Cast & Crew
As Richard Dadier, a soft-spoken ex-serviceman, accepts his first teaching job in a tough New York City high school, he asks his new principal, Mr. Warnecke, about the school's discipline problem and is assured that at North Manual High, "there is no discipline problem." The other teachers, particularly the cynical Jim Murdock, who calls the all-male school a "garbage can" and cautions Dadier not to turn his back on the students, do not lessen his anxiety. That evening, Dadier celebrates his new job with his wife Anne, who, although deeply in love with her husband, worries not only that her pregnancy will make her unattractive to him, but that she will miscarry as she had once before. Dadier's first day teaching English is discouraging. The pupils, mostly lower-class juvenile delinquents, ignore his requests and call him "Daddy-O," and when he asks Gregory W. Miller, a bright but alienated black student, to use his leadership abilities to promote cooperation in the classroom, the young man just shakes his head.
That afternoon, Lois Judby Hammond, another new teacher who seems attracted to Dadier, is nearly raped by one of the students. Dadier severely beats the boy, and the next day, the students greet him with threatening glares and angry silence. After work, Dadier accompanies Joshua Y. Edwards, a new math teacher who passionately loves jazz and swing, to a bar, where they have a drink too many and bemoan the students' hostility. While cutting through an alley to the bus stop, both teachers are brutally beaten by Dadier's student Artie West and his gang of hoodlums. Anne urges Dadier to leave the school, but he declares, "I've been beaten up, but I'm not beaten."
While recuperating, Dadier visits his former professor, who assures him that students do want to learn, but that urban schools need more instructors who care. Dadier returns to school, and when the police question him, he refuses to identify his attackers. In class, Artie calls fellow student Pete Morales a "spic," whereupon Dadier remarks that calling one another names, like "spic, mick, and nigger," can lead to big trouble. Later the principal, acting on a confidential student complaint, accuses Dadier of bigotry, but Dadier angrily defends himself. Warnecke finally apologizes and puts Dadier in charge of the Christmas play. Soon afterward, West destroys Josh's prized record collection while his class looks on, leading the discouraged math teacher to resign.
Meanwhile, Anne begins receiving anonymous letters and phone calls accusing her husband of infidelity. Unaware of Anne's growing suspicion, Dadier concentrates on his students. He convinces Miller and his singing group to perform their version of "Go Down, Moses" in the Christmas play, and he stimulates an animated class discussion by showing a "Jack and the Beanstalk" cartoon in class. Summarizing the discussion, Dadier encourages the young men to consider the real meaning of what they hear and to think for themselves. Miller later tells Dadier that because black people have limited options, he will drop out of school at term's end, but Dadier maintains that blacks can succeed in the modern world and that some teachers do care.
At Christmas, Anne, tormented by the letters, gives birth prematurely, and when Dadier learns what has happened, he assumes the students are responsible for the letters and decides to resign. Defeated, Dadier bemoans that, after everything teachers must endure, they earn less even than cooks. Murdock, cured of his cynicism by Dadier's dedication, and Anne, admitting that she should not have doubted her husband, encourage Dadier to remain, and he does take heart when the doctor says his baby son is out of danger. Back at school, Dadier orders West to see the principal when the gang leader flagrantly cheats in class. West threatens him with a knife, ordering the other gang members to jump the teacher. To West's surprise, only Belazi obeys his orders. Following a scuffle, Dadier accuses West of having sent the anonymous letters and then drags him and Belazi to Warnecke's office. Later that day, Miller, having heard that Dadier plans to quit, promises to remain in school if Dadier will do the same.
Pandro S. Berman
Harry Thacker Burleigh
Max C. Freedman
Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
Best Writing, Screenplay
In Blackboard Jungle, Glenn Ford plays a teacher assigned to a tough inner-city school where the students make the rules and the staff meekly follows along out of fear and apathy. Ford's task is to identify the real leaders and troublemakers in his classroom and try to win them over to his side. There's little hope of this where the irredeemable Artie West (Morrow) is concerned. But another student, played by Sidney Poitier, whose badness seems more an extension of the racist abuse he has suffered, offers more hope, and a greater challenge.
