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Film / School Ties

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Retroactive Recognition all over the place.

School Ties is a 1992 film about anti-Semitism in a 1950s prep school, directed by Robert Mandel and co-scripted by Dick Wolf.

The film has mostly been forgotten (outside of tolerance education classes), and is probably best known now for being the originator of an extremely obscure Family Guy homage. Despite the film's relative obscurity, it does have the distinction of being one of Brendan Fraser's first leading roles, his first dramatic leading role, and one of Matt Damon's first leading roles.

The plot concerns David Greene (Brendan Fraser), whose football skills earn him a scholarship at an extremely prestigious— and unthinkingly conservative— preparatory school in the early 1950s. David must keep his Judaism secret while he grapples with the class differences between him and his new peers.


This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: David's fate is left in the hands of a student council biased against him. However, several characters seem aware of this, David included.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: When David confronts Dillon that he knew that the latter cheated, Dillon resorts to trying to apologize and bribe David into keeping his mouth shut.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Though he was obviously Jewish from the start to the audience, David may have come across this way to his fellow students.
  • All for Nothing: David endures the bias of an Absurdly Powerful Student Council, only to learn at the last second that a prefect also knew Dillon cheated but didn't say anything to the others, putting him through the ringer for nothing. David is understandably pissed.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: David's Berserk Button.
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  • Berserk Button: David is generally a nice, polite, studious and even-tempered guy, until you make Jew jokes or threaten his friends. This is kind of scary, given that it's not unbelievable at all that David (played by an even then 6-foot-tall Brendan Fraser) is a quarterback.
  • Boarding School: Yep.
  • Call-Back/Meaningful Echo: When Dillon accuses David of cheating and David throws his anti-Semitism back in his face, Dillon admits he's been a prick but the Jewish stuff doesn't matter. At the end of the film, after Dillon tells David that in ten years "you'll still be a God-damn Jew," David retorts "and you'll still be a prick."
  • Colonel Bogey March: Used to harass David.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Sally Wheeler breaks up with David because he kept his religion a secret.
  • Diner Brawl: David gets into one with some motorcycle punks at the start of the film, which serves as an Establishing Character Moment for him.
  • Dirty Coward: The prep school boys, big time. They're used to hiding behind mommy and daddy's big money and big name, rather than face their problems head-on. They also resort to passive-aggressive insults and pranks rather than insult someone to their face. The biggest instance is when David finds a swatstika in his room, and no one comes forward when he issues a public challenge to the culprit.
  • Elaborate University High: St. Matthew's certainly qualifies. Lampshaded by David as he's driven through it for the first time.
    David: Jesus Christ, this is a high school?!
    Coach: It's your high school now.
  • The '50s: Yes indeed.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Richard "McGoo" Collins is an anti-Semitic Jerkass who picks on David the most once everyone finds out the latter is Jewish, who happens to wear glasses.
  • Greedy Jew: Jokes are made to this extent in David's presence; he tries to ignore them with middling success. Given he's also the Token Working-Class student, it makes even less sense. Not that bigotry ever needs to make sense, as many real minorities will tell you.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Dillon hates David before he even learns he's Jewish because he's jealous of him for "stealing" his spot as a football quarterback, and his girl.
  • Honor Before Reason: Comes up a bit.
    • David feels honor-bound to answer every insult with a fight, which other characters call him out on. They know how foolish it is for him to jeopardize his one chance to get into Harvard because some schmuck mouthed off.
    • The history teacher who insists on making the cheater come forward or fail the entire class, rather than just throw out the old final exam and make a new one. He claims that since someone in his class broke the honor code, the entire class's honor (and his) is impugned by association until the cheater comes forward.
  • Irony: The class claims Dillon couldn't have cheated since "he had no reason to" due to coming from a Harvard legacy family while David just arrived this year, then proceed to explain they "have" to get into the Ivy League colleges their parents went to; completely oblivious to how they just spelled out why Dillon had more reason to cheat than David.
  • Insult Backfire: The ending
    Charlie: You know something? I'm still gonna get into Harvard. And in 10 years no one will remember any of this. But you'll still be a goddamn Jew.
    David: And you'll still be a prick.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: St. Matthew's is a feeder school for the Ivy League, and a few characters are mentioned to be multi-generational legacies at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
  • Jerkass Realization: Chris Reece, David's roommate, who tries to justify his anti-Semitism when he first learns David's Jewish, but then realizes how wrong he's been when David explains why he didn't tell him.
  • Karma Houdini: McGoo and all the other boys who bullied David get off scot-free.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Sally dumps David when she learns he's Jewish. She claims it's to avoid this, but it's clear to the audience she's anti-Semetic too.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: David Greene is the gentlest, most understanding boy you'll ever meet until you make fun of him for being Jewish.
  • One-Gender School: The Massachusetts prep school where most of the film takes place.
  • The One Who Made It Out: David is the only person (and Jew) in his working-class town to get a scholarship to a feeder school that'll guarantee Harvard. His father and coach often stress for him not to get into fights (or reveal he's Jewish) to mess it up.
    David's Dad: Sure, I've gotten into fights, but no one ever handed me, Harvard.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: David is one of the few working-class students among his rich, privileged classmates, which is another divide between him and them.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The whole idea of the film here is "the bad guys are anti-Semitic", often to the point of violence.
    • Played with regarding Dillon. Before anyone learns David is Jewish, Dillon says he wouldn't care if he went to a school filled with "Jews and Commies," which is a step-up from most other students. It's also made clear he already hated David for his football fame and for wooing his girlfriend, and just outed him to spite him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Headmaster Dr. Bartram appears to be so. He calls out both David and Van Kelt for not reporting Dillion’s cheating sooner but absolves them. In comparison to the students, he appears to be a nice guy.
  • Sadist Teacher: Most of the teachers are pretty strict but the substitute French teacher, Mr. Cleary, takes the cake.
  • The Scapegoat: The Absurdly Powerful Student Council turns David in partly due to Anti-Semitism, partly just to cover for their friend Dillon. They consider David an outsider since he's a working-class scholarship recipient who just arrived this year, while they're all of the same socioeconomic class and have been friends for years. Before the blame was put on David, they also started blaming Jack Connors as the one who cheated.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Collins's nickname is most likely from Mr. Magoo, the joke being that he wears glasses and Mr. Magoo is blind without them (and refuses to wear them).
    • Collins's lackey Smith imitates The Shadow, dressing up in a fedora and improvised cloak (blanket) and saying his catchphrase.
  • We Used to Be Friends: David Greene and Charlie Dillon start out as friends, but by the end of the movie their friendship has all but deteriorated caused by the latter being Driven by Envy and his anti-semitism.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    Sally: My friends...I just...they keep pestering me and just...all they can say is "What's it like to kiss a Jew? Does his..."
    David: Go on.
    Sally: "Does his nose get in the way?"


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