Tuesday, February 28, 2017

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE 1969

“I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all of my students are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”

The malignant propagandizing of fascism—where the authoritarian poses as the individualist, the lockstep conformist masquerades as the iconoclast, and emotionalism and opinion are favored over facts and information—is vividly dramatized in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. 
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel about the influence an eccentric teacher at a conservative all-girls school has on her impressionable students, was turned into a stage play by screenwriter Jay Presson Allen (MarnieCabaretJust Tell Me What You Want) in 1966. Set in EdinburghScotland in the early 1930s, Allen’s straightforward, whittled-down play serves as the source of Ronald Neame’s exceptional 1969 film adaptation starring Maggie Smith in her Oscar-winning role.
Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie
Pamela Franklin as Sandy
Robert Stephens as Teddy Lloyd
Celia Johnson as Miss Mackay
Gordon Jackson as Gordon Lowther

Jean Brodie is a dedicated Junior-sector teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls who, while taking pride in cultivating fervent loyalty and compliance from her pupils (those deemed worthy of being among the elite members of her “Brodie set,” anyway), fancies herself a gifted shaper of minds and liberator of spirits. Refusing to allow herself to be labeled or stigmatized by the provincial mores of the day that would brand her a middle-aged spinster, Jean Brodie asserts that she is in her prime (“The moment one is born for”) and committed to having her students reap the benefits of such timely propinquity. 
Maintaining that the school’s orthodox curriculum promotes stagnation and the upholding of the status quo, the flamboyant Miss Brodie eschews traditional teaching methods, instead choosing to devote class time to waxing poetic on the topics of love, heroism, art, etiquette, and her romanticized fondness for the fascist dictators Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco.

Passionate to a fault, Brodie’s dictatorial side rears its head in her penchant for passing off personal opinions and subjective tastes as unassailable facts; hard and concrete “Brodie Laws” subtly enforced and stringently adhered-to lest one risk falling out of the revered teacher’s much-coveted favor. Dismissive of “team players,” “joiners” and any institution or individual failing to share her world view, Jean Brodie is quick to characterize all who criticize or disagree with her as “the opposition” or “enemy.” This disdain for critique of any sort inspiring Miss Brodie to deputize her pupils and have them act as her protectors and co-conspirators in defying her nemesis, the school’s stern headmistress Miss Mackay.
"Do any of you little girls remember what the followers of Mussolini are called?"
"Fascisti."
"That is correct! F-A-S-C-I-S-T-I."

The narcissistic, leapfrog self-dramatization necessary to lead one to interpret mere professional criticism as personal assault (“I shall remain in this education factory where my duty lies. If they want to get rid of me they will have to assassinate me!”) is precisely the sort grand, larger-than-life attitudinizing that the four girls who make up Miss Brodie’s crème de la crème pupils find so appealing. From her florid gestures and affected speech, to the colorful palette of her wardrobe; Miss Jean Brodie represents romance and daring to the supple young minds of the Brodie girls.  The members of the Brodie set: dependable Sandy, beautiful Jenny, histrionic Monica, and hopeless Mary McGregor (every clique needs someone to pick and blame everything on).

As is often the case with self-styled iconoclasts, setting oneself apart and drawing attention to oneself eventually become indistinguishable characteristics of the breed, adding perhaps, in the case of Miss Brodie, desirability. Miss Brodie may incur the gossip and resentment of Marcia Blaine’s female staff, but the male staff members are drawn to Miss Brodie like the proverbial moths to flame.
She remains the object of amorous obsession for ex-lover Teddy Lloyd, the school’s very married-with-children art teacher - his being a Catholic the single quality disqualifying him as a suitable lover ("How could a girl with a mind of her own have to do with a man who can't think for himself?" ). Gordon Lowther, the school's vocal coach, is the current lover in her life, but Miss Brodie treats him so much like a work-in-progress sociology assignment, the precocious Brodie girls come to the not-unreasonable conclusion that Miss Brodie (who they know loves artists like Giotto) feels genuine passion for Mr. Lloyd, but because he is married, is merely "working it off" with Mr. Lowther. 
The Brodie Set
Pamela Franklin, Diane Grayson, Shirley Steedman, Jane Carr
Even in this shot one can see that Sandy will be the force to reckon with

While keeping her adult relationships at an arms-distance, those most susceptible to the magnetism of Miss Brodie’s bohemian spirit (the most naïve and unquestioning of her charge) are taken into her heart and confidence. So bound are they to her by devotion and admiration, they are blind to her manipulation. Miss Brodie, who looks upon life as a series of heroic experiences, romantic ideals, and lofty principles recklessly applied, is less concerned with the genuine education of the girls (it’s hinted that the Brodie girls, while cultured, come up rather short when it comes to basic knowledge) than she is committed to teaching them all about life…on her terms.
Setting herself apart and above as the example for the girls to follow, she preaches individualism (if Lewis Carroll’s the Red Queen’s “All ways are my ways” can be thought of as individualism) while stressing that she alone is the source of all truth, honesty, and trust. In the end, as the emergent Spanish Civil War inflames Miss Brodie’s ardency for the fascist Franco (the film takes the girls from 12-years-old to 18), her impact of her heedless influence takes a dangerous and fatal turn.
In many ways, the charismatic but pernicious Jean Brodie suggests a dark-side variant on that beloved, if overworked, theatrical archetype: the garrulous, irrepressible, meddlesome, manipulative "open a new window" drag queen pied piper exemplified by Mame Dennis, Dolly Levi, and Mama Rose. The latter being plenty dark already.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of those remarkable films I fell in love with the first time I saw it. Which was approximately 15 years ago. I had the opportunity to see it during the time of its initial release, but in a year that saw the release of Sweet Charity, Midnight Cowboy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and The Sterile Cuckoo, my unfamiliarity with Maggie Smith coupled with the starchiness of that title (I can’t even say The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie without my spine spontaneously stiffening) kept me away. Also, being a rather hard sell, marketing wise, the film had a really lousy and misleading ad campaign. As to why I didn't see it in the intervening years, I confess that I assumed it to be one of those remote, inaccessible, British “prestige” pictures that the Academy loves award with Oscars, so it wasn’t until I was in my 40s and it was broadcast on TCM that I settled down to watch it. Immediately I knew I would have adored this film had I seen it as a youngster. Not long thereafter, I made a point of reading both the book and the play, I loved it that much.
Miss Brodie's Lovers / Mr. Lloyd
Maggie Smith and Robert Stephen were married at the time. They divorced in 1974

The chief attraction of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is simply the patent magnificence of Maggie Smith; after which comes the film’s sharp and witty screenplay, and the top-grade performances delivered by the exceptionally well-cast ensemble. A beguiling balance of character study, romantic drama, and wistful coming-of-age story; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is also a sobering contemplation on the often disarming face of power.
In profiling an authoritarian figure who presents herself as the instrument of change when in actuality she’s merely a tinpot despot intent on imposing a new dictatorial order (demanding loyalty, repudiating differing points of view, labeling criticism opposition), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is impossible to watch these days without drawing parallels with a certain faux-politician, fame-culture miscreant who-shall-not-be-named. Indeed, the film’s “insidious dangers of fascism” angle has never felt more prescient and relevant.
Miss Brodie's Lovers / Mr. Lowther
Gordon Jackson was married to Rona Anderson, the actress who played Miss Brodie's rival,
Miss Lockhart the chemistry teacher

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I suspect that director Ronald Neame’s early career as a cinematographer accounts for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’s lack of staginess. While interiors dominate, the film feels neither unduly static nor needlessly opened-up, the focus remaining on the relationships, conflicts, and interactions of the characters.
The scenes come in four varieties of cyclical vignettes spanning the girls’ introduction to Miss Brodie during the school’s Junior cycle (age 12 to 15) though to their Senior cycle (15 to 18). The vignettes: (1) Miss Brodie teaching, or, more accurately, inculcating. (2) Scenes depicting the Brodie girls, spurred by their teacher’s romantic fictions and dalliances, evincing an accelerated sexual and intellectual precocity. (3) Miss Brodie’s relationships with Mr. Lloyd (arm’s length) and Mr. Lowther (a project undertaken…like starting a garden). (4) Miss Brodie’s run-ins with the formidable Miss Mackay—intensely hostile, tour de force encounters that make Batman vs. Superman look like a game of jacks.
I personally like how subtly the passage of time is conveyed in the film, but critics (and they do have a point) have cited that while the young girls make credible inroads to visible maturity over the course of the film’s five to six year time span, Maggie Smith looks exactly the same at the end of the film as she does at the beginning.