Director Richard Brooks established his credentials for this kind of hard-hitting drama early on in his career as a writer. His novel The Brick Foxhole almost earned him a court-martial for its depiction of a sadistic Marine who kills a gay man. (It was filmed in 1947 as Crossfire, with the victim changed from gay to Jewish.) And his script for the prison movie Brute Force (1947) showed he was no slouch at creating raw, gutsy dramas for the screen. In addition to Ford, who, as in The Big Heat (1953), gives a solid portrayal of a decent, earnest man driven to the brink of violence, Brooks chose to complete his cast with a group of young, relatively unknown actors who went on to major careers. Poitier was already 31 by the time he took on his sixth film role playing the troubled high school student, but his work is no less believable for that fact. Morrow, who had a long, successful career in film and television before his accidental death on the set of Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983), made his debut in this picture, as did Jamie Farr (then under the name Jameel Farr), best known as the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger on the TV series M*A*S*H (1972-83). Another young punk was played by Paul Mazursky in his second film appearance (and last one for another 11 years). Mazursky occasionally acted in the coming decades, but confined himself largely to directing acclaimed films, among them Harry and Tonto (1974), An Unmarried Woman (1978), and Moscow on the Hudson (1984).
And then there's that song. It's hard for young people today to imagine the impact Bill Haley and the Comets had with their first big hit, "Rock Around the Clock" (arguably not the first rock song but the first to bring the musical form to the national conscience in a major way). Footage of Haley and his band from old TV shows and movies reveal a paunchy man fronting a bunch of guys in suits, not exactly the wild anarchistic image of rock rebels we've become used to. (Haley himself was 30 when this movie was released.) But in 1955, rock 'n' roll was underground, forbidden, a threat to the established order. And with the song accompanying the stark, violent images and language of Blackboard Jungle, it appeared to be every bit the threat people suspected. In fact, fights often broke out where the movie was running. In England, the "Teddy Boys" (as rebellious young teen gangs were then known) ripped seats right out of theater floors. It was a new world, and "Rock Around the Clock" brought that world to movie houses, radios, and people's homes. (To underscore the changes that had come about at the time of this picture's release, it's worth noting it was produced by Pandro Berman, the same man responsible for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930s.) There was no going back. Although parents, civic leaders, and preachers publicly railed against the music and movies like Blackboard Jungle, they were too powerful and too big at the box office to ignore.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editing: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Randall Duell
Music: James Myers, Bill Haley
Principal Cast: Glenn Ford (Richard Dadier), Sidney Poitier (Gregory Miller), Vic Morrow (Artie West), Anne Francis (Anne Dadier), Louis Calhern (Jim Murdock), Richard Kiley (Joshua Edwards). Warner Anderson (Dr. Bradley), Rafael Campos (Pete V. Morales), Paul Mazursky (Emmanuel Stoker).
BW-101m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Rob Nixon
Blackboard Jungle on DVD
Synopsis: Beginning teacher Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) looks forward to his first day at North Manual High boy's school, and is rudely disillusioned to discover that his students are unruly hooligans. The principal refuses to admit disciplinary problems exist and the other teachers have given up trying to teach amid daily threats of violence and even sexual assaults. Richard's pregnant wife Anne (Anne Francis) encourages him to quit, but Dadier is determined to find a way to interest his class in their studies. He begins to suspect that resistance to his leadership centers on young Artie West (Vic Morrow) and Greg Miller (Sidney Poitier), toughs who really control the classroom.
Bill Haley and the Comets' Rock Around the Clock blasts under the main titles of Blackboard Jungle like an anthem announcing a new force in the world: Teen power. The film helped initiate a wave of media attention on teenagers, who suddenly became the focus of everything problematical in modern life. School violence and youth delinquency had skyrocketed in the years since the war, when fathers were away fighting and mothers worked out of the house. Millions of unsupervised kids drifted into street gangs. The subject had already been addressed in a minor wartime Val Lewton production called Youth Run Wild but it was not until 1955 that Blackboard Jungle made juvenile delinquency the top issue of the day.
Richard Brooks' expert screenplay spells out the problem - adults have lost control and teachers are helpless against classrooms filled with insolent thugs who refuse to behave. Teacher Dadier is insulted, ignored and called "Daddy-O;" the minimal cooperation needed to teach anything is too much to ask. Shell-shocked, he turns to the veteran teachers for guidance and finds only indifference and denial. One teacher (Louis Calhern) openly mocks Dadier's professional concern.
