“She Corrupted The Youthful Morality of an Entire School!” the tagline for the 1974 film The Teacher screams out.
In fact, that’s probably one of the most deceptive taglines in the history of film advertising. However, we shouldn’t be surprised that it was used. Like The Young Graduates, The Teacher was produced by Crown International Pictures. Crown International was all about getting people to buy tickets and they probably figured that more people would pay to see a movie about a teacher corrupting “an entire school” than they would for a film about a 28 year-old teacher having an affair with one (and only one) 18 year-old who has recently graduated high school.
The relationship is between Diane (Angel Tompkins) and Sean (Jay North). Diane lives next door to Sean’s family. She’s married to a man who spends most of his time on the road, racing motorcycles and only occasionally calling his wife. Diane is a teacher but we only briefly see her standing outside of the local high school. While Sean admits that he has always had a crush on her and, at the start of the movie, even spies on her while she’s sunbathing, it’s never made clear whether or not Sean was ever actually in any of her classes. In fact, the only thing controversial about their eventual relationship is that there’s a 10 year age difference between them. But that really doesn’t seem to bother anyone, with the exception of two old women who happen to see Diane and Sean out on a date.
Teacher and Not A Student
That, of course, doesn’t mean that Diane doesn’t have anything to teach Sean. As the film’s theme song tells us, “Every boy needs a teacher, to help show him the way…”
But here’s the thing. Considering how tawdry one would naturally expect a film like The Teacher to be, it’s actually treats Diane and Sean’s relationship with a lot of sensitivity. Tompkins and North have a lot of chemistry together and both of them give natural and believable performances. In many ways, this film is a sincere attempt to explore an unlikely relationship. I’ve always felt that in almost every 70s exploitation film, there’s an art film waiting to break out. That’s certainly the case with The Teacher.
However, The Teacher isn’t just about Diane “teaching” Sean. It’s also about a guy named Ralph, who also happens to be obsessed with Diane. (When, at the start of the film, Sean is spying on Diane, little does he suspect that Ralph is spying on him.) We know Ralph is a bit off because he’s always talking to himself, he drives a hearse, and he’s played by Anthony James. You may not recognize his name but if you’re a fan of 70s and 80s exploitation cinema, you know who Anthony James is. He’s one of those very intense, very creepy-looking character actors who would always show up playing psychos and evil henchmen.
Ralph is not only obsessed with Diane but he also blames Sean for the death of his younger brother. It seems that Sean and Ralph’s brother were spying on Diane when, somehow, Ralph’s brother ended up falling to his death. (If you get the feeling that literally every male in this film appears to spend the majority of his time watching Diane — well, you’re right.) Ralph wants vengeance and, in his defense, Sean never really does seem to be that upset about the death of his best friend.
Because this film was made in the 70s, it all leads to surprisingly somber ending that will probably inspire you to reconsider any belief you may have in a benevolent God.
I have to admit that, out of all the Crown International films that I’ve recently watched, The Teacher was a favorite of mine. Watching the film — with its constantly shifting tone and it’s mix of arthouse pretension and grindhouse melodrama — is an odd experience that epitomizes everything that I love about old exploitation films.
Thank you, Crown International, for always being you.