(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that examines films that are a little less well-known, underrated, or simply overlooked. This week, we visit a few prestigious boys’ schools so you won’t shudder at the thought of vile cretins emerging into the world.
Private schools for boys, which are normally private and in some cases deeply religious, have received a poor name lately due to the deplorable actions taken by their pupils and alumni. The truth is that privatised schools typically perform similarly to their public counterparts, but we always hear loudest about the worst ones. In an effort to refute that, I’d want to draw attention to some of the less nefarious characters that can be found in the nation’s boys schools. Naturally, because this is a movie site, I’ll only be focusing on exclusive schools in films.
Class (1983), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), and School Ties (1992) are some of the most well-known, and although one of those movies is undoubtedly the superior one, all three are memorable and well worth seeing (again). Others, though, represent boys and young men we may be proud of but are significantly less well-known while being worth your time for a variety of reasons. What say I share a few with you then?
Here are six movies about boys in school that range from good to great and that you probably haven’t seen.
Tom Brown’s School Days (1951)
Tom Brown, a young student fresh to boarding school life, rapidly makes friends in his grade to assist him adjust. But not all of them are as friendly, and Tom quickly finds himself in the sights of a notorious bully by the name of Flashman. The younger students respect Tom for standing up to the older kid, and they quickly follow his example in taking down Flashman.
The same themes of this timeless story are friendship, honour, and respect, yet they are all centred on a bullying-related subplot. The new headmaster wants to eradicate it from his school, but it takes Tom standing up to do so because the majority of students simply accept it (whether it’s occurring to them or others). Young Tom is being abused, berated, and even burned by the thugs, but his actions set off a rebellion that results in a fantastic montage of children turning the tables on the bullies with planned attacks and pranks. This morality tale is quite clever and well-written.
The 1857 original of Thomas Hughes’ source book has been adapted for the screen numerous times—twice for television and three times for motion pictures—and its basic ideas and plot are still just as relevant today. Bullying is a genuine problem, and private schools have a history of producing some of the most vicious young people. Although the argument could be made that Scent of a Womanwas already an unofficial remake of sorts, never mind, it’s a story that could easily be updated and redone for new American viewers.
It’s possible to stream and buy Tom Brown’s School Days on DVD.
Her Twelve Men (1954)
Jan Stewart had no prior teaching experience, but after her husband’s passing, she finds herself taking a position as the school’s first female instructor. At first, the lads think of her as a “creep,” but what begins as a conflict between them ends up teaching everyone a valuable lesson.
The plot follows the anticipated pattern with the teacher and student’s disagreement being resolved through mutual respect and affection, but there is a variation in this instance because there is now a female teacher (played by Greer Garson). It doesn’t seem like it should be a problem, but in the 1950s? Madness in a school for boys only! These were simpler times, allowing the movie to concentrate on morals, societal standards, and what it takes to be a great teacher instead of the sexual tension or hijinks that would likely occur in a modern adaptation of the story.
The drawback of its 1950s setting is that it still displays some form of traditional misogyny. It’s not surprising that Jan’s thoughts about getting married to powerful men are turning into reality as one of the boy’s very affluent fathers shows up. Will she be seduced by his good looks and wealth? Will she be duped by the stolid male teacher who wasn’t too thrilled on her presence, or will she fall for him? She must fall in love with one of them in either case. She must. Has. To.
The book Her Twelve Men is not yet available.
Heaven Help Us (1985)
Shy teenager Michael Dunn is enrolled in a Catholic prep school for boys and has been sent to live with relatives. He is a bright student who makes some wild friends and even meets a nice girl working at a neighbouring diner. However, when the outside world continues to hit him, he decides to respond by throwing his own punch.
For all intents and purposes, this 1980s period comedy appears to be another teen sex comedy. Although the guys are horndogs and pranksters battling against the limitations of a religious institution in the 1950s, there are also some rather serious themes present. The circumstances Michael and his sister are in are terrible, the store girl is slowly going through a tragedy of her own, and the use of corporal punishment by one of the school’s teachers is not something to take lightly.
