Blackboard Jungle is a 1955 social drama film about teachers in an interracial inner-city school, based on the 1954 novel The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter and adapted for the screen and directed by Richard Brooks. It is remembered for its innovative use of rock and roll in its soundtrack and for the unusual breakout role of a black cast member, future Oscar winner and star Sidney Poitier as a rebellious, yet musically talented student.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Brooks|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Written by||Richard Brooks|
|Based on||The Blackboard Jungle|
by Evan Hunter
|Music by||Max C. Freedman, Jimmy DeKnight (song "Rock Around the Clock") (uncredited), Willis Holman (song “Blackboard Jungle”), Jenny Lou Carson (song "Let Me Go, Lover!"; uncredited)|
|Cinematography||Russell Harlan, ASC|
|Edited by||Ferris Webster|
In the mid-1950s, Richard Dadier is a new teacher at North Manual Trades High School, an inner-city school of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Led by student Gregory Miller, most engage in anti-social behavior. School principal, Mr. Warneke, denies there are discipline issues, but the school faculty, particularly Mr. Murdock, warn Dadier otherwise. Dadier befriends two other new teachers, Joshua Edwards and Lois Hammond. Dadier's class includes not only Miller but Artie West, a rebellious bully and gang leader. The class shows no respect for Dadier. Dadier encourages Miller to lead the class in the right direction. After Dadier subdues a student who attacks Miss Hammond, the class gives Dadier the silent treatment and are even more uncooperative. Dadier and Edwards are mugged by a gang that includes West. Reluctant to quit, Dadier seeks advice from his former teacher, Professor Kraal, who is now the principal of an academically superior school with disciplined students. Kraal offers Dadier a job, but he declines. After chiding his class for calling each other racially divisive names, Dadier is himself falsely accused by Mr. Warneke of using racial epithets in the classroom. West encounters Dadier during his gang's robbery of a newspaper truck. West tells Dadier his classroom is the streets and to leave him alone. Several students, led by West, assault Edwards in his classroom and destroy his record collection. Dadier's wife, Anne, who is pregnant, begins receiving anonymous letters and phone calls telling her Dadier and Miss Hammonds are having an affair. Dadier discovers Miller can play piano and sing, and wonders why Miller can show such talent but also be so rebellious. Dadier shows his class an animated film about "Jack and the Beanstalk" which sparks discussion about moral choices. Anne goes into premature labor caused by the stress of the phone calls about Dadier's alleged affair. When a neighbor shows Dadier the anonymous letters, he angrily decides to quit. Mr. Murdock encourages him to stay telling Dadier he is making progress and has inspired him too. Anne apologizes for doubting Dadier's loyalty in their marriage and says she was wrong for telling him to quit.
When Dadier observes West openly copying from another student, he demands that West bring his paper to the front to have it docked five points. West rebuffs his repeated request, but Dadier is unrelenting. The conflict quickly escalates, and West pulls out a switchblade. Dadier does not back down. Miller stops another of the gang from jumping Dadier from behind. The rest of West's gang fails to assist. Dadier accuses West of the false allegations made to both Mr. Warneke and Anne. Dadier subdues West and the other students join in to subdue classmate Belazi who has picked up the knife in an effort to escape. Miller then leads the class in helping Dadier take West and Belazi to the principal's office. In the final scene, Miller and Dadier each ask if the other is quitting at the end of the school year. Miller said no, because the two of them had a deal that neither would quit if the other stayed, and Dadier's expression makes clear he has no intention of breaking the agreement.
- Glenn Ford as Richard Dadier
- Sidney Poitier as Gregory Miller
- Vic Morrow as Artie West
- Anne Francis as Anne Dadier
- Louis Calhern as Jim Murdock
- Margaret Hayes as Lois Hammond
- John Hoyt as Mr. Warneke
- Richard Kiley as Joshua Edwards
- Emile Meyer as Mr. Halloran
- Warner Anderson as Dr. Bradley
- Basil Ruysdael as Professor A. R. Kraal
- Dan Terranova as Belazi
- Rafael Campos as Pete V. Morales
- Paul Mazursky as Emmanuel Stoker
- Horace McMahon as Detective
- Jameel Farah as Santini
"As a straight melodrama of juvenile violence this is a vivid and hair-raising film", wrote Bosley Crowther of The New York Times in a positive review. "Except for some incidental romance, involving the teacher and his wife and a little business about the latter having a baby, it is as hard and penetrating as a nail." Variety called it "a film with a melodramatic impact that hits hard at a contemporary problem. The casting, too, is exceptionally good". Harrison's Reports called the film "a stark, powerful melodrama, sordid, tense, and disturbing. The picture no doubt will stir up considerable controversy, but at the same time it probably will prove to be a top box-office grosser". John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote, "While the film has a good many faults (the acting at times is a bit shaky and the conclusion is rather unbelievable), it nevertheless confronts its subject matter head on, and in the circumstances it is an unsettling piece of work."
