Cast & Crew
John Drew Barrymore
Mamie Van Doren
In order to crack a burgeoning drug ring, police agent Mike Wilson goes undercover as Tony Baker, a troublesome high school student transferring into Santa Bella high school. On the first day of school, Mike brazenly flirts with pretty Joan Staples, who is dating the school tough, J. I. Coleridge. Mike then befriends Petey, who informs him about the different groups around the school. Later in class, Mike antagonizes teacher Arlene Williams who angrily sends Mike to principal Mr. W. O. Robinson. After establishing himself as a rowdy troublemaker at school, Mike returns home to the apartment he shares with Gwen Dulaine, who is posing as Tony's aunt. Restless and bored because her husband is out of town, Gwen flirts with Mike, but he is disinterested and cautions her to maintain her cover. A few days later, city commissioner Walter Burroughs meets with Robinson and the high school teachers to discuss the dangers of drug addiction and its encroachment into public schools. Back in school, Mike meets Steve Bentley, the head of a drag car racing group called the Rangers, but refuses to join the group. Overhearing part of a conversation between Joan and J. I., Mike learns that Joan smokes marijuana and is anxious as she does not have enough money to make a purchase. The next afternoon, when Arlene's car stalls, Mike offers her a ride home. On the way, she counsels him to tone down his belligerent behavior, but he remains cavalier. At the local club that night, Joan brings a small amount of money but is dismayed when J. I. tells her that it is still inadequate to "score" a "hit." Mike arrives and while dancing with Joan, suggests that he might be able to help her acquire some marijuana. At a swimming party at Joan's home the next day, Mike admits that he has been unable to secure any marijuana, prompting Joan to reveal that she usually buys from Jukey Judlaw. The festive mood of the party comes to an end when a schoolmate, Doris, breaks down and Joan sees her friend's arm covered with needle marks. Mike tells Joan that hard drugs are the inevitable result of marijuana addiction. Later that night, Mike meets Jukey and asks to buy five pounds of marijuana, but Jukey insists that he only sells individual marijuana "sticks" or cigarettes. Jukey offers to introduce Mike to his supplier the following evening at the teenagers' makeshift drag racetrack. The next day at school, Arlene meets privately with Mike to ask him to join the after-school program she runs for students with difficulties. Mike scoffs at her, however, and refuses. On the way to the drag racetrack that night, Joan happily smokes a "joint" and is surprised when Mike refuses, claiming he is only interested in marijuana as a business. At the track, Mike asks J. I. if he knows the name of Jukey's supplier and J. I. reveals that he is the local dealer working for a key supplier named Mr. A. Mike buys all of J. I.'s marijuana, which he then packs into his car's hubcap. During the race against Steve and three other boys, Mike's hubcap is knocked loose and falls off just as the police arrive. Mike and several teens are arrested, but Mike pleads innocent and is surprised to be bailed out by attorney William Remington Kane, who works for Mr. A. At school the next day, Arlene expresses concern over Mike's arrest and when he responds flippantly, Arlene goes to Mike's apartment to confront Gwen about the situation. Gwen defends Mike, but when he arrives later, she makes vague threats to expose him if their masquerade does not end soon. At a party at the local club that night, J. I. interrupts Mike's date with Joan to take him to Mr. A. Mike is able to warn fellow police agent Quinn, posing as a waiter, about the plan. J. I. and Mike are driven by Mr. A's assistant Bix to an office where J. I. introduces Mike to Mr. August, the drug supplier, who owns the local club. Mr. A. reveals that he has had Mike investigated and although he checks out, he wants to verify that Mike was once a heroin user. Mr. A offers Mike an injection and, after palming a small rubber ball, Mike feigns taking the drug by injecting it into the ball. Satisfied, Mr. A agrees to sell Mike a large drug supply. Mike then reports to his police superior that they can make an arrest as soon as he receives the drugs from Mr. A. At home that night, as Mike listens to the secret audio recording that he made of his meeting with Mr. A., he discovers Joan, high on marijuana, waiting in his room. When Bix calls a few moments later to tell Mike to meet him immediately, Mike telephones Arlene and pleads with her to come over and help Joan. Arlene arrives after Mike's departure and struggles to calm Joan, who is searching desperately for a "joint." Soon afterward, J. I. and Jukey come by the apartment and, finding Mike absent, order Joan to stop seeing him. Terrified, Joan blurts out that she has overheard a tape Mike recorded with Mr. A's voice on it. After the boys depart, Joan tearfully tells Arlene that she is renouncing her use of marijuana. At the club, Mike meets Bix and Mr. A. in the kitchen, but just after Mike receives the drug supply, J. I. telephones. Mr. A. then searches Mike and finds a recording wire on him. Meanwhile, out on the club floor, Quinn reveals his identity to Steve and asks him for the Rangers' help. When Mr. A. attempts to shoot Mike, he escapes and a fight breaks out. With the assistance of Steve and his gang, Mr. A. and his cohorts are overpowered, although Quinn is killed. Later, Mr. A. and Bix are arrested and convicted and J. I. and Jukey are placed in juvenile detention.
