Conrack

1974, Movie, PG, 107 mins

Review

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This is the true story of Pat Conroy (he wrote the book the film is based on), a teacher who went to a small island off the coast of South Carolina where black children were offered little in the way of education. The students' difficulty pronouncing Conroy's name resulted in the title. Voight is most sympathetic to the young people as he arrives on the island of St. Simon's, Georgia, in 1969 (used to duplicate the Carolina island where the filmmakers could not shoot, for various reasons). To the many illiterate or retarded children, Voigt becomes a latter-day Mr. Chips. He opens their eyes to the wonders of the Great Out There: a life that includes classical music, other religions, baseball, and much more that they never dreamed existed in their insular world. At first, the kids and their parents are against Voight's methods, but they are gradually taken into his camp by his sweetness and dedication. There has to be a villain, and it's Cronyn, an official of the local school board, a strict 3 R's man and a Southerner of the old school. Cronyn arranges to have Voight removed; but when the idealist leaves, it is clear that his influence will be lasting. Winfield is excellent as an island resident whom everyone thinks is mad. Ritt was the ultimate New York actor as a young man but in later years fell in love with the South and has spent many happy films below the Mason-Dixon line (SOUNDER, NORMA RAE, HOMBRE, and HUD). As a former Group Theatre actor, he understands the problems of actors and has been able to elicit outstanding performances from people one would not expect depth from. CONRACK did not do the kind of box office business the studio had expected. Surely it had nothing to do with the quality of the work, and the consensus was that the paying customers didn't much care for a film that might have been made in 1950. leave a comment

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