SCHOOL TIES, Andrew Lowery, 1992. (c) Paramount Pictures.
SCHOOL TIES, Andrew Lowery, 1992. (c) Paramount Pictures.

There’s not a whole lot to be said about McGivern, better known to the characters as “Mack”, but he is nonetheless, an interesting enough character to mention. Mack is one of the supporting characters and friend to the guys at St. Matt’s. Mack is unable to play football, because, as Dillon puts it, he’s “too frail”. He manages the football team and because of his hilarious personality, he has the respect and loyalty of the student body.

Ok, so I would suppose he’s just another archetypal class clown character, would I not? Except that he really isn’t. You see behind the constant joking around, Mack is the most neurotic character of the bunch. In fact, far too neurotic to make a good WASP. A 5th generation Princeton legacy, Mack is just about as blue blooded as Dillon, but nobody told them that part of the preppy, WASP’y way of life is that one is to, at least appear, to have absolutely no neurosis. In the Old Boys’ world, everything from sipping the next gin & tonic at the country club to testifying before the Senate Finance Committee as to how you did not siphon funds from your NPO out to Geneva, must be done with the illusion of unrelenting nonchalance.

So why didn’t Mack get the memo?


Mack’s uncertainty about whether or not he would get in to Princeton appeared to drive him nuts, and this became particularly apparent when he was in French class. Most people who watch this movie blame the draconian Mr. Cleary for Mack’s nervous breakdown, half way into the film. Cleary and Mack started out on bad terms the first night of the year when Cleary walked in on the boys enjoying some good ol’ “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” by the Robbins.

“Whose music is that?” “No I mean the man who would purchase such swill [sic].”, Cleary quips.

The record belongs to Mack, who in his swaggering disregard, doesn’t appear to realise that Cleary is the new housemaster.

“We’re not going to bring the jungle into my house, thank you very much.” Cleary again gaffes. What was it with the 1950’s and unbridled racism anyway?

So nothing seems to be wrong, except that Mack happens to also have Cleary as his French teacher. Mr. Renard had “cut back on his teaching loads” probably because he’s an old cod and was gearing up for retirement, so we get… Cleary. Lucky Mack, huh?

Cleary wastes no time, prodding into Mack’s speaking skills at a level of French he clearly is not prepared to speak. This goes on throughout the semester until Mack fails an oral French test, having a nervous breakdown that night. He is removed by ambulance and it’s unknown what happens to him next. All we know for sure is that he’s not going to be returning.

Now, I mention that most people fancy Cleary the culprit in Mack’s woes, but I have to be a dissenting voice on this one. Mack had been showing signs of being mentally unstable since the beginning of the movie. Pale, thin, twitchy, and horribly unsure of himself, it appeared he was gearing up for some type of neurosis. NOT psychosis, but neurosis. Something probably went wrong in his genetics and he was probably not naturally as robust as his father or grandfather. What Cleary did only broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Now where did Mack go after this nervous breakdown? I don’t know, but if I had to guess, I’d say a sanitarium, a fancy term for a loony bin. But don’t dispair, non-psychotic patients don’t stay in psychiatric facilities for very long. And there are many prominent people who have spent time “in the bin” who went on to live very fulfilling, lucrative lives.

So while Mack will probably have never gone to be number 6 at Princeton, I still think he was going to be ok. He will have had, however, to formulate a new plan in life that did not depend on carrying on the McGivern line as planned.

Ah, God save you Mack.

Mack McGivern is portrayed by Andrew Lowery.


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