Lean on Me (1989) – Movie Review (on Amazon)


LEAN ON ME, Morgan Freeman, 1989. ©Warner Brothers

By Melissa Antoinette Garza


LEAN ON ME (1989) is like comfort food for me.  If I’m upset, down, suffering from insomnia or just in need of a feel-good film, Principal Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) always puts a smile on my face.

As there may be some too young to remember this classic, go buy it.  It’s on AMAZON for $6.99.  It’s well worth the purchase.  Without question, it’s one of my favorite films and has the most re-watch value of any movie, next to 12 ANGRY MEN (1957).

LEAN ON ME is based on a true story of one of the greatest comebacks of any high-school ever.  In 1967, Joe Clark was a teacher who was transferred out of Eastside High by the rest of the teachers who were sick of trying to negotiate.  Clark warned them if they bowed down for dollars, that the school would go to hell; and he was right.

One of the few men always to have Clark’s back was Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume).  Even in ’67 he was the one to tell Clark about the secret meeting with the teachers planning to oust him.  Twenty years later, it was Dr. Napier who suggested to bring Clark back as Eastside High’s principal to avoid the state taking over the school.


In all of New Jersey, Eastside was rated the lowest and only around 30% could pass the basic skills test.  The mayor Don Bottman (Alan North) up for reelection, with great hesitation, agrees to bring Clark on.  When Clark returns, the violence, drugs, and overall vandalism of the school saddens him and makes him angry.

On his first day, he throws out the 300 students known to be miscreants.  The parents hold an afterschool meeting that Clark agrees to attend.  The parents of the expelled kids are angry and start to yell at him, but Clark remains cool and brazenly tells them the score.  He does go back on his word for one kid.  A freshman, Thomas Sams (Jermaine ‘Huggy’ Hopkins) begs him the next day for another chance.  After taking Sams up to the top of the building, and telling him that doing crack was the same as jumping off the room, he relents and lets Thomas back as long as he gets on the right path.  Sams promises to do so and for the most part keeps his promise.  He gets off the drugs; and when a dealer sneaks into the school, Tommy pushes a table in front of him to stop him from getting away.

Now as great as Clark is, he isn’t perfect.  He is so focused on saving the school that his attitude towards other teachers and his vice principal Ms. Levias (Beverly Todd) is downright rude.  More than that, one of the parents, Leonna Barrett (Lynne Thigpen) irritated at the meeting goes to the mayor and threatens to get enough votes to get him out of office, if he doesn’t get Clark thrown out.


Bottman relents and decides to set Clark up with the fire chief.  He allots enough time for Clark to get the students ready for the exam but then plans to catch him with the doors chained up.  Clark chained them for safety but they’re against fire code.

The school board attorney Mr. Rosenberg (Ethan Phillips) overhears the plan and informs Mr. Clark and Dr. Napier.  They attempt to make plans to hide the chains, but Clark continues to put the students well-being above anyone else’s including his own.  In turn, the students prosper and grow under his leadership and more-so have his back when the mayor and Leonna try to take him down.

This film has it all!  It’s inspirational.  It’s fun.  It has some of the greatest dialogue ever written. I quote it all the time, in fact yesterday my best friend and I were quoting it back-and-forth.   I don’t know anyone who dislikes this film and if they do, that’s on them and not this movie.

Great performances all around.  I especially love Robert Guillaume.  He’s just such a brilliant performer.  Freeman is fantastic in the lead, but when Freeman goes head-to-head against Guillaume in a brief disagreement it’s amazing! I love it.

LEAN ON ME  is not only a must-see, but a must-see again and again and again.  Also check out, Joe Clark’s biography.  I read it a few years ago and it was awesome.



Scared Stiff Rating: 10/10