For Reel

Blackboard Jungle (1955)
February 22, 2016, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Richard Brooks
4 Stars
Blackboard JungleBlackboard Jungle was both a major conversation starter at the time of its release and part of a new push in Hollywood towards films that dealt with social realism using gritty filmic techniques inspired by documentaries. The opening credits, set to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”, is one of the great moments of populist rebellion in the history of the medium–it announced Hollywood’s intention to not only acknowledge rock n’ roll, but cater to its fans. Later rock films would pigeonhole the middle-aged as enemies, but Blackboard Jungle is a film that is (theoretically) about compromise and understanding, bridging the gap between generations. As a film about teaching in a tough school, there’s a lot that it gets right. The personalities in the teachers lounge and the conversations therein are all-too-familiar, as is a great scene wherein Mr. Dadier (Glenn Ford) is confronted by his principal without getting to share his side of the story. Furthermore, if the film’s dealings with race are problematic from today’s eyes, Sidney Poitier gives a remarkable performance as a young student who serves as a leader of the classroom–he has enough power and screen presence that he avoids simply becoming a “tool” used by the white teacher. Unfortunately, Blackboard Jungle is saddled with a third act so hypocritical that it almost undermines it all. Despite being a film about trying to understand and reach out to a younger generation, it ultimately settles on the decision to identify the “problem” students and remove them from the classroom. What could have been a picture that championed teacher’s rights and illustrates methods of coping with a generational shift becomes one that demonizes certain delinquents. Regardless, the climactic failing is all that prevents this from being a masterpiece, both for its remarkable performances and the sense of immediacy with which director Richard Brooks brings to the material.