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J. Lee Thompson
American Anna Vorontosov teaches in a rural school on New Zealand's North Island. Her class of younger students is comprised largely of Maoris. She feels that western methods are not the most appropriate in teaching her students, for who concepts such as "see Jane run" have no cultural context. She wants her students to "feel", from love to pain to joy, and as such her classes are outwardly disorganized and chaotic. Her livelihood is potentially threatened with the arrival of a new senior inspector of primary schools, a Brit name William Abercrombie. To make her classes seem more organized to Abercrombie, Anna enlists the help of one of the older students, fifteen year old Maori, Whareparita. Anna's students, including Whareparita, see her as their guardian angel. Anna's burgeoning friendship with Whareparita may show her that although she has her students' best interests at heart, she may also not fully understand the culture within which she now lives. Teaching is her life, which ... Written by
Shirley MacLaine wrote that she and Laurence Harvey did not like each other. She found him pompous and insensitive. Once right before the director shouted "action", Harvey leaned toward her, scrutinized her left cheek and asked "What on earth is that?" and acted as though she had a hickey the size of Mount Fuji. Just when she was about to ask for a mirror, Harvey said "Never mind, they'll never notice, it's not your face you should be concerned about". MacLaine did a slow burn and went on with the scene. The next day they were to film a love scene. Before it, MacLaine ate a clove of raw garlic. "That settled his hash", she wrote. See more »
Shirley MacLaine is Anna, a spinster schoolteacher, American born but teaching Maori children in New Zealand. She is devoted to her work and loves the children.
Two men come into her life. One is a drunkard (Laurence Harvey) who comes on strong, though Anna resists him, wanting to wait until marriage to have sex. The other (Jack Hawkins) is an administrator at the school, married but separated from his wife. Both men are in love with her.
Part of the story concerns her assistant, Whareparita, who becomes pregnant with twins, and will not reveal the identity of the father. The Maori tribe is happy about it and will all help to raise the children. This is very different from Anna's own ideas and culture.
The film is based on a novel, Spinster, which I haven't read. Virginity is treated here as if it's an incurable disease. Also, for a movie supposedly set in New Zealand, I didn't see much (including people) that indicated the location. No accents. I guess Hollywood thought it was interchangeable with England.
Anna does come to grips with what and who she wants finally. But it's a strange film and it's hard to warm up to the characters. It's also extremely talky. Talky is fine - I don't need action every second - but the dialogue needs to be scintillating. This wasn't.
MacLaine comes off like a scatterbrain; Harvey acts like a demented nut; and Hawkins is very serious. I would have perhaps cast someone else in Hawkins' role. It needed someone a tad younger and more charm or personality.
Disappointing though not awful, just kind of blah.
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