Blackboard Jungle (1955)

100-102 mins | Drama | 25 March 1955

Director:

Richard Brooks

Writer:

Richard Brooks

Producer:

Pandro S. Berman

Cinematographer:

Russell Harlan

Editor:

Ferris Webster

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Before the opening credits are given, a rolling written introduction to the film states: "We, in the United States, are fortunate to have a school system that is a tribute to our communities and to our faith in American youth. Today we are concerned with juvenile delinquency--its causes--and its effects. We are especially concerned when this delinquency boils over into our schools. The scenes and incidents depicted here are fictional. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step toward a remedy for any problem. It is in this spirit and with this faith that Blackboard Jungle was produced."
       Evan Hunter's novel was serialized beginning with the Oct 1954 issue of Ladies Home Journal. According to an Apr 1954 NYT news item, M-G-M paid Hunter $95,000 for the rights to his novel. In May 1962, a HR news item reported that writers Murray Burnett and Frederick Stephani accused Hunter of plagiarizing their work, but their suit was dismissed. According to a modern source, director Richard Brooks was originally hired to direct M-G-M's Ben Hur and William Wyler to direct Blackboard Jungle, but Brooks convinced Wyler to switch assignments. In his autobiography, Dore Schary, M-G-M's head of production, recalled that he was urged not to make the film by both Paramount executive Y. Frank Freeman and MPPA head Eric Johnston. Schary dismissed their concerns, but soon was asked by Loew's president Nicholas M. Schenk to reconsider. "I had only one argument for Schenk," Schary wrote. "'Nick, you're suggesting I give up on a film that might earn us nine or ... More Less