The entertaining forcefulness of Maggie Smith’s performance posits the flamboyant teacher—who remains front and center of the narrative even when she’s off-screen—as the preferred alternative to the rigidly dour Miss Mackay. (I’m reminded of The Trouble With Angels when Gypsy Rose Lee pops up as a glamorous dance instructor to the delight of the girls dominated by Rosalind Russell’s stern Mother Superior.)

Smith’s Jean Brodie is so attractive and appealing a personality that we scarcely notice—much less mind—when she exhibits troubling traits like romanticizing a dictator or attempting to orchestrate the seduction of one of her students by a man old enough to be her father. At these moments she seems more naïve and foolish than malicious, and we, like her students, side with her and feel she is an inspiring breath of fresh air.
But as the film progresses and we sense a lack of flexibility in Miss Brodie's point of view; a lack of generosity or kindness in her treatment of Sandy or Mary; when her self-centeredness reveals a disregard for the feelings of the men in her life; when it looks as though the influence she wields over the lives of the girls is really a need to control...there arrives the point of conflict. The film grows darker and we’re no longer quite as certain of whose side we’re on. Suddenly, Miss Brodie doesn't appear quite so harmless.
"She always looks so...extreme!"
Miss Brodie is sized up by members of the Marcia Blaine teaching staff


PERFORMANCES
The risk of portraying an individual who hides behind a façade of studied (and appealing) artifice is, if the artifice is more compelling than the person, caricature can eclipse character. I’m not sure how she does it, but Maggie Smith, while indulging in some of the most humorously florid vocal and physical posturings imaginable, manages to paint a vivid and moving portrait of a woman of boundless spirit and reckless bravado who lives her life without a single thing of substance to moor it to beyond the worshipful, too-impressionable girls trusted to her charge.
Depicting a woman channeling her prodigious energies in all directions at once, Smith miraculously conveys both the self-deception and desperation behind the ostentation designed to conceal what may be the truth that Miss Brodie works so hard to evade: that she is not, in fact, in her prime at all, and she knows it.
Mary McGregor (center), devoted to Miss Brodie to a fault, is the film's most poignant character

Miss Brodie's ill-informed, naive proselytizing, encouraging the impressionable to adopt beliefs and pursue risky endeavors that, as they apply to herself, yield no consequences or danger; can't help but remind me of  those selfish, privileged, bubble-protected celebrities who have much to say about political risk-taking and protest (Susan Sarandon comes to mind) while personally having absolutely nothing at stake.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Maggie Smith’s show, to be sure, but Celia Johnson is extraordinary (both to watch and listen to; her Scottish accent is pure, lilting music). Imagine, if you will, having to find an actress capable of posing a credible threat to the likes of Maggie Smith. On the strength of her facial expressions alone, Celia Johnson’s prim and provincial Miss Mackay is more than up to the job; her scenes with Smith providing the film with some of its most spirited, volcanic moments.
Miss Brodie: "My credo is 'Lift, enliven, stimulate!'"
Miss Mackay: "No doubt...."

But for my money, it is the assured, natural performance of the highly underrated Pamela Franklin (Our Mother's House, The Innocents) that serves to ground the comic/dramatic crescendos of Mmes Smith & Johnson. In portraying the character of Sandy, whose youthful impertinence is the genuine personification of the intellectual self-determination Miss Brodie professes to encourage in her girls, Pamela Franklin’s unshowy, utterly convincing transformation from inquisitive teen to disillusioned young woman (she was 18-years-old at the time) is one of the unsung miracles of an already outstanding film.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY/REALITY
While satisfying my fondness for Maggie Smith performances and ‘60s movies set in schoolrooms (Up The Down Staircase, To Sir With Love), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is ultimately a subtle and shrewd polemic on the seductive, corrupting nature of power, and the ease with which people can relinquish their freedom when confronted with a forceful personality.
It’s clear to us from the start that Jean Brodie—with her strict guidelines for the proper height to open a window, and dismissive attitude towards loyalties shown to anything or anyone but herself—is no champion of independent thought and critical thinking. For all her obvious professional dedication she is more an autocrat than a teacher, her self-serving politics rooted in nothing deeper than a deluded sense of her own importance.
"Benito Mussolini. Il Duce. Italy's leader supreme. A Roman worthy of his heritage.
The greatest Roman of them all."

Touting her own teaching methods as revolutionary while (inaccurately) promoting fascist regimes as drain-the-swamp implementers of a new world utopia; Miss Brodie, like all dictators, merely couches age-old totalitarian philosophies in the rhetoric of liberation.
Back in 1969 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie spoke to the anti-authoritarianism of the youth movement, the sexual revolution, feminism, and the anti-war movement. Today…well, I hardly have to say why a film about a fascist sympathizer being given a broad forum to spread misinformation is as relevant now as George Orwell’s 1984.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a film so good that it warrants a revisit on the strength of its performances and entertainment value alone. But taken as a cautionary tale for our times—a reiteration of the duty and necessity of resistance—I’d say that in this instance, a little time spent in the classroom of one Miss Jean Brodie would be time very well spent, indeed.
"I am the potter and you are my pride.
You are shaping up.
Soon you graduate to the senior school and I will no longer teach you
...but you will always be Brodie Girls."

BONUS MATERIAL
"Jean" the theme to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was played constantly on the radio in 1969. With two back to back hits, folk/pop singer Oliver was the flavor of the month, and Rod McKuen was everywhere. I can't think back to this time in my life (11-years-old) without recalling this song.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was nominated for only two Oscars: Best Actress and Best Original Song. "Jean" is sung over the film's closing credits by composer Rod McKuen, but singer Oliver (who had a hit that same year with Hair's "Good Morning Starshine") had a #1 hit on the adult contemporary charts with his single version. Rod McKuen's “Jean” was performed by Lou Rawls on the Academy Awards broadcast, and lost to Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.
Al Hirschfeld
Copyright © Ken Anderson

47 comments:

  1. Felix Gonzalez, Jr.February 28, 2017 at 6:02 PM

    Hi Ken. I don't comment here often, but I just love love love your essays! We are of different generations (I'm in my early 30s), but I feel like our tastes are so similar. I saw Jean Brodie for the first time when I was about 13 or 14 and absolutely fell in love with it as well. I remember being familiar with Maggie Smith chiefly from her role as the vain goddess Thetis in "Clash of the Titans," which I watched regularly as a kid, but it was this film that displayed her true magnificence to me. I also fell in love with Pamela Franklin, who is a true bright spot in all of her films (I particularly like her in the Bette Davis thriller "The Nanny").

    What you write about the cautionary aspects of this film and its relevance to the current political atmosphere is (sadly) spot on. In a way, I regret that this film is so relatable to our present situation because there is so much in this movie that, in spite of its darkness, I find absolutely joyous. Specifically, the scenes of the Brodie girls expressing their naive and budding views of sexuality are some of the best and most accurate depictions of adolescence I have seen in films. The scene with Sandy and Jenny practicing the tango and very seriously pondering how two people could possibly still have the desire to make love after taking their clothes off in front of each other ("It's so rude!") is a delight. And there's that marvelous scene of the girls speculating what Brodie might say at the height of passion ("Mr. Lowther, you are the creme de la creme!").

