Up the Down Staircase (1967) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –

May 9, 2017, was Teacher Appreciation Day. It is actually very miraculous how much the school system has an impact on people. Teachers sometimes struggle with helping students because either the students do not care about their education, or because they genuinely have trouble learning. Nevertheless, teachers actually do leave a powerful impression on students, and the power of education can prepare anyone to endure the trials and tribulations that life throws at them. Some of the greatest motion pictures actually involve school settings, such as Dead Poets Society (1989), which starred the late Robin Williams. Up the Down Staircase is actually a very interesting film because it reveals the power of learning English literature while also honoring the English teachers who yearn to empower young minds.

A Toast

Sandy Dennis is phenomenal as the English teacher Sylvia Barrett. Dennis had the honor of bringing a contemporary character to life in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and she made this film a year after winning the Oscar for her supporting role as Honey. This performance as an English teacher is actually very underrated because this film failed to receive acknowledgement from the Academy. Dennis might not have achieved the fame as some of her co-stars, like Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor, but she still managed to bring another contemporary character to life since the original novel was very popular at that time.

Beer Two

Like a lot of high school drama films, this film unfortunately displays the chaos and confusion that often characterize the worst four years of anyone’s life. The kids are very rambunctious and display hardly any respect for Ms. Barrett’s personal efforts. This film was very tough to watch especially since there is so much rude and inappropriate behavior in the high school English classroom. The film does well at revealing the importance of English as an academic subject, but it also showcases the bleakness of teenage drama.


Even though Up the Down Staircase was a very popular novel during the 1960s, it is a bit of a shame that both the original novel and its film adaptation have faded into obscurity. Many people are familiar with other popular films made during that decade, like Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965). Maybe part of the reason why this film did not achieve that much fame is because of its realistic depiction of high school that many film audiences might not want to sit through. Even with its flaws, Up the Down Staircase still honors the power of teaching as a profession, and how education leaves a lasting impression on students. So on every year in the month of May, celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day. Carpe Diem!

Up the Down Staircase (1967) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Sandy Dennis mentions a literary classic (like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

Take a Drink: whenever Sandy Dennis has to raise her voice in order to maintain control of her classroom

Drink a Shot: whenever the teenagers act like teenagers

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!