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I know nothing about "Blackboard Jungle" except that it's "the other" teen-angst film from 1955 that I was going to watch, along with "Rebel Without a Cause." The notorious high school principal, Mr. Warneke, is played by John Hoyt, who you'll find playing the Chief Medical Officer on the Starship Enterprise before Dr. McCoy came along in the "Star Trek" series pilot, "The Cage." (don't forget, the central action in "The Cage" takes place thirteen years before most of the current cast has come into the picture). It's amazing how many character actors you become familiar with over time - in this movie is someone I've encountered several times recently: "The Maytag Repairman," Jesse White, not credited in this film, but pictured here to the left of Glenn Ford (our right). White was in so many things I've seen lately that I'm thinking of giving him his own thread: And who's that in the glasses playing the student named Santini? It's Jameel Farah in his film debut. Interestingly, the Lebanese-American Farah (born in Toledo, OH) used his real birth name in this film; he eventually changed his stage name to Jamie Farr. You know how people say "the good old days were only old; they were never good?" This is one example of something that's both old *and* good: an ethnic actor unafraid to use his birth name for fear of being ostracized. So many famous actors, like this student, Artie West in the film, to the left of the column with curly hair and a cap on: Unfortunately, this actor, Vic Morrow - like James Dean - became more famous for how he died than how he lived. The opening of this film is a virtual parade of future Hollywood stardom, like that kid in the restroom smoking a cigarette: Twelve years later, he'd have the most successful year in all of Hollywood, winning Best Actor for "In the Heat of the Night" (yep: Sidney Poitier). Then, much later in the film, comes along Richard Deacon for a cameo: *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** With about thirty minutes left, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) went from being completely ostracized by his students - with his wife threatened - to borderline accepted, for seemingly no reason. Perhaps it's Miller (Sidney Poitier) who was finally won over, and Miller is (as has been implied the entire film) leader of the gang, so to speak. The transition just seems a little abrupt to me, but regardless, it takes a *lot* of stress off of the viewer. This all happens shortly after Dadier walks in on Miller's gospel group, singing about Moses - a side of Miller that has not yet been seen before (it should be remembered that this film was released just one short year after Brown vs. Board of Education was decided). I've been negligent in not mentioning Dadier's lovely wife Anne (played by Anne Francis). Easily the main sub-plot of the film, Anne wants Richard (Glenn Ford) to move to a better school, with students who are more receptive, but she does have a secret ulterior motive: She has started to get anonymous letters, warning her about another woman - as far as the viewer can tell, these letters are absolutely untrue, and are efforts from the students to destroy Richard - that's why it's a little surprising that this all started happening right around the same time he was becoming accepted by them. With only thirty minutes left in the film, it's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. I have a hunch that it might be Lois Hammond herself ("the other woman") sending these letters, because she might have a crush on Richard. I say that, yet it's clearly a man who has called twice to warn the (expecting) wife, and that man is shaping up to be Miller (Poitier) - why on earth would he be doing this when Richard has shown absolutely *no* sign of infidelity? Maybe Miller really *does* want Richard to get the hell out of this school, and teach somewhere he can be appreciated - that would be fitting, because Dadier has been good to Miller this entire film, and Miller knows it. I'm writing this paragraph about ten minutes after the last one - Artie West (Vic Morrow) has quietly been perhaps the strongest supporting actor in this movie, and the producer and director have *very* cleverly led the viewers to follow their own biases down one street, when it has been West all along that was the source of all troubles (although I was almost certain West was the one who slugged Richard in the alley). Vic Morrow should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor if he wasn't, because he is *terrific* in this film. About the *only* over-the-top element (and I'm just about at the end) was when Santini (Jameel Farah) stopped West's attack with the American Flag - that was awfully heavy-handed, but I can give this fantastic movie one mulligan. Props also go to Rafael Campos who played Latino student Pete Morales - he was yet another quietly brilliant actor in this movie. If "Blackboard Jungle" was Poitier's springboard to Hollywood stardom (and his career began almost a decade earlier, so it might not have been, but *if* it was), it's perfectly understandable, because he comes across as the type of actor who America would embrace for his role in this film. He was brilliant, but so were any of a dozen other people - even small roles, such as Richard and Anne's doctor (Warner Anderson) were just brilliantly played. It's funny, I thought that the principal, Mr. Warneke (John Hoyt) was going to have such an influential role in this film, but he did almost nothing (which, in-and-of-itself, was *very* influential in terms of how the high school was run), but in terms of the movie, he was nearly non-existent, and it was the command performances of so many other actors that made "Blackboard Jungle" leaps-and-bounds better than "Rebel Without a Cause" - the former is *so* much better than the latter, that they really can't be compared; one is a period piece - a "Catcher in the Rye"-type piece of pablum, famous only for James Dean; the other, "Blackboard Jungle," is one of the finest films I've seen - easily the best "50s-era problem-teen" film I've ever watched, and if this wasn't nominated for Best Picture, and if several people weren't nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, then that's criminal. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie at all costs. I'm not going to "rank" it, but I will say that it's one of the finest movies I've ever seen - top 20? top 30? I don't know ... just see it, trust me and see it. People say this film is dated, and a product of its time; I think it's underrated, and way ahead of its time - it is *so much* more important than "Marty," which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the acting is *so much* better than it was in "Rebel Without a Cause," which had a lot more nominations - the academy simply wasn't ready for this type of movie in 1955. It's time for "Blackboard Jungle" to have a renaissance.
