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Having taught in the New York City school system for 32 years and now
retired, I am quite qualified to comment on this ground-breaking film.
When it came out, few people realized how bad some of our urban schools were. The truth is that the situation is even far worse today.
This great film attempts to show the truth about our urban school centers. It depicts the complete lack of discipline as well as a totally inept and unsympathetic school administration. The latter will hide incidents to show that their school is a good one.
Glenn Ford is terrific as the idealistic teacher. Having come from the military, he soon sees that the school is worse than many army situations he has encountered.
Gang violence is prevalent. Student disruption is constant. Vic Morrow and his gang of thugs, (yes, Mayor Bloomberg, they are thugs not Transit Workers) do their best to make sure that no one learns anything and that mayhem is the general order of the day.
The scene where Richard Kiley's records are destroyed in front of him by these recalcitrants is memorable.
If our society would only realize what these schools have become and do something about it. Instead, teachers are routinely blamed. Teachers must be psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers,and parents for so many who resist learning and authority.
The film was an omen for what was to come. Sadly, we have not learned from it. Yes, we try catch phrases like cooperative learning, etc. but the fact remains that teaching cannot be done until there is effective discipline.
An A+ for what this film tries to show. Nonetheless, the worst was yet to come.
A history professor once told me, "If you want to change history,
become a historian." This statement might also apply to movie critics.
I came of age (turned 13) when I saw this movie when it was first
released in 1955. My buds and I liked the movie, not because it was a
shocker, which it was not, but because it dealt fairly realistically
with teenagers, much more so than say the old Andy Hardy series. To my
knowledge no one was really shocked by this movie. There was no big
hoopla by "concerned" citizens as there would be when Elia Kazan's
"Baby Doll" played on the same screen a few years later. And "Rock
Around The Clock" was not considered rock 'n' roll by most teens, only
a pop hit along the lines of "Sh-boom." The first record actually
considered rock 'n' roll by most teens was Chuck Berry's "Maybelline."
When my buds and I first heard it on the radio, we stopped the car and
listened intently to a new kind of teen music. That did not happen with
anything Bill Haley and the Comets put on wax. Those who say "The
Blackboard Jungle" was a shocker simply did not live through that
period of history. Some of these same critics believe that the average
family of the 50's was like the one portrayed on "Leave It To Beaver."
I knew of no family in my neighborhood that lived like the Cleavers. We
found "Rebel Without a Cause" and a somewhat neglected film "The Wild
One" to be the ones that related to our rebellious side. "The Wild
One," especially Marlon Brando's performance, was the standout film for
us teens in those days. Another later Robert Mitchum flick, "Thunder
Road," was also a movie that spoke to the teens of the period. Marlon
Brando, James Dean, and Robert Mitchum were movie role models for many
of us growing up in the turbulent 50's, not Glenn Ford or even Vic
Morrow and Sidney Poitier.
That's not to say that this movie is not worth seeing, for it is a good movie dealing in a somewhat no nonsense way with teaching rebellious and sometimes dangerous teens, who see nothing relevant in book learning and who don't want to be exposed to the higher levels of intellectual endeavors. How do you teach the unteachable? Still a challenge today in the American classroom.
Blackboard Jungle is one of the seminal films in Glenn Ford's career.
As Richard Dadier, newly minted teacher going into one of the inner
city schools in New York City, he's nervous, but full of idealism and
commitment that he can make a difference in the lives of these kids.
One of the aspects of Blackboard Jungle that is never discussed is the problem, still very much with us today, of illiteracy. For me the key to the whole story is when Ford has to get down to the level of running a movie cartoon of Jack and the Beanstalk in order to communicate with them. That's when he reaches them and also takes control of the situation in his classroom away from the school thug as graphically portrayed by Vic Morrow.
I was involved with someone for many years and his literacy level was very low. It made him angry and unable to handle the world and all the problems he had in life. He had a worse situation than the kids in The Blackboard Jungle. He was raised in a group home where they didn't care at all if you learned anything.
