Monday, April 26, 2010

"Lean on Me": another 80s WB movie about inner city schools: a big boost to Morgan Freeman's career

Another 80’s movie about inner city schools, also from Warner Brothers, not getting quite as much attention today, is “Lean on Me”, directed by John G. Avidsen. The famous song by that title (in its rap instantiation) as well as other spirituals, like “Everybody Is Somebody” populate the story about a tyrannical principal, Joe Clark, who rehabilitates Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ.

Clark is rehired after the school is threatened by state takeover because of low test scores on basic schools. The film, from 1989, certainly anticipates the politics of “no child left behind”.

Freeman is on fire here, anticipating his acting style in later movies (like “Seven”). Clark fires a chorus teacher, and then suspends a football coach (also English teacher) on impulse. Later, he gets arrested for breaking the fire code by chaining the school doors (years before Va Tech) to keep out the drug dealers. But by then the kids are behind him, and demonstrate to get him out of jail. (Okay, he didn’t follow his own advice, “stay out of jail”). The kids see him as a father figure, one who balances the need to achieve as an individual with the need to belong to family and group.

The film is readily available for DVD rental or instant play on Netflix.

Trailer from “Black Wizard Entertainment” on YouTube.

Picture: Downtown Newark NJ from Amtrak; I worked in downtown Newark for Univac at Public Service in the fall of 1972.

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