines as a counterpoint to her determined character.

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WA611504 Up the Down Staircase DVD (1967/Sandy Dennis) $19.95