February 12, 2014

Weekday Watch: Blackboard Jungle (1955)


First, let's get the technical stuff out of the way: this film was directed by Richard Brooks and released in March 1955. It starred Glenn Ford as high school English teacher Richard Daddy-O Dadier, Anne Francis as his insecure, jealous, and fragile wife Anne Dadier, Sidney Poitier as troubled student Gregory Miller and Vic Morrow as rotten apple Artie West. The film is based upon Evan Hunter's novel Blackboard Jungle.

In carrying out my mission to watch all of the DVDs and blurays on my shelves, I came across this un-watched classic, pulled it out of its case, and popped it into my laptop fully expecting to fall in love with it - it's got Ford and Poitier in it for God's sake, what's not to love?! What I wasn't expecting was to fall head over heels for actor Vic Morrow (what a dynamo)!

Richard Dadier scores a job at an inner-city high school full of dirty, unkempt delinquent boys. Not only does he have to contend with an unruly homeroom English classroom full of bad seeds, he also has a pregnant wife at home that constantly frets about her fragile condition (having miscarried before) and her husband's seemingly illicit affair with one of his work colleagues (the rumors of that affair are untrue, in case you were wondering).

In true Glenn Ford fashion, Dadier spends nearly the entire film trying his hardest to break the backs, so to speak, of his hard-headed pupils. He thinks of all sorts of different ways to engage his students and finally capture their attention, but nothing seems to work until he shows them a cartoon of Jack & the Beanstalk. Odd. But maybe not so odd considering Jack was a regular delinquent himself; selling a cow for only a handful of beans and thus giving away his whole family's livelihood for a tuppence.

It seems as if Dadier has finally won his students over until one of them drives Anne Dadier stir-crazy by mailing her mysterious, stalker-ish notes that ultimately lead to her hospitalization. A suspenseful classroom showdown ensues and Dadier emerges the victor, having finally triumphed over a couple of hard-knuckle, knife-wielding adolescents. I swear, the last half hour of this film had me sitting on the edge of my seat, chewing my fingernails!

"Who threw this baseball?" Without a doubt, one of my favourite scenes in the film.

I received Blackboard Jungle as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection for Sidney Poitier and I knew right off the bat that this film would come out a winner. Not only had I heard wonderful things about it from other classic film fans who had seen it before, but I also knew it was one of Poitier's first film roles. And really, when it comes down to it, who can resist Poitier? He's been absolutely spectacular in everything I've seen him in so far and he certainly had an undeniable knack for choosing worthy film roles. However, having said all this, I have to admit that I spent most of Blackboard Jungle studying Vic Morrow.

The character of Artie West was Morrow's first film role (I know! Can you believe that?!) and he later went on to star in the popular 1960s television series Combat! In Blackboard Jungle, Morrow played the lowest of the low. The worst public school delinquent you've ever seen or heard of (seriously). I kept thinking to myself, what's this guy's back story? what's his motivation? why is he constantly making bad decisions? ...and you know what? The viewer never really does find out why. That's the only complaint I have with this movie. I never did find out why Artie West was so bitter or what his deal was. It seemed like the only aspect of his life that was resolved by picture's end was his enforced confinement in a juvenile detention center.

I really liked this film. I enjoyed it from start to finish and was never bored - not once. I've said this many times before, but I'll risk saying it again: I can't believe it's taken me this long to sit down and watch Blackboard Jungle. It's something that should have been done years ago, perhaps even when I was still in school. Blackboard Jungle is the type of movie that every student should watch because it serves as a thrilling, realistic social commentary on the public school system and student life in general. I think we could all learn something from this film; how to respect others, the dangers of abuse, and the shocking truth that all is not well in the world despite what we may think.

3 comments:

  1. Yay for finally watching a "new to me" film!!

    I am with you on Sidney Poitier. I think he is a brilliant actor. Last February, he was my star of the month, which resulted in 3 "new to me" 5-star films all in the space of a couple weeks. I can always expect a powerful performance when I watch one of his films.

    I quite like "Blackboard Jungle." There is another film (one of those 5-star discoveries of last year) in which Sidney is on the opposite side of the classroom. Instead of the delinquent, he is the teacher of the delinquents. That film is "To Sir, with Love." Catch that one if you can. I like it even better than "Blackboard Jungle," in large part because of the theme song.

    I have a couple friends who absolutely ADORE Vic Morrow, so you are not alone in your fascination with him.

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    1. To Sir, With Love is definitely on my list of movies to watch! I've heard nothing but great things about it. The next time I pop into my local library, I'm going to see if they've got it there for me to take home. It's not one of the films I own and I promised myself I wouldn't buy anymore until I've seen everything on my shelves HAHA! So, the library will have to do (for now)!

      Thanks so much for commenting Patti!

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  2. I would like to applaud (loudly) for this: "And really, when it comes down to it, who can resist Poitier? He's been absolutely spectacular in everything I've seen him in so far and he certainly had an undeniable knack for choosing worthy film roles." I totally agree!

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