Today we have the third of our back to school movies and it is the first of its kind. Today’s film is Blackboard Jungle (1955). When this film was released it shocked a post-war American audience. Glenn Ford does a great job in this role and it surprised me because I know him primarily as a cowboy actor or as Superman’s dad if you are younger.
Glenn Ford plays the first-time teacher Richard Dadier. Ford was born in Canada in 1916 and moved to the US when he was 8. After high school, he began working in theater and taking odd jobs including with Will Rogers who taught him to ride a horse. Wow.
In 1939, he began working for Columbia Pictures and became a US citizen the same year. His first major role was Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939). In late 1942, Ford joined the Marine Corp reserve. He spent his time working in the Photographic Section. He was discharged in 1944 for ulcers. In 1958, he returned as a reserve officer.
Ford’s best-known role is most likely the film noir classic Gilda (1946) with co-star Rita Hayworth. This pair eventually made five movies together.
Through the 50s and 60s, Ford’s career was on fire. He made thrillers, dramas, action, comedies, and westerns. Some of his best-known films include A Stolen Life with Bette Davis, The Secret of Convict Lake with Gene Tierney, The Big Heat (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), Framed (1947), Interrupted Melody (1955), Experiment in Terror (1962) with Lee Remick, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), Jubal (1956), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Cimarron (1960), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Don’t Go Near the Water (1957), The Gazebo (1959), Cry for Happy (1961), and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). However, my favorite Ford movie is The Violent Men (1955). Ford stars as a peaceful man returning from the Civil War who faces a fight with Barbara Stanwyck, Brian Keith, and Edward G. Robinson.
The 70s found Ford working in television. In 1978, Ford was cast as Superman’s earth father Jonathan Kent. In his final scene, “Rock Around the Clock” is playing on the radio. In Superman Returns (2006) with Eva Marie Saint as Martha, there is a picture of Ford on the mantel.
Ford died in 2006 at the age of 90.
Anne Francis plays the role of Anne Dadier the wife of Richard. Born in New York in 1930 Anne was a model by age of 6 and on Broadway by the age of 11. Following WWII MGM put the blue-eyed beauty under contract. All of her films were below her talent level. She worked in television and on the stage for a time.
When she signed with 20th Century Fox she got the same treatment. She had three standout roles which include the troubled wife in Blackboard Jungle (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956), and the wonderfully intense drama Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy.
The 1960s found Francis working in television. She had a very short run as karate chopping detective on “Honey West” (1965). While she made a few movies they never really let her shine. She died in 2011 of cancer. Francis like Betty Field and so many others never found the vehicle that would show the star she was.
Louis Calhern played the role of Jim Murdock, the teacher that had contempt for the students. Calhern was generally cast as an aristocrat. He was picked by a talent scout while playing football. He worked in the theater in New York until he had to serve in France during WWI. After the war, he returned to the theater and eventually found his way into the movies. His greatest role was that of a lawyer working with criminals on a heist. He was creepy as the lover of a very young Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle (1950). He died of a heart attack while filming The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956).
Margaret Hayes played the role of new teacher Lois Hammond. This auburn-haired beauty often played the other women. The Blackboard Jungle was no exception. She and Richard were drawn to each other and had some strong sexually tension. Hayes left acting in 1962 and worked in fashion, public relations, and a fashion editor. Later she returned to the stage and to television.
Emile Meyer played the role of veteran teacher and hammer for the principal Mr. Halloran. Meyer was born in New Orleans in 1910 and worked playing a tough guy in movies. Some of his best-known roles are as Ryker in Shane (1953), as Father Dupree in the anti-war Paths of Glory (1957) with Kirk Douglas, and the corrupt and brutal cop in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. His last role was The Legend of Frank Woods (1977) and he died a decade later.
Basil Ruysdael had a very small role in The Blackboard Jungle (1955) as Richard’s Prof. A.R. Kraal. Ruysdael was born in 1878. During the WWI period, he was leading bass singer at The met.
Basil Ruysdael (July 24, 1878 – October 10, 1960) was an American film actor and opera singer. He had the honor of playing Detective Hennessey in the very first Marx Brothers movie, The Cocoanuts (1929). He had roles in Broken Arrow (1950), People Will Talk (1951), The Violent Men (1955), Blackboard Jungle (1955), Jubal (1956), The Last Hurrah (1958). In The Horse Soldiers (1959), he played the head of Confederate boys schools sent out to stop the Yankee raiders. His last acting role was The Story of Ruth (1960) and he did voice work for One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), However, he died before it was released.
Vic Morrow played trouble student and a real pain in the ass Artie West. Morrow was born in New York in 1929. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy. Following the Navy, he studied pre-law at Florida State University. Go Noles. He was cast in a school play and was hooked on acting.
