During the 1950s, the United States and its mouthpiece, Hollywood, seemed to see threats around every corner. If it wasn’t the Commies, then it was the young who were about to destroy the Land Of The Free.
Sometimes, of course, it was the two working in conjunction for, after all, what was Rock & Roll if not a Communist plot to subvert the morals of the nation’s youth?
Blackboard Jungle was cited as an example – Showing, as it did, the reaction of a bunch of juvenile delinquents in a rough New York school to their well-meaning teacher, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) – a young Navy veteran who takes his first teaching job in a tough innercity school, and who the students call Mr Daddy-O.
They smash all his jazz classics and prefer the raucous rubbish which shrieks stridently over the credits – Rock Around The Clock performed by Bill Haley and the Comets).
Dadier ignores the advice of a pessimistic veteran teacher (Louis Calhern) who warns him, “don’t be a hero and don’t turn your back on the class,” and is consequently beaten up in an alley for refusing to give in to the will of the pupils.
He rescues a female teacher from a sexual assault, which results in a series of poison-pen letters to his wife (Anne Francis) which contribute to sending her to the hospital.
Though tempted to quit and take a job at a better school, Dadier sticks it out, and in the final reel – that capitulates to the Hollywood convention of a happy ending and thus destroys much of the film’s documentary force – he gains the interest of his class by screening a cartoon version of Jack And The Beanstalk and discussing its moral issues.
The showdown comes when one of the local toughs (Vic Morrow) threatens to kill the teacher with a knife in the classroom. Dadier knows that if he meets the crisis, he wins the class. If he loses, he’s through.
The film was banned in several American cities, among them Atlanta, Georgia, where the censor declared it “immoral, obscene, (and) licentious”.
Despite these reactions to the film, it was selected to represent the American film industry at the Venice Film Festival. However, it was subsequently withdrawn at the insistence of US Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce. Time magazine entered the debate to defend her action, and letters poured into the magazine in agreement.
The Hollywood moguls did not approve of the music, but they saw a few bucks in it and quickly rushed Bill Haley into his own movie called, of course, Rock Around The Clock (1956).
Lois Judby Hammond
Joshua Y Edwards
Professor A R Kraal
Gregory W Miller