The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Posted: December 19, 2011 in Classics
Tags: , , , , ,

The Sunday mornings of my childhood overflowed with excitement. Often I would wake up and find two documents of high importance waiting for me on the kitchen counter. Particularly thrilling were the Sunday comics that appeared in color once a week. Every seven days Calvin and Hobbes climbed to a new level, as close to 3-D as newspaper comics could get for a young lad. The second crucial document waiting for review was the freshly printed TV Guide. As we did not have cable at the time, I would flip to the back of the guide where the week’s movies were graciously listed in alphabetical order. Armed with a pen that would produce a mark just visible enough without bleeding through the page, I would circle any and every movie that I needed to own. A couple of rules: the movie had to appear on HBO, and it couldn’t be airing too late.

After careful circling, light highlighting, and perhaps a bookmarking or two, Sunday afternoon then required a phone call to Grandma and Grandpa with our weekly movie order. Diligently they would record on VHS each and every movie we requested every week, and over the years our home library expanded to quite an impressive collection. G&G’s condo community must have provided HBO to its tenants free of charge . . . I loved Grandpa Al dearly, but having survived the Great Depression, he was wonderfully cheap and certainly never would have paid for cable. After recording our (often tall) weekly order, Grandpa, a highly skilled calligrapher, would take his fancy pen and carefully write the titles of each film on the video labels. On the occasion I was at their house at the time, I would stand next to him at the dining room table and watch silently, amazed that his slightly shaky hand could produce these beautiful black letters that transformed a VHS label into a cherished piece of art.

Sadly some teachers get away from us before we learn all they have to offer. Had we more than the brief 12 years in each other’s lives, I like to believe Grandpa would have passed on to me the art and skill of calligraphy . . . I would have embraced it with gusto and put it to good use. Since I began exploring these beloved old films, I have tipped my hat to Bette Davis, bowed down before Ingrid Bergman, and far from tedious (to me, at least!) is my repeated gushing over Katharine Hepburn. Once again I reach for my “Who’s Better Than” list and, with much respect, write Dame Maggie Smith at the top in my lavish, imagined calligraphy.

Based on the novel by Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted first for the theatre before making its way to the screen. The story follows the type of teacher I wanted all educators to mimic when I was young: articulately outspoken, completely devoted to her pupils, and absolutely unyielding to conservative principles or principals. Time and again the great Maggie Smith proves that her exceptional talent is more than basic training; she moves from subtly bullheaded to uncontrollably heartbroken (and back again), all in a matter of seconds. As Miss Jean Brodie she earns her well-deserved Academy Awards during the first ten minutes of the film. In the middle of a dreamy, reminiscing monologue about the battlefields of war and a lost love, she glances at a student and demands to know “Are you thinking of doing a day’s washing?” When the confused, frightened girl assures her no, Miss Brodie points out, “You have your sleeves rolled up; roll them down at once. I won’t have to do with girls who roll up the sleeves of their blouses . . . We are civilized beings.”

A favor: read that line again, and allow your mind’s ear to hear Maggie Smith delivering it . . .

See what I mean? When you have time, Grandpa, would you mind adding her name to the list?

Academy Award for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1970):
Best Actress in a Leading Role

*** Thanks for the photos, Mom! ***

Add it to your queue.

  1. OLD FILM FAN says:

    Wow – one of your best, I love the personal story behind the story!!


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