Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Classic Movies About Boarding Schools

Boarding schools have provided atmospheric settings for a wide variety of films‑sentimental tales of dedicated teachers, satanic thrillers, mischievous comedies, and student revolutions. Jean Vigo’s 1933 surrealistic classic Zero for Conduct blended revolution with comedy in the story of mistreated students who rebel against a regimented boarding school run by a midget principal. British director Lindsay Anderson expanded on the same premise in his 1968 film If..., in which defiant Malcolm McDowell and fellow students gun down the school’s faculty on Speech Day (or is this massacre merely imagined by McDowell’s character?). The girls known as The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1951) were rebellious too, but never mounted a revolt since they pretty much ran the school anyway.

Convent and church-run schools have been especially prone to attracting mischief-making students, as evidenced by The Trouble With Angels with Hayley Mills and Goodbye, Children. Dedicated teachers molded mischievous youths into mature students of life in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939 and 1969) and Dead Poets Society. In contrast, schoolmaster David Hemming’s students threatened to murder him‑-like they did his predecessor‑in Unman, Wittering and Zigo. Clint Eastwood found himself in a worse situation as a virile male hiding out in a girls’ school populated by lonely, jealous females in The Beguiled.

Pamela Franklin (shown at right) entered a girl’s boarding school to investigate her sister’s suicide in the 1973 TV-movie Satan’s School for Girls.  Despite its title, it turned out to be a nicer place than the demonic school run by a witches coven in Dario Argento’s stylish Suspiria.

Many films such as Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist have been partially set in boarding schools. Below is a representative list of pre-1990 movies set in boarding schools.

Maedchun in Uniform (1931)
Zero for Conduct (aka Zero de Conduite) (1933)
Girls’ Dormitory (1936)
Housemaster (1938)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Tom Brown’s School Days (aka Adventures at Rugby) (1940)
The Happy Years (1950)
The Browning Version (1951)
Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951)
Her Twelve Men (1954)
The Belles of St. Trinians (1954)
Les Diaboliques (aka Diabolique; The Fiends) (1955)
Tea and Sympathy (1956)
The Ladies’ Man (1961)
13 Frightened Girls (1963)
The Trouble With Angels (1966)
If... (1968)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
The House That Screamed (aka The Boarding School) (1969)
Walk a Crooked Path (1969)
The Beguiled (1971)
Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971)
Child’s Play (1972)
Satan’s School for Girls (1973 TVM)
Our Time (aka Death of Her Innocence) (1974)
Suspiria (1976)
Boarding School (aka The Passion Flower Hotel) (1977)
Deadly Lessons (1983 TVM)
Goodbye, Children (aka Au Revoir, Les Enfants) (1988)
Dead Poets Society (1989)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.


  1. ... and then there is Girls Town (1959) with Mamie Van Doren who is sent to a boarding school for "bad" girls.

  2. Ooh - I think you missed my other Pamela Franklin favorite - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Anything with Miss Franklin gets a thumbs up from me.

  3. Don't forget the many film adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess.

  4. I never realized there were so many movies about boarding schools!

  5. Great list! A couple more I can think of off the top of my head are Vice Versa (1948) and Finishing School (1934), starring Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers. There were a few in the '90s, too, like School Ties.

  6. Great additions by all! I omitted movies made after the 1980s since this post focused on classic films.

  7. You can find prehistoric "mean girls" in 1934s "Finishing School" with a fun cast including Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers.

    Thanks for reminding me of "The Happy Years", a little charmer that I wouldn't have expected from Wild Bill Wellman.

  8. I'm looking for a movie or possibly a series of movies similar to St Trinians, but set in a boys boarding school. I recall a bookie's son pretending to be a foreign prince so he could attend the school. It's black and white.

  9. Is there an original Wild Child film in the 80’s-90’s

  10. The Chocolate War (1988)
    Though not set at a boarding school, it takes place at a parochial school, and it might offer the right atmosphere to make this list.