Before the opening credits are given, a rolling written introduction to the film states: "We, in the United States, are fortunate to have a school system that is a tribute to our communities and to our faith in American youth. Today we are concerned with juvenile delinquency--its causes--and its effects. We are especially concerned when this delinquency boils over into our schools. The scenes and incidents depicted here are fictional. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step toward a remedy for any problem. It is in this spirit and with this faith that Blackboard Jungle was produced."
       Evan Hunter's novel was serialized beginning with the Oct 1954 issue of Ladies Home Journal. According to an Apr 1954 NYT news item, M-G-M paid Hunter $95,000 for the rights to his novel. In May 1962, a HR news item reported that writers Murray Burnett and Frederick Stephani accused Hunter of plagiarizing their work, but their suit was dismissed. According to a modern source, director Richard Brooks was originally hired to direct M-G-M's Ben Hur and William Wyler to direct Blackboard Jungle, but Brooks convinced Wyler to switch assignments. In his autobiography, Dore Schary, M-G-M's head of production, recalled that he was urged not to make the film by both Paramount executive Y. Frank Freeman and MPPA head Eric Johnston. Schary dismissed their concerns, but soon was asked by Loew's president Nicholas M. Schenk to reconsider. "I had only one argument for Schenk," Schary wrote. "'Nick, you're suggesting I give up on a film that might earn us nine or ten million dollars.' Nick asked me how much it would cost. I had a rough estimate of $1,200,000. He said go ahead." Schary added that the final cost of the film was $1,160,000.
       In a 1983 NYT interview, Brooks recalled that M-G-M wanted one of their contract players, either Mickey Rooney or Robert Taylor, to play schoolteacher "Mr. Dadier." Brooks insisted upon casting new, unknown faces, and as a result, hired unpolished actors with little camera experience for many of the roles, thus infusing a raw realism into their performances. Among the actors making their screen debut in this picture were Vic Morrow, Rafael Campos, Dan Terranova, Danny Dennis, and Jameel Farah (who later changed his name to Jamie Farr). Although the studio wanted the film shot in color, Brooks insisted upon black and white because he feared that "color would beautify everything," according to the interview. A 6 Dec 1954 HR news item adds Victor Paul, Loren James, Bill Chaney, Lennie Smith, and Mickey Martin to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
       Upon its release, the film was greeted by controversy. According to an Apr 1955 DV news item, the school authorities of New Brunswick, NJ, objected to the depiction of school conditions in the film. As a result, the theater circuit was forced to add a disclaimer stating: "To our patrons, the school and situations you have just seen are NOT to be found in this area. We should all be proud of the facilities provided OUR youth by the Public School of New Brunswick..." According to a Mar 1955 HR news item, the film was banned in Memphis, and a Jun 1955 news item in Var reported that the film was banned in Atlanta because it was deemed "immoral, obscene, licentious and will adversely affect the peace, health, morals and good order of the city."
       According to a 21 Mar 1955 HR news item, the Institute for Public Opinion sent postcards to film critics claiming that the film was "anti-public schools" and denying that the conditions depicted onscreen really existed. M-G-M's Schary responded by citing research and news accounts that supported the film's depiction of certain inner-city schools. Clare Boothe Luce, at the time the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, prevented the film's screening at the Venice Film Festival by threatening to walk out if it was shown. Luce claimed that if she attended a performance of the film, she would be "giving ammunition to Italian Communist and anti-U.S. propaganda." Finally, Schary wrote in his autobiography, "Senator Estes Kefauver came to Hollywood to investigate movies--he meant one movie, Blackboard Jungle ....He called me as his first witness. He explained that he was in Hollywood to learn whether we acted responsibly when making [this] film." Schary related that after providing Kefauver with volumes of data on juvenile delinquency, he asked the senator what he found objectionable about the film. "He admitted he had not yet seen it," Schary wrote. "I suggested that there seemed to be a lack of responsibility in his investigation."
       The picture's soundtrack also created a stir. According to Brooks's NYT interview, a Boston theater ran the first reel in silence for fear that the rock and roll music on the soundtrack would over-stimulate the audience. Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock," the recording that played beneath the film's credits, was one of the top ten songs of the year and played an important part in expanding the rock and roll market. In a modern source, Peter Ford, the son of the film's star, Glenn Ford, noted that Brooks borrowed the record from Peter, who at the time was a young rhythm and blues fan. The article goes on to say that M-G-M purchased limited rights to the song from Decca Records for $5,000. Under that agreement, the studio was granted the right to use the song only three times in the film. The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography (black and white) and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (black and white). According top a 14 Dec 1954 HR news item, the Producers Theatre was to present a Broadway production based on the Hunter novel, but that production apparently never opened. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Jun 55
pp. 334-35, 358-59.
Box Office
5 Mar 1955.
---
Daily Variety
28 Feb 55
p. 3.
Daily Variety
20 Apr 1955.
---
Daily Variety
21 Apr 1955.
---
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1955.
---
Daily Variety
22 Sep 1955.
---
Film Daily
28 Feb 55
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Nov 54
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 54
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 54
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 54
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 54
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 55
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 55
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 1962.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Mar 55
p. 345.
New York Times
13 Apr 1954.
---
New York Times
21 Mar 1955.
---
New York Times
15 Jan 1983.
---
Variety
2 Mar 55
p. 8.
Variety
8 Jun 1955.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Horace McMahon
Jameel Farah
Jerry Michelsen
Del Erickson
Jim Ames
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus adpt
SOUND
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
Unit mgr
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter (New York, 1954).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Invention For Guitar And Trumpet" by Bill Holman, performed by Stan Kenton and His Orchestra, Courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc.
"The Jazz Me Blues" by Tom Delaney, played by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang, Courtesy of Columbia Records.
SONGS
"Rock Around The Clock," words and music by Max C. Freedman and Jimmy DeKnight, performed by Bill Haley and His Comets, courtesy of Decca Records, Inc
"Rock Around The Clock," words and music by Max C. Freedman and Jimmy DeKnight, performed by Charles Wolcott and orchestra, courtesy of M-G-M Records
"Go Down, Moses," traditional, arranged by Harry Thacker Burleigh.
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 March 1955
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 20 March 1955
Production Date:
15 November--late December 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 March 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4496
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.75
Duration(in mins):
100-102
Length(in feet):
9,040
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17376
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