His first role was in the Blackboard Jungle (1955). Since he played a punk in this movie he quickly became typecast. he left MGM after a few years and studied directing at USC. Morrow had success on the television series “Combat!” 1962. By 1967, his career and personal life were in shambles. He was successful on tv and did a few movies such as Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) and The Bad News Bears (1976). With his career and personal life again in shambles, he turned to the bottle. By 1982, he was ready to return to his career. He began working on Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), but he was killed on July 23, 1982, when a stunt explosion caused a helicopter to crash land on him and two children working in the film.
Jamie Farr was cast as a mentally challenged named Santini. The Blackboard Jungle (1955) was his first role. After this, he was drafted and sent to Japan and Korea. He had a few movie roles but I just wanted to mention that he was the cross-dressing corporal on “M*A*S*H” 1972-1983.
At the time this movie was made Morrow was 26 and Poitier was 28. A little old for high school. Morrow beat out Steve McQueen for the role of Artie. Louis Gossett, Jr. was considered for the role of Miller. Three other future stars can be seen in this movie. The first is Richard Deacon who had a small role as one of the teachers. He was well known as the straight man, Mel Cooly on “The Dick VanDyke Show.” The second actor was Valentin de Vargas who played evil gangster Pancho in Touch of Evil (1958). Finally, there was a quick shot of James Drury as the hospital attendant. Drury was best known as television’s The Virginian.
This movie takes place after World War II when servicemen and women were returning to America and getting busy living again after what they had been through. So when the teachers arrived at the school many had seen the horrors of war and shouldn’t be shaken by what they would see in the classroom. This movie was released until after the Korean War so it could appear that this was the war referenced.
This movie was the first movie that used a real rock and roll song when at the time mainstream America felt that rock and roll might be the cause of the problem and not just a manifestation of the mode. The song was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. This song is extremely tame by modern stands and I had to check to make sure it wasn’t used as the “Happy Days” theme.
Oddly this song has had a detrimental effect on our society. I will explain. In 1705, Sir Edmond Halley calculated the return of the comet that bears his name. This was done with calculations of gravitational effects and historic sightings. However, every since Billy Haley and the Comets, Halley’s comet had often been incorrectly referred to as Haley’s comet. In an oddity of fate Halley never saw the comet that bears his name.
The movie begins with Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) arriving by bus at a school. Some boys are out front swing dancing to kill time. Although Dadier didn’t receive near the sexual harassment To Sir, With Love (1967) seemed to copy these elements from this earlier movie. Dadier meets the school principal Mr. Warneke (John Hoyt) for his second interview. Warneke is kind of a hard ass and questions Dadier about attending a girls school and not being able to project his voice. Dadier says he was in theater at college and does the siege of Harflour speech from Shakespeare’s Henry the 5th. You know – Once more into the breach dear friends. This is a classic metaphor for the work ahead and the war that was left behind. He gets the teaching job at the all boys trade school in a rough part of New York city.
He meets some of the other teachers such as Joshua Y. Edwards (Richard Kiley) who is a new teacher and is into jazz records, new teacher and local hottie Lois Hammond (Margaret Hayes), jaded veteran teacher Jim Murdock (Louis Calhern), and super tuff heavy and hammer of the principal Mr. Halloran (Emile Meyer).
Dadier meets his wife, Anne Dadier (Anne Francis), in an Italian restaurant. It is at this point you find out that Anne is four months pregnant and has already had one miscarriage. They have champagne and ravioli. An odd choice for an expectant mother by our modern standards. As the happy couple leaves the restaurant, two drag racers knock another car over and they are missed by a mile. He does more damage grabbing Anne and shaking her to see if she is ok. Anyway, the cars are more wild youths with no regard for society.
On the first day of school, the assembled school is going wild. Louis Hammond was hooted and whistled at and stumbles badly. Mr. Halloran shouts them down.
Dadier takes his class and has Artie West (Vic Morrow) and he finds out later he has Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier) as well. He finds Miller in the head smoking. Miller gives him the business calling him chief.
When Dadier is writing his name on the board a baseball whizzes by his head hitting the blackboard. Dadier plays it cool by saying whoever threw the ball will never play for the Yankee’s. Pete Morales (Rafel Campos) changes Dadier to daddy-o. They find out that Santini (Jamie Farr) is mentally deficient. Dadier singles out Miller and asks him to be a leader for good in the class. Miller considers it.
Ms. Hammond is going to give Dadier a ride and she goes down ahead. While adjusting her hose on the stairs she is watched by a student. When Dadier goes down he sees a women’s shoe in the hallway. He breaks into the locked classroom and stops the rape from happening. The boy jumps through a closed window and Dadier pulls him back through the glass in a moment of righteous justice.
Dadier’s wife is getting jealous of Ms. Hammond. When school resumes the students believe that Dadier beat the boy for no reason. The class turns ice cold and have a grammar riot. Dadier tries to talk to Miller again but Miller is not having any of it.