Blackboard Jungle has the instincts of a tabloid exposé. The new music teacher (Margaret Hayes) becomes the target of a rape attempt on the first day of school. Dadier and the new history teacher Edwards (Richard Kiley, fresh from the noir vice epic Phenix City Story) are badly beaten, and Edwards' spirit is broken when the thugs destroy his precious record collection. Dadier tries to confront racial name-calling in the classroom and is accused of bigotry. Then his wife is plagued with malicious notes and phone calls.
Just when Manual High seems like Hell on Earth, Hollywood optimism steps in to provide a conventional happy ending. Sidney Poitier's surly class leader plans to drop out of school at the first opportunity. When he turns out to be a sensitive pianist (!) Dadier uses music appreciation to establish a personal contact. An audiovisual aid (a movie, naturally) spurs a discussion that allows Dadier to get a learning dialogue going in his classroom. The discipline problem finally distills down to a couple of "bad apple" pupils. With the incorrigible element - Vic Morrow's disturbed hoodlum - eliminated, the classroom situation turns around. Dadier has to risk getting his throat cut, but he wins the approval of his students.
Blackboard Jungle fell under more than normal censorship scrutiny, as Richard Brooks ignored the standard Breen office practice of keeping movies free of social controversy. Then as now, politicians saw the movies as a place to present positive enlightenment and not social criticism. Ambassador to Italy Clare Booth Luce used her clout to block the exhibition of Blackboard Jungle overseas. For her, America was engaged in an ideological Cold War and "our enemies" would seize upon images of schools in chaos as evidence of American decadence. Changes were made to the film even before it was finished. It starts with an apologetic disclaimer title of the kind not seen since Scarface and The Public Enemy. In mid-production, Brooks was made to add a sequence in a "normal" school to assure viewers that the mayhem at North Manual was an aberration.
Mainstream Hollywood soon dropped Juvenile Delinquency from their list of acceptable subject matter. Rock and Roll was sanitized in studio films and Elvis Presley was toned down to please church groups and grandmothers. But when the independent film companies saw young audiences leaping from their seats to dance during the titles of Blackboard Jungle, they immediately brought out a flood of teen-oriented pictures that lasted for seven years: Teenage Doll, Dragstrip Riot, The Cool and the Crazy. The craze put American-International Pictures on the map.
Warners' DVD of Blackboard Jungle is a perfect enhanced transfer that faithfully reproduces Russell Harlan's moody B&W studio photography and lets us imagine how liberating it must have felt to first hear real Rock and Roll on a big screen. We expected more analytical content, but the disc's commentary touches only lightly on the film's impact. Actors Jamie Farr and director Paul Mazursky tell what it was like to work on the picture, helped by memories from Glenn Ford's son Paul and the film's assistant director Joel Freeman. Farr points out that Sidney Poitier was not allowed to live in the same motel as the other actors, and everyone notes the patriotic symbolism of the American flag in the last scene. The actors are good at identifying obscure cast members but miss many of Richard Brooks' clever touches. One scene shows Richard and Anne Dadier's bedroom furnished with censor-imposed twin beds. But Brooks refuses to show the second bed, purposely cheating on established rules.
Besides a theatrical trailer, the disc offers a Droopy cartoon entitled Blackboard Jumble, which negates the theme of the main feature by ridiculing the concept of progressive education.
For more information about Blackboard Jungle, visit Warner Video. To order Blackboard Jungle, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Blackboard Jungle on DVD
Yeah, I've been beaten up, but I'm not beaten. I'm not beaten, and I'm not quittin'.- Richard Dadier
This film launched the Rock and Roll era by using "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets as its theme music. The song was chosen for the theme after it was heard among records owned by Peter Ford, the son of the film's star, Glenn Ford. For years it was thought the producer's daughter had discovered the song, but this has since been proven incorrect. "Rock Around the Clock" went to No. 1 around the world and eventually sold an estimated 25 million copies.
Before the opening credits are given, a rolling written introduction to the film states: "We, in the United States, are fortunate to have a school system that is a tribute to our communities and to our faith in American youth. Today we are concerned with juvenile delinquency-its causes-and its effects. We are especially concerned when this delinquency boils over into our schools. The scenes and incidents depicted here are fictional. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step toward a remedy for any problem. It is in this spirit and with this faith that Blackboard Jungle was produced."
