Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Teacher (1974)

Directed by Howard Avedis
Starring Angel Tompkins, Jay North, Anthony James
Rated R

“She Corrupted the Youthful Morality of an Entire School!”

That’s the more-than-a-little-overblown tagline of this modest slice of mid-seventies exploitative entertainment. Written and directed by Howard Avedis (listed as “Hikmet” in the credits), responsible for a number of similar sex-and-violence-driven titles of the era, The Teacher presents a fantasy familiar to any schoolboy who ever found himself “hot for teacher.” And -- following the formula of many of these low-budgeted drive-in flicks -- such a fantasy isn’t allowed to play out without consequence.

We begin with the exceedingly creepy Ralph, played by Anthony James, a character-actor who shows up in a lot of films and TV shows of the ’70s and ’80s where thanks to his not-so-good-looks he generally gets cast as a villain. Ralph, alone on the top floor of an abandoned warehouse, grins while crouching over a red coffin. He runs downstairs, hops in a white hearse, then drives to the high school as the students are leaving, their summer vacation having begun.

Ralph follows one of the teachers, Diane Marshall (played by the lovely Angel Tompkins), as she drives her blue Corvette. Eventually he’s back on the top floor of the warehouse, watching through a pair of binoculars as Diane sunbathes topless on her boat on the neighboring lake.

Ralph is weird all right. And a voyeur. But I guess we are, too. Later we learn Ralph has spent time at a VA hospital, the implication being he’s veteran whose returned home with some variety of mental instability.

Ralph’s brother, Lou (Rudy Herrera, Jr.), and his friend, Sean arrive at the warehouse. Sean is played by a perpetually nervous-looking Jay North, the former child actor who starred as Dennis on the Dennis the Menace TV series. They scamper up to the building’s top floor, from which Ralph appears to have disappeared.

Soon they are watching pretty Mrs. Marshall with Ralph’s binoculars, retrieived from the coffin where a rifle, knife, and other items are stored. Amid their sight-seeing, Lou tells Sean that Mrs. Marshall has been “horny ever since her old man left her,” and that she likes Sean, something the latter has a hard time believing.

Suddenly Ralph shows up bearing a large knife, scaring the pair. And just as suddenly, Lou surprisingly falls off the ledge and to his death.

Ralph immediately -- and wrongly -- accuses Sean of causing the accident, which he strenously denies. They tussle a bit, then Sean runs home to his parents, Joe (Med Flory) and Alice (Marlene Schmidt, director Avedis’ wife who regularly appeared in his films), retiring to his bedroom where he can be freaked out alone without having to hear their bickering.

Following a warning from Ralph through his bedroom window, Sheriff Murphy (Barry Atwater) arrives to question Sean about Lou’s death. The sheriff couldn’t be less passionate while still being awake. Sean admits to having been with Lou after school, but offers no details regarding the accident. The sheriff is satisfied and leaves.

The mood quickly shifts as Sean begins his summer vacation, his last before going away to college. The boy has big plans. He’s gonna fix up his van, a project that is going to involve lots and lots of wood paneling.

Those plans eventually get sidetracked, though, as his relationship with pretty Mrs. Marshall -- who lives in the neighborhood -- develops into something more than a simple crush. Cues for this plot turn are loudly signaled, such as when Sean’s teacher invites him inside her house, and when he hesitates she assures him “I’m not going to rape you.”

It’s a predictable turn. But it takes a while, largely thanks to Sean’s reticence. Finally she coaxes him into an awkward kiss.

A little while later, after he’s admitted to her he’s never made love before, she offers to teach him. They fumble a bit more, then make sweet seventies love, although as tends to happen in these flicks, the clothes never do seem to come all of the way off.

A saxophone-laden soundtrack accompanies their lovemaking. Oh, and a miserable-looking Ralph pops by for a glimpse, too.

This scene gets replayed on Diane’s boat, again with Ralph -- in scuba gear! -- coming by for a visit.

As the film moves into the final half-hour, Diane and Sean begin to become more public with their relationship. They go out for dinner together where a couple of old ladies -- played by Katherine Cassavetes (director John Cassavetes’ mother) and Lady Rowlands (mother of Gena, wife of John C. and star in many of his films) -- express distaste at the display.

Their fun continues out to the car, where they are just about to enjoy a drunken drive home when you-know-who arrives. Sean and Ralph scuffle...

...but again, nothing comes of it.

Crazy Ralph is getting majorly pissed. His brother is dead. Sean is making it with Mrs. Marshall. And he has to wear that unattractive yellow jacket everywhere he goes. Never mind the hearse (which never does get explained, by the way).

Understandable, then, why Ralph is so down in the dumps.

Sean and Diane go back to his house where Sean tells his parents the truth about Lou’s death and Ralph’s erratic behavior. They plan to go meet with Alice’s brother, a lawyer, the next day. As they leave, Sean’s father makes him promise to stay in the house until they return.

Of course, moments after they leave, temptation to disobey the order arrives on a tenspeed.

What will happen? Will the creepy Ralph finally cause genuine harm? And what about Diane’s estranged husband -- might he reenter the picture?

The last act does provide a bit of suspense, though overall it continues in the same, somewhat sluggishly-paced vein as does the rest of the film.

The Teacher does have a few things going for it, even if it turns out the teacher only corrupts one dude and not the entire school. Angel Tompkins’ way-above-average hotness is one. Anthony James’ portrayal of Ralph is effective, too. And Jay North does a good job as well as the John Boy Walton-ish, young and innocent Sean.

Still, even if the film does have some historical value in the way it prefigures other, similar coming-of-age titles like Private Lessons, My Tutor, and few others, there ultimately isn’t a heckuva lot that is too memorable here.

Incidentally, check out the last half-hour of Episode 46 of the Movies About Girls podcast to find out what Ken & Mike Demonik thought of this here opus.

- Triple S

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