    This is such a wonderful movie, one of my personal favorites. As always, you have provided an excellent overview and given me some fascinating things to think about next time I watch it. It's always a pleasure to see an old favorite in new ways. Funny story -- I first stumbled upon this film thinking it was "Picnic at Hanging Rock." I caught the tail-end of Siskel and Ebert's discussion of the Peter Weir film on their show, but I missed the title. It looked so interesting that I kept an eye out for it should it ever play on TV. One day, I happened upon this on Bravo (back when they showcased arthouse and indie films rather than "real" housewives), catching the scene of Brodie taking the girls site-seeing. At first, I thought this might be that cool movie Siskel and Ebert were talking about because of the group of school girls! Alas, it was not, but I became immediately engrossed and happily discovered another classic.

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    1. Hi Felix
      A mere thank you doesn't seem quite adequate a response to your very kind compliment. It's gratifying to know you enjoy the blog, and it's quite a kick to read what young people think of films from my youth.
      Maggie Smith has been around so long her fan base spans generations. When writing this I wondered what kids who only know her from Harry Potter would think seeing Prof. McGonagall as a young woman teaching in Scotland.

      I agree with you that the film's depiction of adolescent innocence and sexual curiosity is very charming and accurate. The Tango scene is one of my favorites (they're both so serious!) and one of the delights of Franklin's character is how analytically she approaches everything.
      You make an excellent point in noting the overall joyous nature of the film. A point I think largely has to do with the (thn naive) idea we had in the 60s that as civilized human beings, we were better than our predecessors and would never allow ourselves to ever again fall into the trap of fear and ignorance that led to WW II. The darkness the film has acured (for me, anyway) is in noting what historians have said for ages...we're doomed to repeat the past if we don't learn from it.
      I can still watch "Jean Brodie" and remain largely entertained by the dialogue and performances, but our current dire social circumstances add layers to the film that otherwise could be easily overlooked.
      Maggie Smith is so enchanting in this, I know that when I first saw the film, I though the character of Sandy was rather cruel and was acting out of spite. Watching it now, Sandy's behavior has the kind of independent thinker's heroism sorely lacking in certain party-affiliated politicians who see evil taking root and say nothing about it.

      Love your anecdote about mistaking this for the Peter Weir film (my gosh...I'd actually forgotten Bravo was once a channel I respected).
      It was a real pleasure reading your comments and thank you for sharing your fondness for this film with the readers here. Just from reading which aspects of the film sparked your interest, I can tell that we do indeed share similar tastes! Thanks, Felix!

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  2. Ken--What a great film this is. It has been one of my favorites for years. Dame Maggie is superb. I usually think she plays dotty or haughty with not much in between, but in this film she is wonderful.

    Your political observations resonate strongly with me.

    This and your Beyond the Forest reviews are saved forever and keep me thrilled when I need something to chuckle or ponder life's little curves.
    Thank you

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    1. Hi Michael
      Your distillation Maggie Smith's range (dotty or haughty) gave me a chuckle because, try as I might, I'm not sure I've seen much of her work deviate from between these poles (Here, for sure, and possibly "Love & Pain & the Whole Damn Thing"). I know film stars tend to get typed, especially if they're British, but I've always wanted to see her on stage to see if she ever taps into different qualities.
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and indeed, the timbre of the times makes for a more piquant viewing experience, these days. Films have always been remarkable (in my life, anyway) in helping me to both access and assess the things going on within myself and in the world. I'm beyond flattered if any of what I write about touches base with you. Thank you very much, and great hearing from you as always.

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    2. There's a DVD boxed set called "Maggie Smith at the BBC" which might be of interest. Her performances in "The Millionairess" and "Suddenly Last Summer" fit the "haughty" bracket, but her Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" and, especially, her heartbreaking performance of Alan Bennett's monologue "A Bed Among the Lentils" might give some idea of her range.

      - Steven F

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    3. Thanks for reminding me of this. I saw her in "Suddenly Last Summer" but the other pieces do hold interest for me as well.

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  3. Ken...I first saw this when I was about 9 on its tv premiere on CBS (1972?) ...the title intrigued me so much I had to stay with it!
    Julie Andrews was offered the role of Miss Brodie! I wonder what that would have been like? Also, Robert Stephens was the original choice for Frédéric in the NIGHT MUSIC film!
    Love your essay, and your analysis! I have always been puzzled as to why a very liberated woman like Jean Brodie idolize fascist leaders? Wouldn't that go against her mindset?
    As always, great writing!! I so look forward to your posts!

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    1. Hey Michael W!
      I love that you remember when it first aired on TV! I always wonder what I mould have made of Jean Brodie had I seen it in my youth. Because of her style and elan, I suspect I would have blindly adored her and saw Sandy as a villain.
      I had no idea Julie Andrews had been offered the role (I guess she's not kidding when she says she was offered every teacher/nanny role that came down the pike after MARY POPPINS)! It certainly would have been good casting, but what with THE SOUND OF MUSIC still in theaters after its 1968 re-release, I suspect people's heads would have exploded at the thought of Maria von Trapp having sex out of wedlock and supporting the same fascist factions she was climbing ev'ry mountain to escape in a theater across the street.

      Robert Stephens was very dashing and he would have made a far more cinematic lead in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. (I hadn't known he was considered for that, either!)

      The question you pose about the very liberated Miss Brodie idolizing fascist leaders is a good one. It's in some ways akin to how incongruous it seems when you read of outrageous rock and rollers like Alice Cooper, that hideous lead singer from Kiss, and that repulsive redneck Ted Nugent - all being very conservative politically. it seems to fly in the face of the philosophies they apply to themselves.
      Taking it to a more immediate political frame, he-who-shall-not-be-named believes in a great deal of freedom and liberation for himself; no interference from government, press, morality, or codes of decency. Yet he lives to micro control everyone and everything else.
      I'm sure there is a name for it psychologically, but a narcissist (which Jean Brodie is) is often likely to think rules and restrictions apply to others, not themselves.
      Thanks for contributing those bits of film history info, Michael. And thank you very much for your nice words and taking the time to comment (and you asked a great question!)

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  4. Dear Ken: I was wondering when you would get to this film--I was surprised you hadn't already written about it!

    I saw "Brodie" about 25 years ago under particular circumstances. In the early 1990s I was in my mid-20s, and my supervisor at my first job was a film enthusiast (I had a mad crush on him but wouldn't admit it even to myself at the time). As a vehicle for having conversations with him, I started seeking out movies that were beyond the usual oldies from the 1920s through 1950s that I enjoyed. A local multiplex in our Iowa town reserved one screen each week for current "indie" movies, so I got to see titles such as "The Rapture" with Mimi Rogers, John Sayles' "Passion Fish," and (of course!) "The Crying Game."

    On cable channels I also started to venture into watching movies from the late 1960s and 1970s, such as the Liza Minnelli duo "The Sterile Cuckoo" and "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon." And, one day when I was home sick from work, I watched "The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie."

    I didn't like it at all! It's hard a quarter-century later to try to analyze my reaction to it. I did get that the Brodie character was self-deluding, a closet totalitarian masquerading as a refined free spirit. But I was put off by her arrogance and her accent (doesn't she always insist on pronouncing the name of the school as "Mar-see-ah" Blaine?).

    And I especially didn't like that Sandy was the agent of Brodie's downfall. As you point out, having the student ultimately be more shrewd and perceptive than the teacher fit in very well with the late 1960s "don't trust anyone over 30" zeitgeist. But for me, Franklin's character fit in with an annoying trope in our culture, present in everything from respected works of literature to "The Simpsons": that adolescents know more about life than adults and are the real holders of wisdom. I think of the adolescents I've known over the years--God help us all if they were running the world!

    But looking back at who I was in my mid-20s, I may have been as much a poseur as Jean Brodie. I viewed myself as worldly and sophisticated (what respectable, bookish 20-something doesn't?), but inside I think I was pretty conventional and repressed in my outlook. The scene in "Brodie" where Mr. Lloyd is painting Sandy just struck me as yucky. And I think the character I identified with most in the film was Celia Johnson's, whom I viewed at the time as a voice of reason.

    I wonder what I would think of "Prime" if I saw it again today?

    Anyway, speaking of 1969 films about boarding school teachers in the British Isles, my husband and I saw a revival of the O'Toole-Clark "Goodbye Mr. Chips" here in DC last fall. I really enjoyed it and found it much better than I remembered. "Chips" might make a fascinating comparison/contrast with "Brodie" for an enterprising film grad student!

