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  1. 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.
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