John Drew Barrymore
Mamie Van Doren
Jerry Lee Lewis
Charles Chaplin Jr.
William Wellman Jr.
Texas Joe Foster
J. W. Brown
William A. Horning
Joseph E. Kent
Jerry Lee Lewis
Harold J. Marzorati
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
High School Confidential!
The Rock 'n' Roll element in High School Confidential! is brief, but remains one of the most memorable of the 1950s. As the film opens, a flatbed truck is driving slowly in front of Santo Bello High School, carrying Jerry Lee Lewis at the piano as he blasts out the title song. At the same time, tough kid Tony Baker (Russ Tamblyn) muscles his way into a prime parking space for his first day at the school. He proceeds to make a pitch to take over the local gang, the Wheelers and Dealers, from leader J.I. Coleridge (John Drew Barrymore) and makes a play for his girl Joan (Diane Jergens) as well. Tony carries a switchblade and wads of cash, so he quickly becomes the Big Man on Campus. One teacher (Jan Sterling) tolerates Tony's anti-social behavior and observes his odd home life he lives with his over-sexed and inappropriate guardian Aunt Gwen (Mamie Van Doren). J.I. introduces Tony to the drug scene at school, and after proving himself in a drag race, Tony is allowed to meet Mr. A (Jackie Coogan), who runs the racket that supplies lower-level dealers with marijuana, heroin, and more.
High School Confidential! is breathtakingly audacious for a film that received such a mainstream release (through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, no less). The movie's casual and honest depiction of heroin use might seem odd at first glance, but a look at the writing credits reveals that co-writer Lewis Meltzer had just come from a stint as co-scripter of the granddaddy of all serious explorations of drug abuse, Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). It is quite a jolt to see an attractive high school girl in a heroin withdrawal writhing on the backroom couch of a drug kingpin, because only moments earlier we witnessed Mamie Van Doran purring seductively on the bed of her nephew while he changes clothes in his room! Such vivid contrasts in the film certainly seem intentional, and Arnold is skilled enough as a director to guide the actors toward the proper tone. As Bruce Eder writes in Marshall Crenshaw's Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock'n'Roll in the Movies, "The beauty of this picture is the knowing archness of its players. Each line of dialogue carries an oh-so-subtle nudge in the ribs; each is delivered for the greatest ironic impact. Coupled with the overheated lust of the female characters, this is a dazzling piece of exploitation filmmaking."
Actor Mel Welles has an additional credit in High School Confidential!, for "special material." (Welles, by the way, was a favorite of another low-budget producer, Roger Corman, for whom he played Mr. Mushnik, the keeper of The Little Shop of Horrors ). For this film, Welles wrote two memorable beatnik scenes. In one, John Drew Barrymore gives a hep-talk version of the story of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella to history class while the teacher is away; in the other scene a cool beat poem is delivered by Phillipa Fallon as Jackie Coogan wails away on jazz piano. Here is a short sample:
They cry put down pot, don't think a lot
For what? Time, and how much you do with it
Sleep, man, and you might wake up
Diggin' the whole human race
Giving itself three days to get out.