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    1. Hi David
      You’re so right! Anyone who knows me and how much I love this movie would wonder why it took so long to write about it. I guess sometimes it just takes me forever to find the right angle. This political year made JEAN BRODIE a shoo-in.
      Your reveries on how Jean Brodie came into your life are really marvelous, especially you dislike for it (yes, Smith does indeed pronounce Marcia in the exact way you so hilariously note).
      I like how you are able to hone in on just what it is about Sandy’s character that failed to strike a chord. An excellent point and interesting perspective so different than my own.
      I related to Sandy feeling resentful of being underestimated and pigeonholed by a teacher she admired. Projecting my own school experience as an African-American teen with mostly white teachers, I understand what it feels like when authority figures underestimate you and fail to see your potential. So for me, Sandy was less a worldly brat than a young girl of many gifts who became disillusioned when a woman she looked up to revealed herself to have feet of clay. Every shy child and late bloomer knows how disheartening it is when those we worship can’t see beyond our unassuming surfaces. I’m convinced that phenomenon is precisely where our Bette Midlers and Grace Joneses come from. Sandy’s affair with Mr. Lloyd is rebellion, but Sandy’s ultimate betrayal of Miss Brodie (not a betrayal at all, in my eyes) is to me more an act of a girl/woman reclaiming her mind and herself.

      Looking back on movies and remembering who we were; revisiting them and seeing if we or our perceptions of the film have changed is just fascinating to me. I especially like your observation re: Miss Brodie and the bookish 20-something. Honestly, who interested in the arts can claim that they’ve never fallen prey to acting like a Miss Brodie on occasion in our pretentious/self-serious youth?

      That’s another point which you also keenly make note of; Miss Brodie is the true naïf personality in the film. Lacking self-awareness and bolstered by personality and popularity. He-who-shall-not-be-named suffers from the same malady that equates popularity with competence.

      I’d forgotten the 1968 film GOODBYE MR CHIPS, a movie I’ve yet to make it all the way through. Like your situation for watching JEAN BRODIE, I suspect it will require a day when I too will be home on a sick day from work.
      Thank you for your marvelous comments, David. You always give us more to think about – with the added bonus of the biographical backstory. Much appreciated!

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  5. As always, an entertaining and thought-provoking essay, but perhaps we should not be too hard on Jean Brodie for having a “thrill up [her] leg” when talking about her admiration for Mussolini. Mussolini, after all, was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932. FDR called him "admirable" and lauded what he had been able to accomplish. Many in FDR's administration, academia and the press touted Mussolini and Hitler's success. Even NAACP co-founder, W. E. B. DuBois, viewed the Nazi rise positively, saying that Hitler’s dictatorship had been “absolutely necessary to get the state in order.” In 1937, DuBois stated: “there is today, in some respects, more democracy in Germany than there has been in years past.” In short, Jean Brodie was in pretty good company in holding a high opinion of Mussolini (not to mention Time Magazine's 1938 Person of the Year: Adolf Hitler). Taking the long view of history, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie should be a cautionary tale for zealots on both sides of the political aisle.

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    1. Hi Robert
      Thank you so much for providing such fascinating historical context for Brodie's misguided enthusiasm. It really is an eye-opening thing to be reminded of how often so many people and institutions–who should have known better–have been on the wrong side of history. A great reminder that even if so-called leaders and the populace at large are behind an ideology, if it involves the denial of basic human rights, it’s not the path to follow.
      But alas, looking at those facts only casts our Miss brodie in a darker light, for what is more provincial than failing to think for oneself and following the course of the masses.
      I'm reminded of those in the U.S. who, during the intervening years of Jim Crow and segregation, sought to absolve themselves by pointing to the fact that, at the time, our government and many respected public figures and institutions supported these policies. Seeking absolution from guilt, such arguments only support the folly of ever expecting the popularity of an opinion to have anything to do with it being humane or decent.
      I understand that what time reveals to be horrific is not always obvious from the beginning, but I think THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE makes the case of having to listen to one's own heart and beware of following in lockstep with authority figures and populist viewpoints.
      Personal guidepost no matter which side of the political aisle one is on: If it involves the restriction, suppression, or denial of individual human rights in the interest of serving the larger good...run.

      Thanks for reading and especially for contributing such an informative and thought-provoking comment!

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  6. I have seen the movie and certain scenes of the movie multiple times. The ending confrontation between Sandy and Miss Brodie is a great scene (though I still have to wonder at an adolescent having the kind of awareness to see a teacher as a threat, not to just herself, but all students. Maybe I was just way too egocentric at that age).

    I recently read the book for the first time and I was surprised at how different it was from the movie. The bare bones of the movie are of course there but the emphasis seems somehow askew. It seems to be more Sandy's story that Miss Brodie's. The film treats Miss Brodie as a kind of tragic villain. I think the book's position on Miss Brodie is less obvious. Perhaps both book and movie recognize the important truth that all of us are a complex mixture of good and evil.

    Thanks for another great review!

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    1. Hey Ron
      It's been many years since I read the book, but I do recall that it is told somewhat in flashback (after Sandy had become a nun) and that the structure is very much focused on Sandy and the girls as they perceive Miss Brodie.
      I think what Jay Presson Allen did in in whittling the novel down to present-time (instead of jumping back and forth), fewer girls, and bumping up the political significance of Brodie's influence, is rather remarkable.
      As I'm sure you know, in the book Miss Brodie dies without ever knowing who it was that betrayed her, so I love that Allen wrote such a exceptional final scene.
      (Sometimes I think the art of adaptation really goes unrewarded. Allen really reined in that novel a great deal.)
      The point you make about people being a complex mix of good and evil is I think very true when it comes to the innocent malevolence of Miss Brodie. She truly means no harm, but proves harmful nonetheless.
      It's like when I watch Judge Judy (yes, I watch Judge Judy...more's the pity) and people think that just because they didn't "mean" to hurt someone or have that accident, that it absolves of being responsible for the harm of the outcome.

      As for what you state about an adolescent having such insight into their teacher as Sandy does during that final scene. Although I think i regarded myself as pretty much a know-it-all at 18, I think the film does a pretty good job of establishing early on that Sandy is very perceptive - perhaps too much so - beyond her years. In the first scene where she is supposed to be just twelve, she already challenges Miss Brodie in one of those "Do as I say, not as I do" encounters.
      I meet a lot of precocious adolescents in dance...but none of their forwardness seems to be backed up with much in the way of human insight like Sandy.
      Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Happier still that you took time out to comment, Ron!

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  7. I saw this movie when it came out and LOVED it. Thank you for yet another great article and you managed to not mention Downton Abbey once. At the time the political aspect of this movie went way over my head (poor Mary McGregor), I just loved the characters and setting and humor (imagine everyone being blown up by the chemistry teacher), and was totally blown away by the final “assassin assassin”. Such a powerful scene, one of the all time great confrontations in movie history IMO. The Academy Award was well deserved. And I wondered where Jean went from there. A local production of the play was mounted at the time. I didn’t see it but remember my father being dragged to it in a group outing. It’s the only play I remember him ever going to and it sure wasn’t his or his buddies cup of tea. I always wondered why Pamela Franklin wasn’t a bigger star (she was so good in The Innocents too) and looked her up. She married, lives in LA, did alot of TV and owns mystery Pier Books in West Hollywood. Did you ever cross paths?

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    1. Hi loulou!
      Ha! I am so happy you noticed my not mentioning Downton Abbey! It was intentional but not easy.
      I think if I saw this in 1969, the political element would have been over my head as well. Miss Brodie would have joined Rosalind Russell in my mind as a bossy but charismatic leader of teenage girls, and I likely would have wondered why Sandy and Mr Lloyd were so mean to her at the end.
      As you say, the characters, language, and setting are so interesting, I honestly think the film works beautifully even without the political subtext.

