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COOLEY HIGH(director: Michael Schultz; screenwriter: Eric Monte; cinematographer: Paul Vombrack; editor: Christopher Holmes; music: Freddie Perren; cast: Glynn Turman (Leroy ‘Preach’ Jackson), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Richard ‘Cochise’ Morris), Garrett Morris (Mr. Mason), Cynthia Davis (Brenda), Corin Rogers (Pooter), Maurice Leon Havis (Willie), Joseph Carter Wilson (Tyrone), Sherman Smith (Stone), Norman Gibson (Robert), Maurice Marshall (Damon), Juanita McConnell (Martha), Christine Jones (Sandra), Mary Larkins (Preach’s Mother); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Steve Krantz; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1975)
“Sometimes engaging comical and poignant black experience high school teen flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A black American Graffiti (1973) nostalgia trip down memory lane based on Eric Monte’s autobiographical screenplay. Pioneer black filmmaker and Princeton-educated Michael Schultz (“Car Wash”/”Greased Lightning”/”Which Way Is Up?”) helms this sometimes engaging comical and poignant black experience high school teen flick that’s set in 1964 on the mean streets of Chicago’s West Side. There’s also a fitting Motown soundtrack. AIP’s Sam Arkoff greenlighted the project for a $750,000 budget and a 25-day shooting schedule and took in a cool 13 million dollars.

Best friends Leroy ‘Preach’ Jackson (Glynn Turman, married briefly to Aretha Franklin) and Richard ‘Cochise’ Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) are seniors attending Cooley Vocational High School and are neighbors in a housing project. They are not hardened criminal types, but are also not angels as they commit petty crimes. Preach digs poetry and history and wants to get out of the ghetto and envisions becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, but despite having smarts has terrible grades because he refuses to apply himself to school and is viewed as the class clown; while Cochise is the high-school basketball star and suave lady-killer, who just got a college basketball scholarship. Their story deals with scoring girls, trying to handle school, staying out of trouble and, finally, tragedy resulting from police troubles over a stolen car. The film merrily hops along from vignette to vignette, seemingly unfocused, starting with Preach, Cochise and two other students in their crew cutting school to go to the zoo, where they monkey around in the monkey house; Preach shooting craps at Martha’s teen hangout; attending a house party where the fat girl is caught stuffing herself and foolishly going along with some bad street tough hombres, Stone and Robert, to steal a car to go on a joy ride. Light-skinned nice girl Brenda (Cynthia Davis) falls for the obnoxious troublesome Preach when he impresses her with his knowledge of poetry. The most tender scene had Preach’s three job single mom sobbing and calling for the leather belt when returning in the evening to find her son was arrested for stealing a car and had a naked girl in his bed, but falling asleep before administering the punishment.

The mostly amateur cast do a fine job acting natural and are only let down at times when the screenplay is too thin, while Garrett Morris is superb playing the dedicated teacher with conviction. It’s only the film’s star Turman performance that left me a little cold (not that his performance should be questioned other than what he was asked to do), as after a while his act of lying, acting lecherous, reading his simple-minded doggerel as if it were great poetry and, in the forced tragic scene, acting haughty while torn apart over his friend’s death became grating and didn’t do it for me.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”