Horror in the Classroom
The classroom is ripe for drama, there have been movies about teachers inspiring troubled kids, there are dramas about teachers having inappropriate relationships with students as well as students having crushes on teachers and then there are movies such as "The Violation of Sarah McDavid". Movies such as "The Violation of Sarah McDavid" take facts and then build a storyline around them, so here we have a movie which highlights the dangers teachers are in in their classroom but builds a drama about a Principal wanting to hush things up in order to protect the school and his career. What this means it that "The Violation of Sarah McDavid" whilst a movie which has its uncomfortable scenes is more about the drama than the fact of life in the classroom.
After a few years of working as a substitute teacher Sarah McDavid (Patty Duke - Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure) finds herself a full time job at the Benjamin Harris High School when the previous teacher had an accident. Whilst it is a tough school with a battle going on between some of the teachers and Principal Keys (Ned Beatty - Superman II) Sarah fits in and does a good job of getting the most out of her class. That is until one afternoon after class she is raped in her classroom by a young man who sneaked in. When she goes to Keys rather than taking her to the police he tries to dissuade her not to go and even has her sent to his own doctor as he doesn't want the school to get a bad rep.
There is something very curious about watching "The Violation of Sarah McDavid" because you know what is coming, you are in fact waiting for the rape scene to come not out of some perverse want to watch but because you know it is there. But before we get there we get quite a bit of build up as it establishes how Sarah is a popular teacher, getting the most out of her class through a reward system and offers of free pizza. We also get to see issues in the school from young intruders getting in and how Principal Keys is more concerned with keeping any trouble in house in order to protect the schools rep and his career. It does a very good job of putting all the pieces in place, right down to why the window in the classroom door was boarded up but you are almost half way in before what you know is coming comes and is an uncomfortable scene without the need for being excessively graphic.
Once we get the rape scene out of the way is when "The Violation of Sarah McDavid" starts to get interesting as we see how Keys and his secretary try to cover everything up. I say interesting because this is when it departs from realism to the skulduggery of Keys to protect himself and the school from the event, twisting things like a devious politician. We also see how the rape not only affects Sarah but also her boyfriend Eddie. How this all ends up, well to be honest this is a TV movie and so it shouldn't be too surprising but it manages to regain focus on the realism before it finally ends.
As for the acting well Patty Duke is easy to like as Sarah, almost loveable in her naivety in wanting to make a difference in the kid's lives and in her belief in Dr. Keys handling things. And Ned Beatty turns in a surprising performance as Keys, making him slimy like a politician on the electoral trail. Plus for the sharp eyed there is Ally Sheedy and Eric Stoltz as a couple of students.
What this all boils down to is that "The Violation of Sarah McDavid" is a good movie which takes facts and then builds an unsettling but also entertaining drama around them. And whilst now over 30 years old it is surprisingly effective even if it is visually dated.