A film about juvenile delinquency left kids dancing in the aisles to devil’s music–Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”–and the rock ‘n’ roll generation was spawned.
The Blackboard Jungle is a tract for our times, proof that Hollywood is not heedless of the ulcers that here and there disfigure our pleasant land. But Hollywood has a strong aversion to leaving a bad taste in the customer’s mouth; it likes to end the Zola act with a round of lollipops for all present. And this rather canny social zeal may do more harm than good; it calls the citizen’s attention to a pressing evil only to assure him immediately that a very pretty remedy is at hand.
The present excursion into sociology notifies us that in a typical big city high school discipline has fallen off to the point where unarmed teachers walk the corridors in fear of their lives and where for lady teachers death may be a comparatively merciful fate. The students in such an institution play with switch blades instead of marbles and after class–when sufficiently sober–divert themselves with mayhem and armed robbery.
But do not be alarmed. Fortunately, there is nothing in this undesirable situation that cannot be remedied by a teacher (in this case Glenn Ford) endowed with the endurance of St. Sebastian, the ingenuity of Horace Mann, and the infighting techniques of a Marine commando. Mr. Ford “gets through” to the boys and from then on the school hums with industry and love.
I don’t know how carefully MGM has “researched” the school situation, but they have permitted some casual boners to slip into the picture. It seems that the school is in New York (or at least in some large city where there is an elevated and where heavy snows are not uncommon), but one day Mr. Ford takes a morning off to seek advice and encouragement from a former professor, now headmaster of a model school some ten miles away. Palms are growing on this campus and the architecture strongly suggests UCLA. At another point Ford remarks that, at $2.00 an hour, a school teacher makes no more pay than a baby sitter. Perhaps the scenes of carnage are similarly inflated. But supposing that our schools–or at least some of our schools–are now only institutions of temporary confinement for armed and remorseless criminals, they are not going to be reformed into educational paradises by superman turned pedagogue. The Blackboard Jungle is a sentimental melodrama masquerading as a social document, which in its own way is as dangerous a little gadget as a zip gun.