Blackboard Jungle is also memorable for the use of a previously recorded song by Bill Haley and the Comets that sold a few records the year earlier, but didn't set the world on fire. Director Richard Brooks heard it in young Peter Ford's collection and decided it would be his theme. Rock Around the Clock became a rock and roll institution after The Blackboard Jungle was out in theaters.
Blackboard Jungle also started another less fortunate trend. That of picking very obviously adult actors to play high school kids. A trend that has continued to this day with such shows as Beverly Hills 90210 carrying on the tradition. Capable players that they are and they certainly delivered fine performances, Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow don't look like high school kids, especially not next to Rafael Campos who was in the correct age bracket when the film was being shot.
Teacher burnout is also covered in Blackboard Jungle with Louis Calhern leading the pack of cynics Glenn Ford has as colleagues. In many ways Blackboard Jungle is the grandfather of a film like Stand and Deliver where Edward James Olmos is the dedicated math teacher of inner city kids a generation later. Other than ethnic, not too much difference between Richard Dadier and Jaime Escalante.
Richard Brooks assembled and directed a cast that made a classic that's still agonizingly relevant today.
"Blackboard Jungle" marked a turn around in films coming from
Hollywood. This was a film that dealt with a reality that movies had
not dared to touch before in the way they always wanted to sugar coat
every picture about teens in high school. The guys one sees here are
the real thing, as though taken from any high school in the inner city
of that time.
The amazing thing this high school, at the center of the action, is not typical of any other schools in that one males attended and no females are to be seen around them. By making an old male high school, Richard Brooks updated Evan Hunter's novel to show the violent nature of most of those young men that are clearly from under privileged homes, perhaps, boys whose fathers had bolted and left their women to bring up the sons they didn't want to have anything with.
The film is important in that it marked the arrival of a strong actor that would dominate the movies like no other one, Sidney Poitier. With his handsome looks, and his great screen presence, Mr. Poitier was instrumental in breaking into the main stream movies in ways others tried, but didn't make a dent. Perhaps it was in the cards that Hollywood began dealing with a reality they tried to ignore integrating their stories with Blacks that had taken a back seat to other, not so talented performers.
The film works because of the strong performances by Glenn Ford, Vic Morrow and Sidney Poitier. Also, the theme song of the film, "Rock Around the Clock" went to become an anthem for viewers that filled the theaters for the thrill of hearing it play as the film started, putting them in the right frame of mind to accept what they were going to see.
Richard Brooks is the one responsible for the adaptation and the inspired direction for the movie that still resonates because of its raw energy.
I chose to watch Blackboard Jungle after I saw Rebel Without a
Cause in Film class. I enjoyed the first movie and after I learned
what Jungle was about, I assumed that I would enjoy it as much
as Rebel. I was wrong; I enjoyed Blackboard Jungle twice as
Blackboard Jungle premiered in 1955, the same year as Rebel Without a Cause and historical milestones such as Rosa Parks' monumental protest of bus segregation. In fact, race relations pay an important part in this film, which I will discuss later. The movie is about a teacher, Richard Dadier, who accepts a job at North Manual High School. At this school, he encounters a school-wide discipline problem. The two main perpetrators in Dadier's class are Gregory Miller, a black student whom Dadier comes to see much promise in, and Vic Morrow, the true instigator of violence, whose gang attacks Dadier. Over the course of the film, Dadier also encounters apathetic teachers, a principal in denial, and a wife who gives birth prematurely. Eventually, Dadier must decide if his pursuit to teach is important enough to endure the hardship.
This movie brings up some very important issues that were just important in 1955 as they are in 2001. Violence in schools is still a major topic, culminating in the Columbine shooting which everyone should remember. Also important is how teachers are to deal with this threat. Dadier dealt with it by reaching out to Miller and by confronting Morrow. But is this a realistic scenario? Sometimes students just cannot be reached, and it is irresponsible to ask teachers to directly confront weapon-totin students who have a propensity for violence. This just goes to show that solving violence in schools is difficult. It has taken at least 46 years; it will probably take many more.