"Yes, the papers regularly have news about shocking conditions in the schools. Vandalism certainly is more rampant than it was only a few years ago. Sex crimes and thuggery do occur. Even murder is not beyond our young. But to pile these things and more into a few months within one classroom surely does not show 'courage' on the part of the moviemakers. To anyone with his eyes open, this approach simply is one more dodge at making a box office buck. This simply is the Dead End kids, the gangster melodrama, in another setting."
The Monthly Film Bulletin delivered a mixed to negative assessment, writing, "Contrived situation"s and some rather thin characterisation reduce the impact and effectiveness of Blackboard Jungle, both as an exposé of a current American educational problem and a plea for more strenuous efforts by teachers at similar institutions. Characters such as the flirtatious woman teacher and the pregnant wife are fictitious trimmings which only emphasise the artificiality in the handling of the main theme." The review added, "There are several tense and hard-hitting sequences, and a general atmosphere of strident earnestness, but only in the tiny part of the trade school headmaster, played with considerable force by John Hoyt, is there any real suggestion of complexity or depth."
The song "Rock Around the Clock" was included in the film, making the recording an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth. It was Number 1 on the pop charts for two months and went to Number 3 on the R&B chart. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "fresh" rating of 76%. On their best of Sidney Poitier list, it says, "This was the role that put Poitier on the map. The struggles of educators and students are well documented in this violent and controversial film, based on Evan Hunter's seminal novel about inner-city school conditions. Modern audiences might struggle to sympathize with the tactics employed by Poitier's character, Gregory Miller, but the cultural impact his performance had on both society and education are undeniable."
According to MGM records the film earned $5,292,000 in the US and Canada and $2,852,000 elsewhere.
Awards and honorsEdit
1955 Academy Award Nominations:
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Richard Brooks)
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Russell Harlan)
- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell, Edwin B. Willis, Henry Grace)
- Best Film Editing (Ferris Webster).
In 2010, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) listed the soundtrack of the movie on its list of the Top 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks of all time. TCM described the impact and the influence of the movie:
MGM brought Hollywood into the rock'n'roll era with BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. In search of the kind of music teens like the film's potential delinquents were listening to, director Richard Brooks borrowed a few records from star Glenn Ford's son Peter. When he heard Bill Haley and his Comets perform 'Rock Around the Clock,' he found the perfect theme song -- the first rock song ever used in a Hollywood feature. Teens flocked to the film, dancing in theatre aisles as the song played over the opening credits. Parents may have been shocked by such uninhibited behavior, but things got worse when screenings also inspired violence and vandalism around the world. Thanks to BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, the song hit number one on the Billboard charts, eventually selling 25 million copies and becoming what Dick Clark called 'The National Anthem of Rock'n' Roll.'
The film marked the rock and roll revolution by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock", initially a B-side, over the film's opening credits (with a lengthy drum solo introduction, unlike the originally released single), as well as in the first scene, in an instrumental version in the middle of the film, and at the close of the movie, establishing that song as an instant hit. The record had been released the previous year, gaining only limited sales. But, popularized by its use in the film, "Rock Around the Clock" reached number one on the Billboard charts, and remained there for eight weeks. In some theaters, when the film was in first release, the song was not heard at all at the beginning of the film because rock and roll was considered a bad influence. Despite this, other instances of the song were not cut. This film is also the source of the slang term "Daddy-O". When the teacher, Mr Dadier (Glenn Ford), writes his name on the blackboard early in the film, one of the students throws a baseball and knocks a hole in the blackboard at the end of his name, Dadier becomes Dadi-O and the class erupts in laughter and calls him "Daddy-O".
The music led to a large teenage audience for the film, and their exuberant response to it sometimes overflowed into violence and vandalism at screenings. In this sense, the film has been seen as marking the start of a period of visible teenage rebellion in the latter half of the 20th century. The film was banned in Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia, with the Atlanta Review Board claiming that it was "immoral, obscene, licentious and will adversely affect the peace, health, morals and good order of the city."
The film marked a watershed in the United Kingdom and was originally refused a cinema certificate before being passed with heavy cuts. When shown at a South London Cinema in Elephant and Castle in 1956 the teenage Teddy Boy audience began to riot, tearing up seats and dancing in the aisles. After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown. In 2007, the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture published an article that analyzed the film's connection to crime theories and juvenile delinquency. Its reception in West Germany and Japan was also a recent focus of study in the Journal of Transnational American Studies.
In March 2005, the 50th anniversary of the release of the film and the subsequent upsurge in popularity of rock and roll, was marked by a series of "Rock Is Fifty" celebrations in Los Angeles and New York City, involving the surviving members of the original Bill Haley & His Comets.[clarification needed] In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The film was released on DVD in North America on May 10, 2005 by Warner Home Video.
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