By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Not a good job.
If you hate your job then watching the escapades of Max Brown (Bud Cort) dealing with his should make you feel a lot better about yours, or even lucky. The setting is 1935 and Max has traveled to an isolated farming community in Saskatchewan Canada in order to live out his dream of being a school teacher. The problem is that he must live in the dingy basement of the school that has no running water and an outhouse that gets regularly overturned by the rowdy school children, sometimes with Max in it, and he is only paid $20 dollars a month for his efforts, which even back then was a paltry amount. What is worse is that the district can’t even afford to pay him so instead gives him promissory notes and forces him to be dependent on the generosity of the townspeople for his food. Since he had to borrow money for his train ride up there he is unable to go back and forced to spend the harsh Canadian winter all alone while dealing with difficult students and indifferent parents and adults.
Cort really shines. The fact that through all his diversity he still remains civil and upbeat makes the character quite appealing even though he does evolve and at times compromises from his initial ideals. The best example of this is when he eventually, despite his initial reluctance, uses the strap on one of the older bigger students while the rest of the school children watch through the school windows. Although Cort is best known for his starring role in Harold and Maude I’d actually say this is his best all-around performance.
Samantha Eggar another under-appreciated and underused performer is terrific in support as Alice Field a woman transplanted from England who like with Max finds herself alienated and unconditioned to the harsh climate. She also has a really amusing line when she states “Canada is a nice country…sometimes…in the spring.”
Filmed on-location in the tiny town of Hanna, Alberta the sprawling wheat fields create a tremendous sense of isolation as well as a distinctive sense of natural beauty. The story is filmed during all three seasons, which makes the viewer feel like they are battling the rigorous Nordic climate right alongside Max. One of the funniest moments is when the word ‘Spring’ is flashed on the screen while a raging blizzard goes on behind it making Canada one of the few places that can make Minnesota, where I am originally from, seem like a mild climate.
The film is wonderfully vivid and creates a rich multi-textured tapestry of life on the prairie. By keeping everything on a realistic level it helps recreate what life must have been like for a lot of rural school teachers during the period, which is what makes it so fascinating. The film’s faded washed-out color and archaic low budget technical approach only helps to accentuate the look and feel of the period. There are shades of Wake in Fright here that also dealt with a man teaching school in an isolated school house while battling the elements and I found it interesting to note that Ted Kotcheff who was the director of that film was listed as a production consultant on this one.
My only complaint about the film was the misleading title. There is no shooting of any kind of the teacher, or even any talk of it. Why they came up with that title, which is based on the book with the same title is a mystery. Unfortunately it may give some people the idea that this is a violent film when nothing could be further from the truth and may turn-off potential viewers from enjoying this endearing slice-of-life comedy/drama.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: June 23, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Studio: Lancer Productions Limited
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube