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STUDIO: Warner Brothers
MSRP: $19.97 RATED: NR
RUNNING TIME: 101 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Commentary with Paul Mazursky and Jamie Farr, Glenn Ford’s son Peter Ford and Assistant Director Joel Freeman
• The Blackboard Jumble (A Droopy cartoon)
• Original Theatrical Trailer

Note: This DVD is part of the fantastic Warner Brothers Controversial Classics Collection (Buy the boxed set from CHUD!).

Thanks to
the whitewashed histories I was fed in school, my first vision of the
Eisenhower era was one of peace, prosperity and simple living. Obviously,
that’s total bullshit. As a decade, the ’50s had plenty of problems, among them
a struggling economy and a new generation of children unused to having parents
at home.

As corny
and obvious as it occasionally becomes, Blackboard Jungle represents that
well, and is a standout ‘social consciousness’ picture of the era. Through
legions of imitators, it’s still compelling and relevant, because if anything,
the problems it tries to address have only gotten worse.

The Flick

Glenn
Ford is Richard Dadier, a veteran who just wants to make a living as a teacher.
He scores a position preaching English to inner city kids. But ‘scores’ might
not be the right word because this high school, in a sanitized Breen Code/1950s
way, is a hellhole.

Dancing boys
Glenn saw the boys swing dancing in the yard, and knew he was home.

Though
the menace initially seems silly through modern eyes — it’s all rolled sleeves
and pompadours — the effect is still palpable. The boys of Dadier’s school
brutishly act out their every whim, whether by throwing a baseball at the
teacher’s head, or stealing a newspaper truck in the dead of night.

As the
sad but thuggish Artie West, Vic Morrow exemplifies these rootless hooligans. Here,
Morrow was in his mid-20′s, and his face is still boyish, but with a lean and
aged look that turns Artie West into a trapped animal. He’s hardened, but too
immature to move forward. And with little explicit dialogue, the kids who
surround him easily demonstrate how their own lawlessness comes from fear and
respect for boys like West.

Blackboard succeeds because, even when it wants
to preach, it rarely generalizes about the students or reduces the staff to
caricature. You’ll see no cliché meetings with parents and only one vaguely ham
fisted encounter with police. The kids are lawless because they’re allowed to
be. The teachers, for the first time without the support of a community, are
frozen by the disregard for society.

Sound
familiar?


The 1950′s pilot for Angel, long thought lost, has been selling like gangbusters on eBay.

Director
Richard Brooks closely followed the source novel
by Evan Hunter — aka Ed
McBain, and who later wrote The Birds. His primary changes toned
down a subplot concerning a new female teacher who doesn’t much care that her
co-worker is married. It’s a thread that seems ahead of its time, because it
shows the same moral breakdown among the teachers that the kids are
experiencing.
The
weakest additions, as when Dadier visits his old teacher for solace, were
afterthoughts added to mollify officers of the production code.

Even with
all its strengths, the first viewing of Blackboard can be slow going,
because so much of the film has been ruthlessly co-opted by generations of
followers. There isn’t a ‘tough high school’ flick made in its wake that
doesn’t owe something to this movie, either literally or spiritually.

Downing and Tipton.
When Downing and Tipton went drinking, they never realized their choreographed movements would define their sons’ careers...

For those
tough moments, a great cast is on hand to hold your interest. Sidney Poitier
had been in a few flicks prior to Blackboard Jungle, but his breakout
role was as Miller, a smart, troubled kid who reluctantly listens to Dadier.
He’s an enormous presence in the film. The qualities that made Poitier a
leading actor of his generation are clearly evident here.

(I could
write an entire article about how this film pioneered a depiction of the racial
makeup of urban schools and neighborhoods. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that
the leading reason the story was considered shocking was not the ‘youth gone
wild’, but the even voice given to non-white characters.)

Paul
Mazursky and Vic Morrow also had their names made in the picture. Mazursky
would later become a player in the Hollywood of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Sadly, Vic Morrow’s greatest fame was due to his untimely death on the set of Twilight
Zone: The Motion Picture
. And while Mazursky is little more than a
mouthy side player in this film, Vic Morrow is eerily charismatic as the most
violent kid in school, especially when he breaks down in the film’s final
confrontation.

Twilight Zone.
I wonder if I could get Rod Serling’s job? Man, I love that show.

Then
there’s Jameel Farah, who seems to be in every shot as the numbly grinning
Santini. Soon after, Farah was credited onscreen as Jamie Farr.

Blackboard Jungle represents another first as well. ‘Rock
Around The Clock’ blares out of the opening and end credits, and the film is
generally credited with launching the era of rock and roll, and with it the
popular soundtrack. Supposedly projectionists in several cities began showing
the film with the sound turned way down at the opening, as kids were dancing in
the aisles. That never happened when I saw Rattle and Hum, I’ll tell you.

8 out of 10

The Look

It’s far from perfect; Warners has done a merely decent job
here. The print shows damage and grain, and this isn’t the sharpest transfer
the studio could have mustered. But the most important element of any B&W
transfer, the contrast level, is often quite good. The image is generally well-balanced,
and that forgives a lot of sins.

5.7 out of 10

The Noise

This sounds about as good as an average studio flick
presented in mono can be expected to sound. Even the film’s single car crash
sounds fairly thin and artificial. For the beginning and end credits, ‘Rock
Around The Clock’ is mastered at about one and a half times the level of the
film’s effects and dialogue, though. If it replicates the theatrical
presentation, it’s no wonder the kids couldn’t stop dancing.

5 out of 10

The Goodies

Commentary
by Peter Ford, Paul Mazursky, Jamie Farr and Joel Freeman
- It
shouldn’t be a surprise, but this commentary plays like a bunch of old men
reminiscing about the good old days. Sure, there are tidbits about elements of
the film, but mostly the dialogue is about old figures in Hollywood, and who
was married to whom, and which AD was kind of a prick. Mazursky’s funny,
though, because he goes on and on about how his acting strategy was simply to
be in every shot for as long as possible.

Mini Mazursky
Sidney didn’t like being interrupted when he was being ‘seen to’ by Mini Mazursky. He didn’t like it at all.

The
Blackboard Jumble
- Nothing legitimizes a social statement like a
Droopy parody. This one’s got a wolf in blackface and everything! The transfer
is lackluster, but at least the cartoon is in the original CinemaScope aspect
ratio.

Theatrical
Trailer
- Shocking! Startling! Ripped from modern headlines! Get
the picture? This is a primo example of how old Hollywood marketed a movie it
had no handle on. Great stuff.

6 out of 10

The Artwork

This was a fairly lurid picture when it was released in
1955. This artwork is confused and off balance, but it vaguely caputes the feel
of an ad campaign meant to attract curious kids and thrill-seeking adults. I
certainly wouldn’t call the cover good — or anything close — but it’s got the
right idea, at least.

6 out of 10

Overall: 7.5 out of 10