Throwback Thursday: Blackboard Jungle Essay

Well, everybody, it’s that time of the week again: Throwback Thursday!

Y’all probably don’t even know what I’m talking about. Well, back when I first started writing reviews for my blog 433 Films, I had this tradition where every Thursday, I would review an older film. Well, since I am going to start putting out more content on a regular basis, I thought it was high time I bring back Throwback Thursday. And what better way to bring it back than by talking about a classic film that is sadly still relevant today? The film in question is the 1955 classic Blackboard Jungle.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the basic story revolves around Glenn Ford as a newly arrived teacher at a school full of hoodlums and delinquents. However, due to his unbending idealism and commitment to the students, particularly a talented young black student played by Sidney Poitier – in what turned out to be a star-making performance – the teacher believes that he can turn this situation around. Little does the teacher know that he is in over his head, dealing with violence and opposition from the staff at his new school.

When this film was released in 1955, it was sort of a milestone in and of itself. At a time when the Classical Hollywood System was in decline and TV was siphoning away a substantial bulk of moviegoing audiences, this film dared to tackle subjects that were somewhat verboten, including racism and teenaged violence. But most surprisingly, it also posits the idea that maybe the education system at large – not the individual teachers working within it, mind you – seems less interested in actually educating the students than just putting them through a factory-like system and leaving them to their own devices after the fact – an idea that is still sadly relevant today. Look up the “school-to-prison” pipeline if you need proof of that. The film was also revolutionary in its use of the rock and roll hit “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets, which turned the song into a massive hit and inadvertently kickstarted the rock and roll revolution of the mid-50s.

Looking back on it now, though, does it hold up? Well, apart from a few relics of the time – i.e. the female characters falling into stereotype and the teacher sort of acting as a White Savior to Poitier’s character – yes, absolutely. Not only are its themes still as timely as they were back in the 50s – probably even more so nowadays – the cast is perfect. Glenn Ford brings it as the teacher, cementing his status as the most popular star of that time. Sidney Poitier is…well, it’s Sidney Poitier, so of course he’s great. Vic Morrow is powerful as the menacing but tragic Artie West, reminding us what a great actor we so prematurely lost.

In fact, this is a classic film that I would not mind getting remade because its themes are so transcendent of time that all you would need to do is switch around a few elements – personally, I wouldn’t mind casting Michael B. Jordan as Dadier nor would I mind addressing that “school to prison” pipeline thing I was talking about – and up the violence a little to fit in with the times, and you’d still have a solid film.

So, yeah. Blackboard Jungle is a great film. Go out and see it.

Well, that’s it for my Throwback Thursday! Let me know in the comments below what Throwback movies you would want me to do take a look at in the future!

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