Based on the novel of the same title by Bel Kaufman, Up the Down Staircase concerns troubles of a beginning teacher in a tough city high school. And it is very good, almost in spite of itself.
With only one major star (Sandy Dennis) and virtually a single setting, this pic is nevertheless thoroughly cinematic and completely engrossing. This is mainly because it is well acted, carefully scripted and directed and finely photographed. Director Robert Mulligan has for the most part avoided sentimentalism and presents his story honestly and directly.
As pretty young Miss Barrett, fresh from a purely theoretical college training as an English teacher, Dennis is plopped into impersonal Calvin Coolidge High School, a multi-racial institution where most of the teachers feel they are successful if they manage to keep their classrooms fairly civilized. Though many of the characters are familiar stock ones their treatment is generally successful.