Yet another film that I've always wanted to watch, but never have, "Rebel without a Cause" is such an American icon that even the title alone breeds familiarity. I'm not sure I've ever seen a film with James Dean in it before, either. Dean stars as Jim Stark, Natalie Wood co-stars as Judy, and Sal Mineo is in a supporting role as John "Plato" Crawford. Other famous names include Jim "Mr. Magoo" Backus as Frank Stark, Dennis "Blue Velvet" Hopper as Goon, and Edward "Sorry About That, Chief" Platt as Ray Fremick - what an all-star cast this was! And there was plenty more talent in this picture, too - you might even recognize Jesse "The Maytag Repairman" White in an uncredited role as a policeman, questioning Sal Mineo early on. The title instantly reminds of Marlon Brando's line in "The Wild One," in which Kathie Bleeker asks Johnny Strabler, "What're you rebelling against, Johnny?" To which Brando replies, "Whaddya got?" I had never before heard of a Sam Browne before this scene: From what I've seen so far, it's no coincidence that this "teen angst" film came out just four years after J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (which, incidentally, may be the most overrated book I've ever read - at least, that's my interpretation of it upon first reading - if anyone can convince me otherwise, I'll have another go at it at some future point, but I found it very dated and painfully boring). "The Wild One," Rock-N-Roll music ... this is all Post-WWII expression, I suppose. I hate to say it, but we almost *need* another World War to remind ourselves of just how good we have things (and no, I'm not hoping for another World War, because the cost of that lesson would be far too expensive). Wow, this movie is more intense than I thought it would be, and from what I see in the scene where Jim's tires are slashed, he's a rebel *with* a cause - a very solid cause. Buzz Gunderson (played by Corey Allen) is a real shit-and-a-half, and why Jim agreed to go for round two after he so decisively won round one is beyond me. The editing (and cinematography) in this film is really good - it has a "slashy" feel to it, which mirrors a knife fight. Also, the juxtaposition of family problems (between families) is really effective at telling separate, but similar, stories. With 45 minutes left in the movie, I'm starting to wonder if "Rebel Without a Cause" means something entirely different than what I always assumed it meant. Jim has plenty of reason to be a "rebel" (if that's even the right word for it); but there was no good "cause" that should have made him this way. Restated, there was no justifiable "cause" that Jim should have become so troubled - and here I thought that James Dean was going to be a Marlon Brando-type character (in "The Wild One") - rebelling without any end game in mind, rebelling simply for the sake of rebelling. It's the difference between asking "What caused the rebel?" and "What's the rebel's cause?" Yes, he had a lousy family life, but that was a needless situation - it shouldn't have been like that, but, alas, it was. At 1:09 in the movie (on Amazon Prime), the song playing over the radio - dedicated to Jim from Buzz - is the exact same song in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Little Red Riding Rabbit": "The Five O'Clock Whistle." I'm having some trouble figuring out the meaning of the scene in the abandoned mansion with Jim, Judy, and Plato - I understand them needing some refuge, but it's an extended scene, and it doesn't seem like it quite fits in with the rest of the film - I suppose Jim and Judy needed some "alone time" to develop their relationship. Wow, now *Plato* - he was a rebel without a cause. Roger Ebert succinctly pointed out that Plato was gay in this film - something that I didn't pick up on, but I'm almost certain is correct - this shows you why Ebert is such a legendary film critic, and I should probably stick to writing about food and wine. DIShGo (who is watching the movie as I type) pointed out that Plato has a picture of "Shane" in his locker, lending further credence to Plato most likely being gay. You know, I'm observant enough, and I've watched enough films in my lifetime, that I *really* need to be picking up on things such as this - shame on me. This movie left me with some thinking to do - I'm not sure that I just watched a great film; I am certain that I just watched an important piece of Americana. It is certainly fitting that the movie ended where it was shortly after it began - in the planetarium, where the lecturer essentially gave an Existentialist talk about mankind. Foreshadowing? Oh, yeah. Rebel Without a Cause was also the final Hollywood film played by Marietta Canty, an important Black-American actress we should all know about.