No female students are portrayed in Blackboard Jungle. This contributes to the stereotype that usually teenage boys are the ones who instigate violence. Of course, the statistics show that male students are mostly responsible for school violence, and many stereotypes exist for a reason. Rebel Without a Cause demonstrates the female role in school insubordination well, by including a woman in the main gang. Still, I would have liked to see a female student element in Jungle, to show that girls are often involved, and that they also influence male student's behavior.
For the era, the racial attitude of Blackboard Jungle is very progressive. Dadier confronts racial slurs in the classroom. The principal, who was tipped off by a student that Dadier was using racial epithets (when all he was demonstrating was the dangerous consequences of such racism), is not happy with this report and chastises Dadier. Both situations show that two important protagonists object to racism, signifying the film's aversion to this social aspect. This comes just after Brown v Board, simultaneous to Rosa Parks' significance, and long before the high point of the Civil Rights Movement. Blackboard Jungle should undoubtedly be recognized for its attitude on race relations and other controversial elements, such as rock and roll. At a time when rock music was still controversial and outside the mainstream, Blackboard Jungle opened and closed with Bill Haley and the Comet's "Rock Around the Clock." This was a bold step to take and was one of the reasons that the film was banned from many theatres. The relatively violent content also contributed to the barring of the movie and probably contributed to many riots that occurred in theatres while the movie was shown.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie, both for the issues it addressed, its support for educators and their responsibilities, and for its entertainment value alone. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in educational dilemma, or someone who simply would enjoy a classic film with a progressive, realistic attitude. However, for anyone looking for a clone of Rebel Without a Cause, they won't find what they're looking for, but I guarantee they will enjoy it just the same.
Certainly a classic American motion picture. Glenn Ford stars as a teacher
who is proud of his profession and is dedicated to teaching others. He is
assigned to an unruly inner city high school filled mostly with teen-age
thugs. The general attitude of the schools staff is to just sit on the
garbage can (referring to their student body) from year to year. Fords
Richard Dadier character attempts to teach these penitentiary candidates is
met with resistance led chiefly by the ultimate juvenile delinquent Artie
West played masterfully by Vic Morrow.
Well cast with a number of fine actors and actresses virtually all films that followed this one and dealt with unruly schools and students are born from this one. Sidney Poitier turns in a great performance as a student who has academic potential but is torn between his street ways and his desire to become educated and better himself. While watching this film it's hard to imagine any worse situation-taking place in a high school. Yet what has been happening in Americas high schools of recent makes the goings on in the classroom of Richard Dadier seem quite mild. A young Jamie Farr who would achieve fame as Klinger on the long running TV series MASH is cast as a simple minded student in the class of delinquents. None of whom will ever pitch for the Yankees by the way! After seeing this movie you might just say `Oh Daddy-O what a good film'
In the mid 50's, when this film was released my parents like many other people who had teenagers were very reluctant to permit them to spend their allowance money for a ticket to this one. The film is superb, very realistic , giving an in depth view over problematic educational situation. But not only this- it is also a social outcry about racial problems, poverty problems, and when I viewed this film again in 2005 (yes, I managed to enter the theater in the 50's after all..) I was very astonished to realize that later films about the same situation-and there were quite a few of those during the years to come- displayed the same situations , motives and dilemma's. One realizes a very outstanding fact , which, if you will, is heart touching: these violent juveniles can easily dodge school, nobody can make them to stay in class, they even dread to face an expulsion , because deep in their heart they know that education is essential for their future if they ever want to get out of the vicious circle of poverty and low class, that holds them inside it.