      As a fan of verbal sparring matches in movies, I of course loved all the head to heads between Brodie & Miss Mackay, but there is so much tension built up between Sandy and Miss Brodie throughout the film (as the teacher subtly dismisses and uses her simultaneously) that when they finally go at it, it is one of the strongest and most unforgettable moments in the film.
      In the book, Jean retires after being ousted from Marcia Blaine, keeping in touch with the girls by letter. Having passed her prime, as she would see it, Miss Brodie never marries and dies sometime after the end of WW II.
      On the DVD commentary for MISS BRODIE Pamela Franklin addresses why she thinks her career stalled. Being a Brit, she says she was unaware of America's unspoken show business caste system wherein actors who appear regularly on television find themselves out of the running for film roles. She says that once she began to appear in TV episodics, offers for film roles dried up.
      She retired after overhearing on the set of a "Hawaii Five-O" a director or assistant referring to her as "the girl."
      She is such a good actress it's a shame she didn't become a bigger star, but I admire anyone who chooses self-esteem over staying in an industry with such a short memory.
      I had no idea she owned the bookstore you speak of, in fact, in spite of my being familiar with it (it's just a few doors down from Book Soup, a place I've visited many times) I've never once stepped foot in it.

      Thank you loulou, it was fun hearing from someone who saw it during its initial release (did the whole Sandy/Mr.Lloyd affair seem as creepy then as it does now? Even that scene when Miss Brodie goes off on that dazed reverie about how a young girl can find love in the arms of a much older man is icky) and whose father actually saw a stage production (that's culture with a capital C). Always enjoy hearing form you!

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  8. Like the politics the sex in the movie just kind of bounced off me. And I was 14. Naivete I guess, small town boy. What did hit me was the nude portrait. It was the first time I had seen a fully nude woman, in the movies or real life, and wow, it was little precocious Sandy. Thankfully I managed to scrape myself off the floor.

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    1. Jenny being groomed to be a femme fatale had the ick factor for me.

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    2. I think I would have been shocked at the nudity, but the perv-factor wouldn't have hit me until much later. It's weird to think back that the whole - It's OK to sexualize teenage girls thing was popular up too and through Brooke Shields' career. Movies like Charles Bronson's "Lola" in which he has an affair with schoolgirl Susan George. Or 1980s "Circle of Two" which has 60 year old Richard Burton paired with 17-year-old Tatum O'Neill. Older and schoolgirls was a ridiculously prevalent rope for the longest time.
      (Personally, I can't really abide the musical Gigi because of all that grooming of a young girl to be a courtesan. Chaste or not)

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  9. Thanks for your reply Ken!
    When I was 9, on that initial CBS viewing (it must have been a night my grandma was babysitting us, or else I would have long been in bed!) - what struck me was the scene where Mary started weeping as Jean read the poem .... and when the girls started tormenting her to tell them what she knew about Miss Brodie and her dating situation. The politics went right over my head and I guess I saw her, in my little boy way, as a very influential, "Pied-Piper" type of person. Upon later viewing recently, I did kind of resent the "man who can't think for himself" comment, being Catholic myself...as you said, disdain for those whose outlook or credo varies from her own philosophy. It makes it all the more ironic that she herself looked up to those leaders.

    Robert Stephens - the story goes (atleast according to IMDB), that Liz Taylor perceived some sort of disrespect on his part during rehearsals for ALNM and he was "outta there" shortly after (who knows what really happened). Then I read that Peter Finch was in line, dropped out (perhaps this is when he passed away?)....and then a panic call was placed to Cariou.

    A side note - in reference to the CBS showing - I loved it when theatrical films would have their big TV premieres on a major network in the 60s and 70s. That's another loss, in terms of our cinema tastes!

    And yes - do try to catch GOODBYE MR. CHIPS. Lovely score, superb performances. I'd love to know what you think!
    Mike :)

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    1. Hi Michael
      I remember when movies having their broadcast TV premieres was a big thing. It's generational, to be sure, but I'm glad every movie I liked wasn't immediately available for instant, repeated consumption for me back then. I think I would be sick of some of my favorite films now had I the opportunity to rewatch them ad nauseum as I have today.
      The Night Music stuff now starts to ring a bell (maybe I read it on IMDb when I wrote about it). I have no idea what Stephens' singing voice was like (as if it mattered next to Liz), but for me he is both a wittier, handsomer, and far more accomplished actor than Cariou, and that film could have used all the wit and talent it could lay its hands on.
      I used to have the Mr Chips soundtrack LP (those 99c bargain bins) and I know the only screen moment that ever stood out for me was Petula Clark's stage number.
      I need to give it another try. Thanks for the additional reveries, Michael. Always fun to have my memory jogged to a shared past.

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  10. Excellent piece that blew me away, Ken. I saw this when it came out—I was 12 or 13—and even though I’d already seen a lot of “adult” movies, the intricacies of the characters and what it was really “about” were way over my head. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea what I’ve been missing all these years. All I remember is looking forward to seeing it at the time because I already knew Maggie Smith from Hot Millions, and Pamela Franklin from the Disney movie, A Tiger Walks. Plus, like you, I loved movies set in schools of any kind—girls’, boys’, boarding, Catholic, public, private, it didn’t matter. But I haven’t seen it since.

    It’s nuts because I not only own it on DVD but I also have the British mini-series from the 70s starring Geraldine McEwan which I haven’t even seen yet. Thanks to you, I’m glad I’ve stocked up on Jean Brodies.

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    1. Hi Max
      So happy you enjoyed this essay!
      Had I seen this when it came out, I'm certain my experience would have been like yours. I would have been enchanted by Maggie Smith, wondered what all the fuss was bout regarding her teaching fascism in class, and merely thought she was fired for influencing Mary to embark on a trek with tragic results.
      I think one of this film's assets is that it is not at all heavy-handed or obvious, politically speaking. That's why I think people are buying out all the copies of "1984" now (about a society already overtaken by fascism) instead of noting what can be learned from a film like this: that the seeds of a 1984 society are not sown in obvious ways. That, like an earlier commenter helped illustrate, if enough people follow a really bad idea, there are many other people who think that's all they need to feel OK about their dubious ideologies. "Jean Brodie" is a great cautionary tale about the death of independent thought - whether it be based in religion, politics, or academics.

      I never saw either of the films you mentioned that introduced you to Smith and Franklin (you mean Pamela Franklin actually played a normal little girl in a move for once, not her usual "altogether ooky" mysterious youngster?
      I think it's remarkable you own several Jean Brodies! I only know of the miniseries from researching this post. Maybe you'll take a look at one sometime and let us know if Maggie's matches up to what you remember as a teen.
      Heartening to know from the comments here that I wasn't the only youngster craving R-rated movies back in the day. Thanks, Max!!

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  11. Hello Ken, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your scholarly and entertaining review of "The Prime of is Jean Brodie". I wouldn't be surprised if more people will discover the film after reading your stirring review. I want to see it again. I know just what you mean when you write about discovering films one would have adored early on!

    I've seen the film a few times before and it really is a tour de force by Maggie. It's a great movie and yet so strange. The subject matter is so very specific: a charismatic teacher in a scottish school for girls in the 1930's. Muriel Spark must have met someone just like her; it's hard to make up a character like that! Now that I think of it, Spark probably wanted to show how deceptive and charming fascits can be. It's just as well that those kind of teachers are rare. They can wreak havoc on impressionable minds.

    It's amazing to think of how a long a film career Maggie Smith has had! She won an Oscar award in the 60's! It must have seemed like she came out of nowhere then. She wasn't a big name then, I suppose. It's fantastic that she got the part instead of giving it away to a more famous actress!

