This film launched the rock 'n' roll era, especially in American movies, by using "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets as its theme. The song was chosen for the titles after it was heard among records owned by Peter Ford, son of the film's star, Glenn Ford (proving phony the original belief that the producer's daughter had discovered the song.) "Rock Around the Clock" had not been largely ignored until it was heard in the movie, after which it soon shot to No. 1 around the world, and eventually sold an estimated 25 million copies. In an embarrassing miscalculation, MGM could have owned the complete rights to the song, but it ignored writer/director Richard Brooks's advise to buy it outright; instead, being penny-wise and pound-foolish, for a few dollars less, the studio merely purchased the film-use rights to the mega-hit song.
The original novel was based on author Evan Hunter's own experiences as a teacher in New York City's tough South Bronx area. Hunter, who found fame as crime writer Ed McBain said, "I thought I was going to give these kids who want to be motor mechanics Shakespeare and they were going to appreciate it and they weren't buying it. I went home in tears night after night".
Clare Boothe Luce, then U.S. Ambassador to Italy, prevented the film from being shown at the Venice Film Festival. Also, a Senate committee had decided that the film would not have beneficial effects on contemporary youth. But both incidents only served to increase publicity and ticket sales for the controversial movie.
The film was initially rejected for a UK cinema certificate by the BBFC in March 1955. It was resubmitted again in August where it was then by around 6 minutes to remove uses of threatening dialogue and the entire climactic switchblade scene between Dadier and Artie. It would later be passed completely uncut for video and DVD with a 12 certificate.