BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (director/writer: Richard Brooks; screenwriters: from the book by Evan Hunter; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Charles Wolcott; cast: Glenn Ford (Richard Dadier), Anne Francis (Anne Dadier), Louis Calhern (Jim Murdock), Margaret Hayes (Lois Hammond), John Hoyt (Mr. Warneke), Richard Kiley (Joshua Y. Edwards), Sidney Poitier (Gregory W. Miller), Vic Morrow (Artie West), Dan Terranova (Belazi), Rafael Campos (Pete V. Morales), Paul Mazursky (Emmanuel Stoker); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; MGM; 1955)
“Tells us as much about teaching as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity tells us about football.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A dreadful urban melodrama about teachers and juvenile delinquents clashing in a NYC vocational high school in the 1950s. It’s based on Bronx born novelist Evan Hunter’s moralistic novel about an idealistic young teacher, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford), and his rough opening semester in a tough slum school. The author took his first name from the high school he attended–Evander Childs–and his last name from the college he attended–Hunter College. Richard Brooks is the writer-director, whose screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. Don’t ask me why? I thought all the histrionics, teaching methods dropped, and over-the-top class violence were bogus. In addition the teaching atmosphere was phony and all the melodramatics were unconvincing. Though the film comes with good intentions about the nobility of the teaching profession and the hope that it’s possible to teach most children, these good intentions give way to a confused look at what teaching is all about.
The film received notoriety for its use of contemporary rock music over the opening and closing credits, as Bill Haley and his Comets played “Rock Around The Clock.” Its use of rock music, the first time for a major film, proved successful and started the trend to use rock music that still continues today. Otherwise this is a dated movie that has little relevance for today’s world, except education is still mired with many problems and discipline is still one of its major problems. And, let’s not forget teachers are still underpaid.
Married war veteran Richard Dadier gets his diploma through the G.I. Bill of Rights and begins his career as an earnest English teacher in an inner-city New York boys high school with a terrible reputation for discipline problems. He meets the bug-eyed principal Warneke (John Hoyt) who is in denial about his school having a discipline problem; the cynical veteran teacher Jim Murdock (Louis Calhern) who relates the school to a great big garbage can; the attractive bored Lois Hammond (Margaret Hayes), who nearly gets raped the first day of class; and naive math teacher Josh Edwards (Richard Kiley), who wants to teach but his rowdy students wouldn’t let him. Most of the faculty feel beaten down and just go through the motions of teaching. Dadier is faced with a problem class that includes wise guy black student Greg Miller (Sidney Poitier), calling him Chief; repulsive gang leader Artie West (Vic Morrow), a surly career criminal type who sneers at the teacher and calls him “Daddy-O;” Puerto Rican class clown Morales (Rafael Campos); troublemaker Belazi (Dan Terranova), a member of West’s armed robbery gang; and an assortment of other juvenile delinquent types.
Even after Dadier is jumped after school and beaten along with Edwards by his students, he is determined to do a good job and refuses to quit. He emphatically tells his pregnant wife Anne (Anne Francis): Dadier: “Yeah, I’ve been beaten up, but I’m not beaten. I’m not beaten, and I’m not quittin’.” Edwards quits after West and his classmates destroy the teacher’s valuable record collection. But Dadier hangs in, fights off charges of racism, directs the school Christmas play, and almost loses it when he learns his wife received threatening letters from his students and she gives birth prematurely.
Things get tied up in a nice neat knot as the cynical teacher learns the kids are human and can be taught, Poitier learns to believe in the system and remains in school for his senior year to pursue his talent in music, and Ford finally reaches the kids by showing them a movie and motivating them to use their imagination. Ford also has to disarm switch-blade yielding West in a classroom outbreak in order to gain respect and control of the class. But by the time that rolled around, I wouldn’t have been surprised by any incident taking place in this so-called jungle environment. The film tells us as much about teaching as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity tells us about football.
REVIEWED ON 9/15/2005 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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