    I read a Maggie Smith biography recently. There was no juicy gossip in it. The author could not find much to write about her private life. He had to resort to describing her films and plays. She really is dedicated to acting and never tried to be a star.
    Thanks Ken!-Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      Yes, when you hear me bemoaning some film that passed me by in my youth, I'm mourning the loss of the innocent eyes I would have viewed this film through at an age when Maggie Smith's Jean Brodie would have undoubtedly made a huge impact on me. I had one flamboyant teacher in grade school (she looked like 60s-era Sally Kellerman) and I had the biggest crush on her. After that it was either nuns or Christian Brothers in Catholic school, a place where flamboyance of any kind was more or less frowned up (I remember having more teachers like Miss Mackay).
      I've read that indeed Muriel Spark had based the character of jean Brodie on someone (or an amalgam of) teachers she knew. As you say, there is something too specific about her for her to be a work of total fiction.
      And yes, Maggie Smith (like Angela Lansbury...who might have made an interesting Jean Brodie) has had an extremely long career. Back in 1969 she was really considered the dark horse nominee at the Oscars, and I recall that there winning was something of an upset. Not only because she was nominated against several well-known and popular industry heavy-hitters, but because her film had been released so early in the year (to middling business) that many people had forgotten it come OScar time. Many credited the popularity of the theme song with giving the film the kind of longevity it might not ordinarily have sustained.
      it's certainly clear that the casting of the film didn't have its eye on the boxoffice. Nobody in the cast was really well known here.
      It's interesting that you say that Maggie Smith's biography is lacking in gossip. I really don't know much about her personal life at all. I think you're right in that she was an actress forts, a star second. An unlikely star at that!
      Thanks, Wille. I'm glad you enjoyed the essay. I certainly enjoyed your comments!

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    2. Mo Rocca interviewed her a few months back on CBS' Sunday morning show, I guess for Lady in a Van. She was a tough one, very "I can't believe I'm even doing this". He showed her a clip on his phone of her dueting with Carol Burnett, she shrugged it off (those were the days) and his inquiries about ex-hubby Robert were answered with "I hope you're not dating actors, are you?" I felt a little sorry for Mo. As for the song, did that Jean have any resemblance at all to Jean Brodie? None that I can think of.

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    3. I am so thrilled you mentioned that interview, because I was able to catch it on YouTube and seeing Maggie make the interviewer slightly uncomfortable is absolutely adorable. Watching her watch herself on The Carol Burnett Show is a hoot! I adore her speaking voice.
      Way back when she was doing "Hook" she was having tea outside of the dance studio I was working at. I rushed out to get her autograph (she was alone) and mercifully I must have caught her on a good day because she was a sweetheart.
      Lastly, wonderful point you make about the lyrics of "Jean" and the Jean Brodie of the film. Since I saw the film so long after the popularity of the song I never really pondered how they don't exactly fit. Perhaps it's a stretch, but in my mind I leap to it being the idealized vision of Jean Mr. Lloyd must have in his head. After all, he is more than in love with her, he's obsessed and "bewitched" by her.
      Thanks!

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  12. I wish I had something substantial to contribute here. Saw this first run and all I remember is the nude artist-and-model scene--my first nude scene (I was 10). Haven't had the opportunity to see it again.

    The reason I saw it at all was because it was paired with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--my fourth time seeing that one.

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    1. The nude scene is really remarkable because nothing about the film before that sequence is remotely worthy of the film's "R" rating. It's powerful in its starkness and context, but I think especially in its matter-of-factness. Remembering back to how I responded to the relatively modest nudity in Rosemary's Baby when I was 11 or so, I can understand why that scene would stay with you after all these years.
      Like you, there were a great many films I saw in my youth chiefly because they we double-billed with other movies I was more interested in. I certainly think that's how I wound up seeing "Paint Your Wagon" so many time. once it was paired with Sweet Charity...what a looong afternoon at the movies that turned into (the trick was to time it so Charity was the one you saw first, then Wagon, then Charity for the second time). Understandably, my parents loved those long Saturdays we kids spent at the movies.

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  13. This discussion prompted me to finally see this film.

    That song. There was no way to avoid that song in 1969. I avoided the film for decades because of that song. The Rod McKuen connection to the song only makes me think of San Francisco in the 60's. Never Scotland.

    Combine that song with my general distaste for Maggie Smith and the movie was never on my 'to do' list. Smith is one of our finest actresses, but for years and years she has peddled her now stock 'sotto voce bitch' schtick. Her work in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads "Bed Among the Lentils" is truly magnificent, as good as any actress has ever been. Breath taking. But it is not always so. I'm frustrated by so many of her professional choices that I just quit looking for her. She made her Broadway debut as a bit of comedienne with T.C. Jones and Tiger Haynes and Jane Connell and Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo!) in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1956. She has done it all. And she delivered the goods in 'Jean Brodie.' From that monologue at the slide projector, straight through to the end of the film, she was terrific.

    Brodie is a garden variety narcissist, shattered with very low self-esteem. She constantly over-compensates for that poor self-image with a host of affectations and pretensions. She has to make everything bigger and better because without all of that there would just be Jean Brodie and that won't work for her. She lacks the self-esteem to form a mature relationship with a man, so she has bad relationships with unsuitable men and leans on her students for her emotional needs. Between the power imbalance in the student-teacher relationship and the huge age difference between her and the students, her vulnerabilities are well insulated. But the classroom is not the place for any of it. Her low self-esteem is a good motivation for the championing of fascists. They give the appearance of strength and she desperately wants to be stronger and bigger and better than she feels she actually is. It's exhausting. And it's not sustainable. It can't end well.

    Sandy wears glasses, is smart, and gets marginalized by Miss Brodie again and again and again. I winced the first time it happened and when it came up again, I thought of Bebe in "A Chorus Line." "Though I was eight or nine... I hated her." 'Different.' 'Dependable.' It's never wise for a character in a movie to mess with a smart girl with glasses. Those characters are already never happy about the glasses, so don't make enemies of them. Sandy gets hurt by Miss Brodie again and again, so by the time that her friend Mary McGregor got her head blown off, Sandy was well positioned to be in need of some revenge. Interestingly, it's Sandy who notices at the picnic that Miss McKay is watching from her office. She knows Miss McKay has it out for Miss Brodie who even says, "If they want to get rid of me, they'll have to assassinate me." Children will listen. I thought it a very strange word for the author to give to Brodie to use in front of the children, but it does set up Sandy nicely for later in the play. Sandy is noticing things. Brodie should have done a better job of noticing Sandy.

    The sexism throughout the film was painful to watch. Teddy Lloyd feels absolutely entitled to run roughshod over his wife and each of his mistresses. He grabs them and none of the women seem to fight back. I watched "Rosemary's Baby" yesterday for the first time in 40 years. It drips with sexism. Women are treated with such disrespect. Which should come as no surprise, given who directed it. Several months ago, I saw the original Ghost Busters for the first time. Bill Murray's character only ever talked about hitting on women and it was so unappealing. At least in 'Jean Brodie,' it underscores Jean's plight as a single woman with a career.

    Thanks for a discussion so compelling it overcame my resistance to that wretched song.

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    1. Very commendable how you give films you've had no previous interest in a chance. On the occasions I've done so I seem to be batting 50/50; half are films I'm thrilled I finally allowed myself to see (some becoming favorites), half being ones I want to kick myself for for not listening to my instincts. The latter always makes me feel like I'm ready to barter with the gods for getting two hours of my life back.
      It's interesting to read then impressions of one just coming upon the film for the first time. Aspects regarding the characterizations, elements pertaining to the social climate of the time it was made- all make for a fascinating "fresh eyes" look at a film I'm so familiar with I could quote passages of dialog.
      Your comments regarding Brodie's character and her unique relationship with Sandy are especially engaging.
      I'm going to check out Maggie Smith in "The VIPs" tonight, which is sure to make me all the ore grateful that a role like Jean Brodie came along to showcase her talents, and that she escaped being lost to Hollywood's second-lead limbo.
      Thanks for taking the chance of watching this film, for your sharp comments added so much to an already interesting discussion. I hope readers feel free to comment to one another without feeling they are hijacking the comments section. I learn a lot reading the things you share with each other about film. Thanks!

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    2. All thanks to you. Your writing on favorite films is always compelling and you repeatedly pique my interest with your observations.

      Since you wrote about it, I've now watched Black Narcissus 20 times and introduced it to three close friends. A viewing of Three Women is rigorous, so I've returned to it only a few times since discovering it here. But I think about it a lot. It seems very much like the Maisel's Grey Gardens in that it has an extreme visceral presence on the screen. Either of those films can be overwhelming for a viewer in the wrong mood or just unprepared. I keep hoping for the stars to align soon for another viewing. There must be an optimal set of circumstances for watching that film. You also introduced me to That Cold Day in the Park, a weirdly unforgettable film, if ever there was one.

