Blackboard Jungle is a 1955 social commentary film about teachers in an inter-racial inner-city school, based on the 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|
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|
Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) is a new teacher at North Manual Trades High School, an inner-city school of diverse ethnic backgrounds where many of the pupils, led by student Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier), frequently engage in anti-social behavior. Dadier makes various attempts to engage the students' interest in education, challenging both the school staff and the pupils. He is subjected to violence as well as duplicitous schemes; he first suspects Miller, but later realizes that Artie West (Vic Morrow) is the perpetrator, and challenges him in a tense classroom showdown involving a switchblade knife.
"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 situations 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."
According to MGM records the film earned $5,292,000 in the US and Canada and $2,852,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of over $8 million.
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.
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.
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.
- "Blackboard Jungle - Details". Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Crowther, Bosley (March 21, 1955). "The Screen; 'Blackboard Jungle': Delinquency Shown in Powerful Film". The New York Times: p. 21.
- "Blackboard Jungle". Variety: p. 8. March 2, 1955.
- "'Blackboard Jungle' with Glenn Ford, Anne Francis and Louis Calhern". Harrison's Reports: p. 38. March 5, 1955.
- McCarten, John (March 26, 1955). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: p. 1 20.
- Coe, Richard L. (May 8, 1955). "Now, We're Stuck With It". The Washington Post: p. H1.
- "Blackboard Jungle". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 22 (261): p. 147. October 1955.
- "NY Times: Blackboard Jungle". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
- TCM List of the Top 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks Archived March 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 5 - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll: The rock revolution gets underway. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
- Leopold, Todd. "The 50-year-old song that started it all". CNN.com. Retrieved August 15, 2006.
- "Blackboard Jungle - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- "Pictures: Metro Fights Atlanta Lady Censor Who Banned 'Blackboard Jungle' Outright". Variety: p. 3. June 8, 1955.
- Gelder, Ken; Sarah Thornton (1997). The Subcultures Reader. Editors. Routledge. p. 401. ISBN 0-415-12727-0.
- Cross, Robert J. "The Teddy Boy as Scapegoat" (PDF). Doshisha University Academic Depsitory: 22.[permanent dead link]
- McCarthy, Kevin E. (2007). "Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Theory in Blackboard Jungle" (PDF). Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. 14 (2): 317–329. ISSN 1070-8286. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
- Ford, Peter. "Rock Around the Clock and Me"