Tomorrow is a drag, Pops
The future is a flake.
High School Confidential! features more eye-candy than just the female form; throughout the film Russ Tamblyn drives a gorgeous 1958 Imperial Crown convertible. Los Angeles-based car customizer George Barris wrote in his book Barris Kustoms of the 1950s, that, while roadsters and cool cars had been a staple of teen and exploitation films since the late 1940s, "High School Confidential! was one of the first to feature hot rods and customs built specifically for a movie. We built two 1948 Chevys with teardrop skirts, custom grilles, blanked outside windows, lowered suspension, and chopped tops." For the drag racing scene, Barris said, "We installed a roll cage in one of the ...Chevys, but the stunt driver, Gary Laufer, couldn't roll it. It was too low. There was no way he could get it over, so they dropped it from a crane to simulate the rollover. ...Today they'd have no problem rolling the car with their modern flip-over techniques which use cannons mounted in the floor." Despite the lack of a rollover, Jack Arnold shows considerable flair for the action scenes in the film; both the drag race sequence and a frenetic fight scene that concludes the picture are expertly staged and edited, and still pack a wallop.
Mamie Van Doran was a repeat-player in Albert Zugsmith films; she later called the producer "...way ahead of his time. He wanted to do outlandish things and I was part of that whole scene." In Marty Baumann's The Astounding B Monster, she tells of their first meeting: "...at Universal Studios, I was at lunch in the commissary, sitting with Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. I'd heard about him he'd just been signed to do X number of movies and you always want to try and touch base with new producers, because if they have a script, they'll think of you. He came walking by and I said 'Hello, Mr. Smith.' Tony said, 'Why did you call him Mr. Smith? Why didn't you call him by his first name?' I said, 'I don't know him well enough to call him Zug.' It was just a real dumb blonde remark. Rock and Tony fell off their chairs..."
In 1960 Zugsmith produced College Confidential, also featuring Van Doran. This film was a sequel in name only, however, as the characters are different and the plot deals with a campus sex survey. As he did with High School Confidential!, though, Zugsmith assembled a wildly eclectic cast which included Steve Allen, Herbert Marshall, Rocky Marciano, Elisha Cook Jr., and Conway Twitty!
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Robert Blees, Lewis Meltzer
Cinematography: Harold J. Marzorati
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: William A. Horning, Hans Peters
Music: Albert Glasser
Cast: Russ Tamblyn (Tony Baker, aka Mike Wilson), Jan Sterling (Arlene Williams), John Drew Barrymore (J.I. Coleridge), Mamie Van Doren (Gwen Dulaine), Diane Jergens (Joan Staples), Ray Anthony (Bix) Jerry Lee Lewis (Himself), Jackie Coogan (Mr. A), Lyle Talbot (William Remington Kane), Michael Landon (Steve Bentley).
by John M. Miller
High School Confidential!
If you flake around with the weed, you'll end up using the harder stuff.- Tony Baker
The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. Mamie Van Doren, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Anthony, Jackie Coogan, Charles Chaplin, Jr. and Diane Jergens are listed as "Guest stars" in the opening credits. Mamie Van Doren and Ray Anthony were married at the time of the film's production. Although a March 7, 1958 Hollywood Reporter production chart adds George Raft to the cast, he did not appear in the released film. High School Confidential! featured a number of second generation Hollywood actors, including John Barrymore, Jr. (billed for the first time as John Drew Barrymore), Charles Chaplin, Jr. and William Wellman, Jr.
This film was the first of three produced by Albert Zugsmith, all of which featured Mamie Van Doren. The other two films, College Confidential and Sex Kittens Go to College were both released in 1960 (see entries above and below). Although similar in theme to High School Confidential, as the titles of the other two films suggest, they were set on college campuses rather than in high schools.
Released in United States 1983
Released in United States Summer June 1958
Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A "B-Movie" Marathon) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)
Released in United States Summer June 1958