After nearly 50 years, this memorable movie about a New York City high
school remains a standard by which so-called 'high school' movies are
judged, made and measured. Without Blackboard Jungle, there might not
have been a Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty in Pink, or Breakfast
Before Sidney Poitier 'came to dinner', before Vic Morrow went into 'Combat', before Richard Kiley 'dreamed the impossible dream', and, yes, even before Jamie Farr (ne Jameel Farah), donned a dress, they were all part of The Blackboard Jungle. This movie launched quite a few notable careers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Blackboard Jungle (1955) is director Richard Brooks' watershed effort
to shed light on the slow moral decline of youth in the inner city. The
film stars Glenn Ford as Richard Dadier a high school teacher whose
optimism is sullied when he realizes the teens he is attempting to
impart wisdom on are a bunch of wolfish reprobates in adolescent
sheep's clothing. Dadier is further disillusioned when he talks to
other school staff; particularly Prof. Kraal (Basil Ruysdael) and Jim
Murdock (Louis Calhern). They have merely accepted their loss of
control in the classroom and do not seem to mind the fact one way or
the other. After having a baseball hurled at his head while teaching a
history lesson, Dadier confronts Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier) about
the rumor that is being spread regarding his romantic badinage with one
of his colleagues. Miller's tough, and he doesn't deny the accusation.
But is he really the one responsible for letting Dadier's wife, Anne
(Anne Francis) in on the secret? Dated by today's standards, the film
is a fascinating time capsule on juvenile delinquency then perceived
as an emerging evil in the public school system - and later, along with
a basis in Romeo & Juliet became the gestation for 'West Side Story.'
The film also introduced rock and rollers to Bill Haley's 'Rock Around
The Clock' the song went on to become number one on hit parades
across the country. Glenn Ford's central performance is among his best.
He's cold, steely-eyed and aloof, harboring just the right amount of
sarcasm to pit his considerable brain against the unyielding brawn of
his sullen motley crew of students. In a very early performance in his
career, Poitier illustrates the hallmarks of why he later went on to
have such a brilliant career. And the story, ironically, foreshadows
Poitier's stepping into the authoritarian shoes of an educator in "To
Sir With Love" a decade later.
The DVD from Warner is a beautiful B&W presentation. The gray scale has been impeccably rendered with deep, rich blacks, very clean whites and a minimal amount of film grain. The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1:85:1 has been slightly cropped for DVD to 1:78:1 but the loss of screen information is limited and excusable. The audio is original mono but presented at a listening level that will surely please. Extras include a jumble of audio commentaries from Jamie Farr, Paul Muzursky, Peter Ford and Idel Freeman; a cartoon and the film's original theatrical trailer.
James Dean's untimely death in September of 1955 made "Rebel Without a Cause" a booming box office and critical success. Overshadowed due to that was "Blackboard Jungle", a superior and more important film than the aforementioned "Rebel Without a Cause" (contrary to popular belief admittedly). It is New York in the mid-1950s and former military man Glenn Ford (in his greatest screen role) takes a job as a high school teacher in the inner-city. Soon it is blatantly apparent that the school is full of male thugs (most notably guys like Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Paul Mazursky and even Jamie Farr) who run things with total disregard of faculty rules and policy. Ford becomes enraged and proves to be a lot tougher than originally thought. However when pregnant wife Anne Francis starts receiving anonymous phone calls and letters from one of Ford's students about a possible affair between he and one of his female co-workers, the real fireworks start. At first Ford believes that Poitier is the culprit, probably based more on race and Poitier's obvious intelligence rather than actual proof. It takes lots of time and effort, but Ford becomes determined to get through to his pupils and weed out those who are trying to impede his progress and the advancement of others at his school. "Blackboard Jungle" is another excellent piece from writer-director Richard Brooks (Oscar-nominated for writing). It is the first truly legitimate movie that dealt with 1950s teenage angst and it rises above every other movie of the genre. Ford is a revelation, once again showing that he is probably the most under-appreciated actor throughout the history of the cinema. With that said, "Blackboard Jungle" is likely best remembered as Poitier's breakthrough role, a role which ultimately led to outstanding movie after outstanding movie throughout the late-1950s and 1960s. Poitier, 28 at the time, plays much younger than he was and adds much emotion and depth to a potentially flat character. A booming rock'n'roll soundtrack and top-flight performances dominate Brooks' outstanding winner. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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