Evan Hunter's novel was serialized beginning with the October 1954 issue of Ladies Home Journal. According to an April 1954 New York Times news item, M-G-M paid Hunter $95,000 for the rights to his novel. In May 1962, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that writers Murray Burnett and Frederick Stephani accused Hunter of plagiarizing their work, but their suit was dismissed. According to a modern source, director Richard Brooks was originally hired to direct M-G-M's Ben Hur and William Wyler to direct Blackboard Jungle, but Brooks convinced Wyler to switch assignments with him. In his autobiography, Dore Schary, M-G-M's head of production, recalled that he was urged not to make the film by both Paramount executive Y. Frank Freeman and MPPA head Eric Johnston. Schary dismissed their concerns, but soon was asked by Loew's president Nicholas M. Schenk to reconsider. "I had only one argument for Schenk," Schary wrote. "'Nick, you're suggesting I give up on a film that might earn us nine or ten million dollars.' Nick asked me how much it would cost. I had a rough estimate of $1,200,000. He said go ahead." Schary added that the final cost of the film was $1,160,000.
In a 1983 New York Times interview, Brooks recalled that M-G-M wanted one of their contract players, either Mickey Rooney or Robert Taylor, to play schoolteacher "Mr. Dadier." Brooks insisted upon casting new, unknown faces, and as a result, hired unpolished actors with little camera experience for many of the roles, thus infusing a raw realism into their performances. Among the actors making their screen debut in this picture were Vic Morrow, Rafael Campos, Dan Terrnaova, Danny Dennis and Jameel Farah (who later changed his name to Jamie Farr.) Although the studio wanted the film shot in color, Brooks insisted upon black and white because he feared that "color would beautify everything," according to the interview. A December 6, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Victor Paul, Loren James, Bill Chaney, Lennie Smith and Mickey Martin to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Upon its release, the film was greeted by controversy. According to an April 1955 Daily Variety news item, the school authorities of New Brunswick, NJ, objected to the depiction of school conditions in the film. As a result, the theater circuit was forced to add a disclaimer stating: "To our patrons, the school and situations you have just seen are NOT to be found in this area. We should all be proud of the facilities provided OUR youth by the Public School of New Brunswick..." According to a March 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was banned in Memphis, and a June 1955 news item in Variety reported that the film was banned in Atlanta because it was deemed "immoral, obscene, licentious and will adversely affect the peace, health, morals and good order of the city."
According to a March 21, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the Institute for Public Opinion sent postcards to film critics claiming that the film was "anti-public schools" and denying that the conditions depicted onscreen really existed. M-G-M's Schary responded by citing research and news accounts that supported the film's depiction of certain inner-city schools. Claire Boothe Luce, at the time the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, prevented the film's screening at the Venice Film Festival by threatening to walk out if it was shown. Luce claimed that if she attended a performance of the film, she would be "giving ammunition to Italian Communist and anti-U.S. propaganda." Finally, Schary wrote in his autobiography, "Senator Estes Kefauver came to Hollywood to investigate movies-he meant one movie, Blackboard Jungle....He called me as his first witness. He explained that he was in Hollywood to learn whether we acted responsibly when making [this] film." Schary related that after providing Kefauver with volumes of data on juvenile delinquency, he asked the senator what he found objectionable about the film. "He admitted he had not yet seen it," Schary wrote. "I suggested that there seemed to be a lack of responsibility in his investigation."
The picture's soundtrack also created a stir. According to Brooks's New York Times interview, a Boston theater ran the first reel in silence for fear that the rock and roll music on the soundtrack would over-stimulate the audience. "Rock Around the Clock," the song played beneath the film's credits, was one of the top ten songs of the year and played an important part in expanding the rock and roll market. In a modern source, Peter Ford, the son of the film's star, Glenn Ford, noted that Brooks borrowed the record from Peter's collection. The article goes on to say that M-G-M purchased limited rights to the song from Decca Records for $5,000. Under that agreement, the studio was granted the right to use the song only three times in the film. The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography (black and white) and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (black and white). According top a December 14, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, the Producers Theatre was to present a Broadway production based on the Hunter novel, but that production apparently never opened.
Released in United States Spring March 1955
Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) May 9, 1991.
Jameel Farah changed his name to Jamie Farr and eventually achieved fame on the MASH TV series.
Released in United States Spring March 1955