Joshua Edwards and Dadier go for a drink in a bar that is apparently right across from the school. While they are drinking Edwards shows his love for jazz. They keep drinking and when they go outside it is dark dark and Edwards says lets cut through the alley. Now when you’re in a big city and someone says let’s cut through the alley you say “Go ahead, I’ll walk around.” Of course, Artie and his gang of white x-ed wearing hoods are waiting outside. They jump the two teachers and combat veteran Dadier makes a show for awhile but is overwhelmed and beaten. The cops roll in and the gang scatters. No arrests. I have to make one comment about this gang. It was a multi-racial gang only seen on TV. No black but Italians, Irish, and Puerto Ricans.
Artie calls Anne and prays on her jealousy about Ms. Hammond. Dadier makes it home as a beaten pulp.
Dadier wonders what he is doing trying to teach these animals. He goes to see his old college professor A.R. Kraal (Basil Ruysdael). Kraal peps him up and gives him hope for the future. A week later Dadier returns to school. A detective (Horace McMahon) wants Dadier to identify the students but he refuses to help. At one point they say the fathers are at war and the mothers are in defense plants so they have no home lives.
They have put in a machine shop above his class and it is hard to teach. He brings in a tape recorder and wants to record the boys. Artie and Miller manipulate in Dadier into recording the heavily accented voice of Morales. They then accuse Dadier of racism. He tries to give them a lesson on race and drops the n-bomb, says spick, and Mick.
Dadier is called into Mr. Warneke’s office. On the way in you find that Mr. Murdoch has slapped a student. Dadier is accused of racism and is given the opportunity to explain himself. After the ass chewing he gets put in charge of the Christmas pageant. Later Dadier is coming out of Ms. Hammond’s room and he sees Miller on the stairs and accuses of ratting him out. Miller is defensive and at one point Dadier says “Why you black…” and then he controls himself.
As it gets dark Artie and his gang are planning a robbery of a news truck. As Dadier sees the robbery and Artie throws a bottle at him and then pretends to rescue him. Dadier knows he is part of the robbery. Artie doesn’t care if he goes to juvie as it will keep him out of the Army later.
The next school day Edwards is attacked by his class and they break all of his precious jazz records. The shove and trip Edwards. Dadier finds him shaken and asking why. In the teacher’s lounge, we learn that all of the record breakers were sentenced to write “I will respect other people’s property” 500 times. Dadier chews the other teachers out and then admits he doesn’t know the answer but he knows beating them like they get at home is not the answer.
Anne gets a handwritten letter saying watch out there is another women. She heads to the school and Ms. Hammond comes out just before Mr. Dadier. By this point, you are beginning to wonder what is going on. He sees his wife and she shows him another letter from Professor Kraal saying he can get him a job at a better school.
As the Christmas pageant draws nearer Dadier comes to school and finds Miller and five other guys singing a beautiful version of “Let My People Go.” Dadier asks Miller to be in the show and also what the rules were. Dadier is playing with a lock perhaps representing the struggle they are all having.
Dadier shows his class a Jack and the Bean Stalk cartoon. They are all enjoying it except Artie who is making a stink-a-puss face. After the film, everyone except Artie is engaged and talking about ethics. He has gotten through to them for the first time. Miller is showing leadership while Artie carves the desk with a switchblade.
Anne gets another letter and we see that she has many of them. Another call says her husband is with her. This is correct but they are at the Christmas pageant rehearsal. Ms. Hammond puts the bum rush on Dadier but he ain’t having any. Anne gets another call as Dadier walks with Miller to his job as a mechanic. He says he will not quit teaching if Miller stays in school.
When Dadier gets home his wife is being taken away in an ambulance because of pains. She has the baby two months early. The landlady brings Dadier the letters and he are completely done with the school. Jim Murdock says that Dadier has gotten through and the teachers are motivated.
By New Years the baby is okay and Anne talks her husband into staying with teaching.Back min the classroom Artie is cheating on an assignment. Dadier tells him to bring his paper. When Miller suggest he do what he is told, Artie calls him a black boy and they almost get into a fight. Dadier tells Artie to go to the principal but he pulls out his switchblade. As Artie backs away one boy closes the curtains and another sneaks up behind Dadier. Miller smashes the sneak into the wall and Artie cuts the teachers hand. Artie begs for help. Finally, Dadier takes the knife away and shakes the hell out of him. Belazi (Dan Terranova) picks up the knife and tries to get out but no one will help. Santini (Jamie Farr) uses the flag pole as a battering ram and his Belazi in the chest. Morales picks up the knife as Artie screams use it. he breaks the blade making it useless. Dadier takes the two boys to the office with the consent of the class. As Dadier walks out of the building with his hand wrapped Miller confirms their deal and they both stay at the school.
World-Famous Short Summary – High school students are bastard people
If you enjoyed this week’s show please tell your friends and it you really want to help drop over to iTunes to give me a review. If you want to comment, recommend a movie, or just say high follow the links in the show notes to my site.
Beware the moors