99 minutes – Drama, Comedy, The Depression, Small towns,
Release date: 1977 (Canada), 1980 (United States)
Production companies: Fraser Films, Lancer Productions
Set in the winter of 1935 during the Depression, Max Brown (American actor Bud Cort) has just arrived in Willowgreen, Saskatchewan, a rural Canadian prairie town, to take up his first teaching job. From a big city “back east” the young urban man is fresh from college and disregarding everything about making first impressions, he comes off as distant, superior, lonely, and bewildered. His students become rebellious and he quickly realizes he has landed in a far less than ideal situation: the winter is harsher than he’s ever experienced, he’s living in the basement of the school, his wages are paltry…if and when he ever does get paid. He is drawn to Alice Field, the wife of a farmer, in a love that can lead nowhere. But slowly he and his students begin to connect, and it’s a connection that matters and lasts.
Why Shoot the Teacher? was the first of four feature films produced by Fil Fraser as part of a goal to tell western Canadian stories to Canadian audiences. It was produced with the assistance of the Canadian Film Development Corporation. Screenwriter James DeFelice won a 1978 Canadian Film Award for the film’s adapted screenplay. The film also won the Golden Reel Award for highest box-office gross revenues of $1.8 million. Some sources state Why Shoot the Teacher? made more than two million dollars. In its review, the New York Times said, in part, “it very aptly conveys a sense of Depression-era life in a small, impoverished farming community.”
Trivia: Why Shoot the Teacher? was based on the 1965 novel by Saskatchewan-born author Max Braithwaite.