      I am mos def in your debt, sir. I thank you.

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    3. Such an incredibly nice thing to say...thank you very much.
      You've seen "Black Narcissus" 20 times! How fabulous! Since I'm so fond of revisiting old favorites, I love that rare feeling of discovering a "new" personal classic. Introducing them to friends is a perk, to be sure, but it does take finessing.
      As you note, the right mood is everything, and if I'm in the proper frame of mind, I can be receptive to all manner of film. If not, rigorous isn't even the word for the experience.
      The only film that's been recommended to me (by a reader of this blog) to match your 20 times viewing of "Black Narcissus" is Jack Clayton's "The Innocents"- a film I'd previously avoided, only to now have seen it more times than I can recall.
      Small wonder that I get so much out of the contributions of readers like yourself in the comments section; I never know when I'll happened upon my next "new" classic. Thanks!

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    4. Last night I found "Eve's Bayou" buried several layers deep into the shadowy world of Roku. Until your recent awards, I had never heard of the film. When I checked this blog to ensure my recollection was correct, I saw that "Eve's Bayou" got more awards than any other film, except "What's Up, Doc?," with which it tied. (Far more than even Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman put together.) Naturally, I thought, "I must dive into this apparently wondrous film, post haste." So, I did.

      So ANOTHER 'thank you' to you, Herr Blogmeister. I was enjoying it a great deal, but when the little girl started jabbing pins into the sock monkey, I was all in. This film could be added to my Christmas list along with 'The Honeymoon Killers' and 'The Day of the Locust,' films with children in them being naturals for the holiday. I love most of the cast, with the child actors in "Eve's Bayou" being especially wonderful together in some very demanding roles.

      Miss Carroll is supremely talented and has spent a lifetime getting in the way of her own talent. It was interesting to see where that sort of thing leads an actress; to a fright wig and a swamp. (Watch out, Faye.) I will research more of the background on this one. My guess now is that Samuel L. Jackson liked the script. He is one of the producers. Without him, I think this might have never come together. His participation as producer and lead would help attract someone like Miss Carroll to what seems to be a small, independent film.

      Great story and script. Beautiful art direction and cinematography. Very good performers giving very good performances. Most worthy of a two hour investment. Thank you!

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    5. You really are on a roll! So pleased to hear you enjoyed "Eve's Bayou"! I long ago realized it was a fool's game to ever anticipate others responding to a favorite film in the same way, but that doesn't stop it from being a welcome surprise when they do.
      I too like how the children's roles are depicted and portrayed, and I am right with you in your description of Diahann Carroll as someone who "has spent a lifetime getting in the way of her own talent."
      I've seen a couple of other films by Kasi Lemmons and none are as assured as her first outing.

      As you mentioned "The Honeymoon Killers" as one of your favorites (as it is one of mine), I recently watched the 1996 Mexican film "Deep Crimson" - what a marvelous and wholly different take on the same real-life characters. It proved a nice, if unsettling, surprise. Thanks, George!

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  14. At least Rod wasn't singing. Thank God for small favors.

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    1. Nay, nay! That's what I thought, too. But stick around for the closing credits. They sneaked him in.

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    2. I don't know much about Rod McKuen the man, not even that much about him as an artist. I know he was a talented composer and poet, but LORD I don't think I will ever understand the breadth and scope of his phenomenal popularity in the 60s.
      Not to insult any of his fans out there, and really this is just my personal taste or lack thereof, but were you to play a stranger one of his albums, then inform them that he sold out stadiums, had gold records, and made poetry (of a sort) popular to grandparents and teens...I'm sure their jaw would hit the floor.

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  15. Hello, Ken. Thank you for yet another perceptive article. It sent me back to watch the film again.

    One thing I noticed was the use of colour, or rather the lack of it. Apart from natural tones, Jean Brodie is the only source of colour in the film (and note that her hair does not look quite natural, either). Everything else in the film is grey: the girl's uniforms, the adult's clothes, the school walls, the granite city itself.

    This must be deliberate. If nothing else, grey paint was uncommon in British institutional buildings in the twentieth century: the prevailing tones were various shades of cream and the sort of muddy green that would have appealed to the camouflage corps. And the motif is established right in the opening shot, with the red trim around Brodie's lodging house standing out from the grey vistas of Edinburgh.

    What this does is to reinforce why, as Sandy and Teddy Lloyd conclude, despite being ridiculous and dangerous, Jean Brodie is still appealing: the rest of the world is so boring - literally monotonous. As an adult, I sympathise with Miss Mackay, helped, of course, by those little flashes of dismay and concern on Celia Johnson's face. As a teenager, I'd have seen her as stifling and oppressive.

    And that, I think, is relevant to the film's political message. Consider all those people who pride themselves on being "un-PC", as if being needless cruel and hurtful was a sign of virtue. They are often dim and unreflective, but are sometime self-consciously trying to be different, to stand out as exemplars of independent thinking (while usually only displaying conformity to older, less humane values).

    This, presumably, is what draws Sandy into the Brodie set. She is not malleable and guileless like Mary Macgregor; rather she is restless with a world in which, for example, librarians throw girls out just for giggling. Fortunately, she is also intelligent enough also to question and ultimately reject the alternative authority of Miss Brodie and the pseudo-Bohemian example of Mr Lloyd. Where that leaves her is unclear. I always found it hard to accept Sandy's embrace of the Catholic Church in the novel. The film is, perhaps, right to leave her future unresolved.

    All of which is probably too much to build on a tin of Dulux emulsion, but your essays do tend to set thoughts turning - for which, many thanks.

    - Steven F

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    1. Hello Steven
      When i was making screencaps for the film, the whole color thing struck me too (especially due to the scene whene Miss Mackay comments on Jean's colorful "frock").
      I think your response to the film's use of color is in keeping with its themes; Jean's vibrancy coming across as superficial alluring.
      Your observation regarding the false iconoclasm of cruelty is especially apt in context with Jean setting herself apart but not really being philosophically any different from the oppressive forces she has so much criticism for.
      And I concur with George tush (below) in stating that what you observe doesn't seem at all like you are building upon too much. My sense is that the film's color scheme is both intentional and essential, but even if it were not, I think it's more important that it spoke to you in a was as to enhance the film's point of view and themes.
      That is the ideal and goal of cinema communication.
      I'm with you in never really understanding Sandy becoming a nun in the novel. i always felt I overlooked something in her characterization. I like the film's depiction Sandy better. At the end, she make look like all the other Brodie girls, but her mind is her own, and she has acted in a way far braver than anyone else in the film.
      Thank you for so thoughtfully expressing your impressions of your revisit to the film. Perhaps specifically for the reason you site (the way Miss Mackay/Jean brodie appear different to us in our youth) this is a great movie to revisit in one's later years.

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  16. Very interesting. And not too much building at all. Peter Shaffer built "Lettice and Lovage" out of much the same analysis. And Maggie Smith, of course, repeating her duties as the bringer of color and light.