Young Michael has a heart and a smouldering rage, which Andrew McCarthy, the quietest member of the Brat Pack, discovers, while three of his troublemaking mates arrive thanks to Kevin Dillon, Patrick Dempsey, and Stephen Geoffreys. Legends like Donald Sutherland, John Heard, and Wallace Shawn lend weight to the numerous teachers, while the unappreciated Mary Stuart Masterson as the girl who connects with Michael. This former Catholic school teacher always smiles after watching this humorous, charming, raucous, and ultimately triumphant movie.
You can purchase the DVD and stream Heaven Help Us.
Toy Soldiers (1991)
The situation appears bleak when highly armed men seize control of a boarding school full of troublemakers with prominent and wealthy parents. Nobody is anticipating, however, the tenacity and inventiveness of young punks who defy terrorism.
Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, and Keith Coogan are among the raucous teenagers who find themselves on the other end of a machine gun and are forced to become heroes. They all give their characters personality and vigour, and co-writers David Koepp and director Daniel Petrie Jr. give them all plenty to do. It’s something of a YA movie, but it’s also a violent, perilous, and extremely threatening action movie about a “home” invasion. The boys’ sense of devotion and honour propels their bravery, which results in an almost uproariously entertaining action movie.
This is one of my automatic watch movies when they come up when flipping through the channels. It’s a fantastic piece of dream fulfilment for adolescent lads that avoids the T&A hunt path. Even though there are no girls at the school and it is primarily a boys’ school, this makes for an exciting adventure where the youths get to play the roles of action heroes. It feels like a remake is long overdue, and because ladies are just as capable of kicking ass as boys, I’d love to see it take place at an all-female school this time.
Blu-ray/DVD and streaming versions of Toy Soldiers are both accessible.
The Emperor’s Club (2002)
At a boys’ academy, Prof. Hundert is an enthusiastic teacher beginning a new school year. However, the entrance of a new pupil causes a small amount of chaos in the hallways. The son of a U.S. senator, Sedgewick Bell, is a spoilt brat more prone to tantrums than study sessions, but Hundert’s confidence in the young man just might be enough to change him.
Despite being based on a short story by Ethan Canin, Dead Poet’s Society certainly served as inspiration for the movie. Although it falls short of that movie’s emotional impact and strength, it succeeds in creating some compelling drama and surprising plot twists that render its idealistic tone cynical. It returns to find goodness in the institution of education, but its straightforward assessment of the fact that far too many individuals lie and cheat in order to achieve their goals casts a shadow over the light. (For evidence of cheating, one only needs to look at the close-up shots of Kline rowing a nearby river when it’s obvious the water is still and he’s most likely sitting on a dock.)
A talented and recognisable cast adds to the enjoyment of this superb movie. In his portrayal of Hundert, Kevin Kline gives the character genuine morality and compassion. Meanwhile, actors like Emile Hirsch, Jesse Eisenberg, and Paul Dano bring his students to life with enthusiasm. In addition, there are cameos by Edward Herrmann, Rob Morrow, and Embeth Davidtz. Twenty-five years in the future, Patrick Dempsey plays the older Eisenberg. film magic
There is a DVD and streaming version of The Emperor’s Club.
For a shy young man in South Africa in 1990, leaving for an elite boys’ institution is difficult enough. However, things are slightly made worse when his peers catch a glimpse of his little pecker and undropped balls. From that point forward, young John is dubbed “Spud,” but that won’t be his only obstacle in his quest to blend in, stand out, and make it through the academic year.
The coming-of-age movie is a distinct subgenre that is frequently characterised by lessons learned from failures and victories, and Spud follows this pattern. Despite being a PG film (in spirit), it never goes down the path of a crude or cruel joke because of our hero’s “private” condition. Instead, Spud makes friends, bonds with an alcoholic instructor (the always welcome John Cleese), and even finds himself in the heart of a nearly love triangle throughout the ups and downs of the year. It’s a heartwarming viewing for anyone despite all the shenanigans, disputes, and perhaps a little bit of dream fulfilment.
The movie is based on the first book in a well-known series of the same name, and two cinematic sequels have since explored Spud’s second and third years of school. The cast is back, and although I haven’t seen either of them, they seem to continue the teen’s coming of maturity in both pleasant and obvious ways. Numerous times previously, both better and worse, these beats have been executed, but Spud (and likely its successors and source works) succeeds in its honesty.
Streaming of Spud is available.
More of the greatest movies you’ve never seen are discussed here.