Culture

The Classic Formula of 'Cracks'

"Cracks," based on the novel by Sheila Kohler, should receive a warm welcome when it finally debuts stateside this weekend; everyone loves films (and books) set in all-girls academies, because we know we're guaranteed a generous helping of at least one of the following:

1. Lesbianism;
2. Murder or suicide;
3. Romance and/or rivalry with a teacher.

The only other variable is the length of the skirts (a factor apparently determined by the economy). Anyhow, here's a breakdown of how a few classic girls' school movies rate on this scale:

"The Children's Hour" (1961, adapted from the play by Lillian Hellman) meets all the criteria of the subgenre -- in fact, may have invented it. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine play two headmistresses who have been accused of erasing each other's chalkboards ... if you know what I mean. Even so, they're nearly upstaged by the sheer nastiness of the schoolgirl squabbles going on in the background.

"Therese and Isabelle" (1967, based on the novel by Violette Leduc) may be disappointingly murder-free, but it compensates for that with the feverish intensity of its lesbianism. Is this a quintessential sexual discovery tale, or lurid pulp fiction? In the late '60s there really was no difference, and anyway you have to admire the courage it took to linger on these two girls and their tormented feelings for each other for the length of an entire feature film.

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"  (1969, based on Muriel Spark's novel) will bore anyone looking for cheap thrills, but drama junkies out there will appreciate the nuance. Maggie Smith – in her prime, as indicated by the Academy Award she won for the role – cheerfully abuses her position as mentor to a gaggle of girls, inspiring them to reach for the stars while simultaneously twisting them to her purposes.

The girl-on-girl action in "Suspiria" (1977) is mainly just suggested – one look at the ballet academy's startlingly butch instructor, played by Joan Bennett, tells all. Fortunately there are plenty of spectacularly gruesome murders to fill the void, and an impressive student/teacher conference that ends in a fatal stabbing. "Suspiria" is also notable for having the best trailer ever committed to celluloid:

Clearly some sort of official rating system should be invented for these movies; if our dutiful SIG readers will continue this list in the comments, I'll start putting together a chart so that future generations of murderous, lustful schoolgirls will know their history.

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