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  17. Hi Ken!
    Just as you noted in your essay, this is, for me, one of those films that has affected me differently each of the three times I've seen it.
    I was about 11 when I first saw it in the theatre. I was absolutely bewitched with Miss Jean Brodie. I thought Maggie Smith was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. The lushness of the colors - her clothes, the green grass, even the blueness of Pamela Franklin's eyes, were an almost painterly experience. I wanted to be Miss Brodie, have adoring fans, men fighting for me, and be the center of everyone's world. Sandy was a villain - a jealous, bratty girl out to hurt Miss Brodie. The whole thing was intoxicating to me. Even now, when I hear that song, I am transported to that dark theatre watching the girls in their uniforms on the grass.
    The next time I saw the movie I was in college. I remember gushing to my girlfriends about what a fabulous romantic movie it was, and that we absolutely had to watch it in film class.
    Then a funny thing happened; as the movie unfolded I had a discomfiting feeling. The movie didn't seem romantic to me at all. I felt sad for Miss Brodie. The beautiful cinematography, music, etc. was still there, but I couldn't believe I was watching the same movie. Instead of being a heroine to me, I was embarrassed for her. I had a bit more understanding of Sandy, but blamed Teddy Lloyd for her actions. When I burst into tears at the end of the movie, my girlfriends were stunned - giving me the "you thought this was romantic" look. The song "Jean" was no longer a love song, but a wistful love that got away song.
    The next time I saw the movie, I was a divorcee and working in a high pressure corporate job. This time Miss Brodie made me angry. I'd had both my heart and soul scuffed up by life and had hard earned insight into being involved with a manipulative people (enter ex-husband and ex-boss).
    While I could still feel drawn to her - that wonderful voice, those long arms, that walk - I kept wanting her to shut up. I realized how everything about her was just too, too much.
    I also really grasped the terrible things she was doing to those girls. "Mary McGregor" - I can still hear it with Smith's Scottish burr - was killed because of this woman.
    Both Stephens and Hudson were distasteful to me. What did she see in them, and why did they put up with her shit?
    I absolutely understood Pamela Franklin's Sandy. Behind those funny glasses and impertinent face was apparently the only person thinking rationally. Her transformation was what the movie was about for me, not Miss Jean Brodie. This time the song - while lovely - seemed disconnected from the story. If anyone deserved a song, it was Sandy. (Too bad Beyonce wasn't around then to pen an anthem for her!)

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    1. Hi Roberta
      What a remarkable job you've done of delineating the "living" experience of film! There are those films which (usually due to nostalgia) never change for people. Example: never attempt to debate the pros and cons of "Hello, Dolly!" or "Lost Horizon" with someone who loved it as a child. They will ALWAYS see it through a child's eye.
      But there are certain films, "jean Brodie" being one of the better examples, that "lives" and changes as we change.
      Reading your comment was like reading a short story so beautifully do you take us through what each particular revisit to Miss Brodie's class teaches you about yourself and life.
      I regret never seeing this as a kid because Iknow my older sister (who so often was the one who took us smaller kids to the movies with her) would have felt exactly as you did about Maggie Smith. She would have seen her as an Auntie Mame type (she adores Rosalind Russell) and would have been as shocked as you to find, in adulthood, Brodie to be indeed the "ridiculous woman" Sandy recognizes.
      The stages of your life you associate with each maturing perspective is quite compelling. Thank you! Now on to Part II!

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  18. I love movies that have this affect on me. In the Vatican there is a hallway with medieval tapestries on the wall leading to the Sistine Chapel. As the line moves, the eyes of the images on the tapestries follow you. It's some sort of optical illusion, of course, but you can't quite ever get a steady perspective of the tapestry as you pass.
    The next time I see The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (hopefully soon) I'm sure it'll once more seem different and new. Jean and I trading sidelong glances through the hallway of time, I guess.
    There are a handful of movies I treasure for this quality; on some level I think I fear them as well. Like everyone, I can't wait to curl up with my comfort food movies (talking to you Rocky Balboa and Dolly Levi) and feel good. There are other movies that are just great thrill rides - Jaws, Frankenstein - that hold up over time.
    But movies like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie challenge me. What will it make me feel this time? What will I see about myself that I like - or don't - because of this movie? In a funny way, those are the movies I've come to seek out.
    Something about each one of them has become embedded in my brain as a real memory of something I personally experienced. And just like real memories, sometimes they bring you joy, and at other times tears.

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    1. Thanks for finishing up your comment (sorry about the inability of the blog's cut-and-paste character limits) with the well-taken observation that movies serve very different functions in our lives and that is as it should be.
      I particularly like the Vatican Tapestry analogy and how it relates to the phenomenon of changing perspectives!
      Not every film needs to be profound, escapist, or emotional thrill rides; but I have to agree with you that films that continue to challenge after repeat viewing are rare and valuable birds.
      I'm so happy that "The Prime of Miss jean Brodie" proved to be one of the latter for you. Happier still that you took the time and effort to contribute such well-considered observations and take-away points in this forum.
      My partner read your comment, finding it really beautifully written. He will probably hate that I it just point to the fact that so many people who visit my blog always relay to me how much they get out of what is shared by all of you who take the time to comment.
      So much appreciated, Roberta!

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  19. Ken,

    I’m not sure how I avoided seeing this one over the years but thanks to your excellent write up I finally watched it and I’m glad I did. I think I thought it was another inspiring teacher movie. My mother, grandmother and brother were all teachers so I have seen nearly every movie ever made on that subject and I figured I didn’t need to see another one. Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the dangers of charismatic wrong-headedness is chilling. She is such an attractive, inspiring figure but does she get anything right? Mussolini and Franco are of course the obvious mistakes but who reads the story of Dante and Beatrice and concludes that the point is that middle-aged artists should sleep with teenagers? She’s an obtuse, evil Mr. Chips.

    And her misappraisal of Sandy is an epic mistake. She can’t see that Sandy is smarter, more passionate and more beautiful than the other Brodie Girls and describing her as just dependable is just about the worst thing she could have said. Pamela Franklin is remarkable in the role. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor use her hair and glasses to greater effect. It’s more than the “Miss Jones, you’re beautiful without your glasses” thing. When she takes her glasses off and lets her down she is dangerous. I honestly didn’t recognize her at first in the studio scene.

    I was fascinated to read the comments from your commenters who saw the movie when they were young. I love hearing about how the experience of watching the movie changes as you get older. When I was 15, Jean Brodie would definitely have seemed to be the movie’s hero, and a little later the bravery of Sandy would have been the character I identified with. Now that I am in my 50s and have had the experience of managing employees, I totally see Miss McKay’s position. You sure attract some good commenters.

    As for the musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips that a couple of people have mentioned, I suspect it’s one of those movies that is best when you see it when you’re young, like the musical Lost Horizon. It’s a lovely movie to look at, the songs are good but, man, Peter O’Toole is just wrong for the role. I just don’t get the casting of non-singers in musicals. Just because Rex Harrison managed to pull it off it doesn’t mean anyone else can. I understand that dubbing vocals is now deemed a sin but when it’s well done I think it can be very effective. Where have you gone Marni Nixon? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

    And once again you did a great job on your screen caps. The “She always looks so…extreme” one is perfect. Once again, another great read that enhanced the movie. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

    Michael

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    1. Hi Michael
      Loved your appraisal of this film! When I look at the ad campaign devised for its release, I can see that the very issues that keep coming up in the comments here (Jean's similarity to the "inspiring" heroine characters of films like Auntie Mame and Good Morning Miss Dove) made it a bit of a hard sell.
      It's likely that many viewers, charmed by Maggie Smith's portrayal, failed to grasp what an unusual character Jean Brodie was.
      From your recent viewing of it, the consensus seems to be that Brodie is a different woman depending on what age you were wen you first saw the film.
      Your awareness that she gets everything wrong and underestimates people is, to my eye, spot on. He danger coming from being such a charismatic, influential figure in so many impressionable lives.
      I especially like your appreciation of Pamela Franklin's performance. Her transformation is the most convincing (and as you note) startling of them all, setting up a perfect conflict for student/teacher. I think it's a very smart, fascinating film. Too bad I remained so indifferent to it for so long. I'm left with only guessing at what my feelings about it would have been as a young man.
      As for "Goodbye Mr Chips", I think I'll settle down to watch it sometime when I'm in the correct frame of mind. So many of those post-Sound of Music musicals really benefit from seeing them as a child. As an adult I find that in many cases, if nostalgia doesn't take my hand first, snark most certainly will.
      And the bad singing (or non-singing) in musicals is such a weird thing with me. like i have no problem with the sub-par voices of Redgrave and Harrison in Camelot, but i totally have a problem with the "Who the hell is that?" professional voices of Ullmann & Finch in Lost Horizon. A quirk of mine, I guess.
      I so enjoyed reading what you thought of "Jean Brodie" and I'm convinced that the comments amassed here would certainly inspire someone on the fence about the film to seek it out. Great insights, all.
      Thank you for your compliments about the essay and for your enthusiasm!

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