Blackboard Jungle, The (1955): Richard Brooks Sensationalist High School Drama, Starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier

Made in the same year as “A Rebel Without a Cause,” Richard Brooks’ high-school melodrama “Blackboard Jungle” was just as popular at the box-office but far more controversial than the James Dean starrer.

Unlike Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without Cause,” which embraced the point of view of youth, Brooks’ film presented one-dimensional condemnation of juvenile delinquency, seen from the perspective of one honest and idealist teacher. 
The film brought national attention to some of the problems that afflicted urban high schools. Unexpectedly, “Blackboard Jungle” ignited the worldwide wildfire of rock music. The soundtrack introduces Billy Haley’s relentless “Rock Around the Clock,” which was played at beginning and end of film, but not during the story
 
Proficient producer Pandro Berman had managed to guide the feature from the script phases to theatrical release in the unheard of short period of just three months. 
Unfortunately, the sincere but earnest and preachy screenplay by Brooks substitutes a more upbeat ending for Evan Hunter’s original novel.  That book was autobiographical, detailing the experience of a young teacher, who had taught in a big city vocational school for half a year but then quit in anger and frustration. Nonetheless, the foreword states carefully stated: The scenes and incidents depicted here are fictional.”
 
At the peak of his form, with several good appearances in Fritz Lang’s noir crimers, Glenn Ford plays Rick Dadier, a likable man, a newly returned veteran who takes his first teaching job in an inner-city school. He soon runs afoul of some tough students (depicted as hooligans), who are only hanging around until they are old enough to get jobs. 
 
Anne Dadier, Rick’s wife (Ann Francis), tries to convince him to quit and find another job. Another teacher (Richard Kiley) thinks he can reason with the kids but soon finds out how wrong he is. Rick is contrasted with Jim Murdock (Lewis Calhern), an aging, cynical teacher who just wants to survive until he can legally retire. Early on, Murdock advises: “Don’t be a hero and never turn your back to the class.”
 
Rounding out the ensemble of teachers is a pretty young woman, Lois Judley Hammond (Margaret Hayes), who’s frightened by her new assignment, and with good reason; there’s an attempted rape.
 
Vic Morrow (who’s the father of the gifted actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) plays the leader of a gang of thugs. 
Sidney Poitier renders a star-making performance, though at age 31, he is too old to play convincingly a high school student.  

Blackboard Jungle Glenn Ford

You can also spot among the students Paul Mazursky (who would become a film director in the 1960s) and Jamie Farr (then billed as Jameel Farah). 
 
The blatant scenario is replete with harsh speeches, as when the sarcastic Jim Murdock says: “This is the garbage can of the educational system. You take most of the schools, put ‘em together and you’ve got one big, fat overflowing garbage can.” 
Or Rick’s, in a moment of weakness: “Who cares if I quit? Do the kids? Do these parents? Who cares about teachers, anyway? A teacher makes around $2 an hour. A congressman and judge earn $9.25 an hour. Policemen and firemen $2.75 an hour. Carpenter $2.81. Plumber $2.97. Plasterer $3.21. A household cook gets more than we do and room and board.”
Director Brooks, wishing to give his film a gritty look, asked the cast to smudge the light blades with their fingerprints, because they were too clean, only to be told that such a realistic touch would not be approved by the Production Code.
Issues:
With the exception of Dadier, the other teachers represent narrowly defined stereotypes.
Margaret Hayes plays a sexy single teacher, who wears tight clothes to display her elegant figure, which trigger the students.  Later one, she hits on Ford’s Dadier because, as she says, “I’m bored.”
Anne Francis plays the loyal “stay home” wife, who gets threatening letters that her husband is cheating on her with the sexy teacher, leading to anxieties and giving birth to a premature baby.
The last act takes place around Christmas and New Year’s, lending the feature a symbolic dimension of rebirth and redemption. Dadier’s wife gets pregnant again, and he claims that “I need this baby as much as you do.”
Ultimately, it’s the initially rough student (Poitier), who becomes the class leader and the teacher’s ally, and his wife, who urge Dadied not to quit.
 
Cast
Glenn Ford as Richard Dadier
Sidney Poitier as Gregory Miller
Vic Morrow as Artie West
Anne Francis as Anne Dadier
Louis Calhern as Jim Murdock
Margaret Hayes as Lois Hammond
John Hoyt as Mr. Warneke
Richard Kiley as Joshua Edwards
Emile Meyer as Mr. Halloran
Warner Anderson as Dr. Bradley
Basil Ruysdael as Professor A. R. Kraal
Dan Terranova as Belazi
Rafael Campos as Pete V. Morales
Paul Mazursky as Emmanuel Stoker
Horace McMahon as Detective
Jameel Farah as Santini
 
Oscar Nominations: 4
 
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Cinematography (b/w): Russell Harlan
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Cedric Gibbons and Randall Duell; Edwin B. Willis and Henry Grace
Film Editing: Ferris Webster
 
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context:
 
The Screenplay Oscar went to Paddy Chayefsky for “Marty,” which also won Best Picture. The Cinematography Oscar went to James Wong Howe for “The Rose Tattoo,” which also won the Art Direction Oscar. The Editing Oscar went to Charles Nelson and William A. Lyon for “Picnic.”

Credits:

Release date: March 25, 1955
Running time: 101 minutes

Commercial Appeal

Made on a moderate budget of $1.2 million, the film was a huge commercial hit, largely due to music and scandals, grossing $8.1 at the box-office.