As Richard Dadier, a soft-spoken ex-serviceman, accepts his first teaching job in a tough New York City high school, he asks his new principal, Mr. Warnecke, about the school's discipline problem and is assured that at North Manual High, "there is no discipline problem." The other teachers, particularly the cynical Jim Murdock, who calls the all-male school a "garbage can" and cautions Dadier not to turn his back on the students, do not lessen his anxiety. That evening, Dadier celebrates his new job with his wife Anne, who, although deeply in love with her husband, worries not only that her pregnancy will make her unattractive to him, but that she will miscarry as she had once before. Dadier's first day teaching English is discouraging. The pupils, mostly lower-class juvenile delinquents, ignore his requests and call him "Daddy-O," and when he asks Gregory W. Miller, a bright but alienated black student, to use his leadership abilities to promote cooperation in the classroom, the young man just shakes his head. That afternoon, Lois Judby Hammond, another new teacher who seems attracted to Dadier, is nearly raped by one of the students. Dadier severely beats the boy, and the next day, the students greet him with threatening glares and angry silence. After work, Dadier accompanies Joshua Y. Edwards, a new math teacher who passionately loves jazz and swing, to a bar, where they have a drink too many and bemoan the students' hostility. While cutting through an alley to the bus stop, both teachers are beaten by Dadier's student Artie West and his gang of hoodlums. Anne urges Dadier to leave the school, but he declares, "I've been ... +


As Richard Dadier, a soft-spoken ex-serviceman, accepts his first teaching job in a tough New York City high school, he asks his new principal, Mr. Warnecke, about the school's discipline problem and is assured that at North Manual High, "there is no discipline problem." The other teachers, particularly the cynical Jim Murdock, who calls the all-male school a "garbage can" and cautions Dadier not to turn his back on the students, do not lessen his anxiety. That evening, Dadier celebrates his new job with his wife Anne, who, although deeply in love with her husband, worries not only that her pregnancy will make her unattractive to him, but that she will miscarry as she had once before. Dadier's first day teaching English is discouraging. The pupils, mostly lower-class juvenile delinquents, ignore his requests and call him "Daddy-O," and when he asks Gregory W. Miller, a bright but alienated black student, to use his leadership abilities to promote cooperation in the classroom, the young man just shakes his head. That afternoon, Lois Judby Hammond, another new teacher who seems attracted to Dadier, is nearly raped by one of the students. Dadier severely beats the boy, and the next day, the students greet him with threatening glares and angry silence. After work, Dadier accompanies Joshua Y. Edwards, a new math teacher who passionately loves jazz and swing, to a bar, where they have a drink too many and bemoan the students' hostility. While cutting through an alley to the bus stop, both teachers are beaten by Dadier's student Artie West and his gang of hoodlums. Anne urges Dadier to leave the school, but he declares, "I've been beaten up, but I'm not beaten." While recuperating, Dadier visits his former professor, who assures him that students do want to learn, but that urban schools need more instructors who care. Dadier returns to school, and when the police question him, he refuses to identify his attackers. In class, Artie calls fellow student Pete Morales a "spic," whereupon Dadier remarks that calling one another names, like "spic, mick, and nigger," can lead to big trouble. Later the principal, acting on a confidential student complaint, accuses Dadier of bigotry, but Dadier angrily defends himself. Warnecke finally apologizes and puts Dadier in charge of the Christmas play. Soon afterward, West destroys Josh's prized record collection while his class looks on, leading the discouraged math teacher to resign. Meanwhile, Anne begins receiving anonymous letters and phone calls accusing her husband of infidelity. Unaware of Anne's growing suspicion, Dadier concentrates on his students. He convinces Miller and his singing group to perform their version of "Go Down, Moses" in the Christmas play, and he stimulates an animated class discussion by showing a "Jack and the Beanstalk" cartoon in class. Summarizing the discussion, Dadier encourages the young men to consider the real meaning of what they hear and to think for themselves. Miller later tells Dadier that because black people have limited options, he will drop out of school at term's end, but Dadier maintains that blacks can succeed in the modern world and that some teachers do care. At Christmas, Anne, tormented by the letters, gives birth prematurely, and when Dadier learns what has happened, he assumes the students are responsible for the letters and decides to resign. Defeated, Dadier bemoans that, after everything teachers must endure, they earn less even than cooks. Murdock, cured of his cynicism by Dadier's dedication, and Anne, admitting that she should not have doubted her husband, encourage Dadier to remain, and he does take heart when the doctor says his baby son is out of danger. Back at school, Dadier orders West to see the principal when the gang leader flagrantly cheats in class. West threatens him with a knife, ordering the other gang members to jump the teacher. To West's surprise, only Belazi obeys his orders. Following a scuffle, Dadier accuses West of having sent the anonymous letters and then drags him and Belazi to Warnecke's office. Later that day, Miller, having heard that Dadier plans to quit, promises to remain in school if Dadier will do the same. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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