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Blackboard Jungle

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Blackboard Jungle
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Brooks
Screenplay byRichard Brooks
Based onThe Blackboard Jungle
1954 novel
by Evan Hunter
Produced byPandro S. Berman
StarringGlenn Ford
Anne Francis
Louis Calhern
Margaret Hayes
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byFerris Webster
Music byMax C. Freedman, Jimmy DeKnight (song "Rock Around the Clock") (uncredited), Willis Holman (song "Blackboard Jungle"), Jenny Lou Carson (song "Let Me Go, Lover!"; uncredited)
Distributed byLoew's Inc.
Release dates
  • March 20, 1955 (1955-03-20) (New York)[1]
  • March 25, 1955 (1955-03-25) (US)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$8,144,000[2]

Blackboard Jungle is a 1955 American social drama film about an English teacher in an interracial inner-city school, based on the 1954 novel The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter and adapted for the screen and directed by Richard Brooks. It is remembered for its innovative use of rock and roll in its soundtrack, for casting grown adults as high school teens, and for the unique breakout role of a black cast member, film icon Sidney Poitier, as a rebellious yet musically talented student.

In 2016, Blackboard Jungle was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[3][4]


In the mid-1950s, Richard Dadier is a new teacher at North Manual Trades High School, an inner-city school of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Led by student Gregory Miller, most engage in anti-social behavior. The school principal, Mr. Warneke, denies there are discipline issues, but the school faculty, particularly Mr. Murdock, warn Dadier otherwise. Dadier befriends two other new teachers, Joshua Edwards and Lois Hammond.

Dadier's class includes Miller and Artie West, a rebellious bully and gang leader. The class shows no respect for Dadier. Dadier encourages Miller to lead the class in the right direction. After Dadier subdues a student who attacks Miss Hammond, the class gives Dadier the silent treatment and are even more uncooperative. Dadier and Edwards are mugged by West's gang.

Reluctant to quit, Dadier seeks advice from his former teacher, Professor Kraal, the principal of an academically superior school with disciplined students. Kraal offers Dadier a job, but he declines. After chastising his class for calling each other racially divisive names, Dadier is himself falsely accused by Mr. Warneke of using racial epithets in the classroom. West encounters Dadier during his gang's robbery of a newspaper truck. West tells Dadier his classroom is on the streets and to leave him alone. Several students, led by West, assault Edwards in his classroom and destroy his music record collection.

Dadier's wife, Anne, who is pregnant, begins receiving anonymous letters and phone calls telling her Dadier and Miss Hammond are having an affair. Dadier discovers Miller can play piano and sing, and wonders why Miller can show such talent but also be so rebellious. Dadier shows his class an animated film about "Jack and the Beanstalk" which sparks discussion about moral choices. Anne goes into premature labor caused by the stress of the phone calls about Dadier's alleged affair. When a neighbor shows Dadier the anonymous letters, he angrily decides to quit. Mr. Murdock encourages him to stay, telling Dadier he is making progress and has inspired him too. Anne apologizes for doubting Dadier's loyalty in their marriage and says she was wrong for telling him to quit. Their premature baby boy, though weak, eventually thrives.

When Dadier observes West openly copying from another student, he demands that West bring his paper to the front to have it docked five points. West rebuffs his repeated request, but Dadier is unrelenting. The conflict quickly escalates, and West pulls out a switchblade. Dadier does not back down. Miller stops Belazi from jumping Dadier from behind. The rest of West's gang fails to assist.

Dadier accuses West of the false allegations made to both Mr. Warneke and Anne. Dadier subdues West, and the other students join in to subdue classmate Belazi, who has picked up the knife to escape. Miller then leads the class in helping Dadier take West and Belazi to the principal's office. In the final scene, Miller and Dadier ask if the other is quitting at the end of the school year. Miller says no, because the two of them had a pact that neither would quit if the other stayed. Dadier's expression makes clear he has no intention of breaking the agreement.


Cast notes:

  • This was the debut film for Campos, Morrow, and Farah, and one of Poitier's earliest. Farah later changed his name to Jamie Farr, best known for playing Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger in the M*A*S*H TV series.

Factual background[edit]

Hunter's novel was based on his early job as a teacher at Bronx Vocational High School, now known as Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the South Bronx. Hunter, then known as Salvatore Lombino, took the teaching job in 1950 after graduating from Hunter College. He was quickly disillusioned and quit in frustration after two months.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Positive reviews[edit]

Drive-in advertisement from 1955.

In a positive review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

"As a straight melodrama of juvenile violence this is a vivid and hair-raising film. Except for some incidental romance, involving the teacher and his wife and a little business about the latter having a baby, it is as hard and penetrating as a nail."

— Bosley Crowther (1955)[6]

Variety called it: "...a film with a melodramatic impact that hits hard at a contemporary problem. The casting, too, is exceptionally good."[7] Harrison's Reports called the film: "...a stark, powerful melodrama, sordid, tense, and disturbing. The picture no doubt will stir up considerable controversy, but at the same time it probably will prove to be a top box-office grosser."[8]

John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote:

"While the film has a good many faults (the acting at times is a bit shaky and the conclusion is rather unbelievable), it nevertheless confronts its subject matter head on, and in the circumstances it is an unsettling piece of work."

— John McCarten (1955)[9]

Negative reviews[edit]

Not all reviews were positive. Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post slammed the film as "so sensationalized as to negate any laudable purpose its supporters claim", further explaining:

"Yes, the papers regularly have news about shocking conditions in the schools. Vandalism certainly is more rampant than it was only a few years ago. Sex crimes and thuggery do occur. Even murder is not beyond our young. But to pile these things and more into a few months within one classroom surely does not show 'courage' on the part of the moviemakers. This approach simply is one more dodge at making a box office buck to anyone with his eyes open. This is the Dead End kids, the gangster melodrama, in another setting."

— Richard Coe (1955)[10]

The Monthly Film Bulletin delivered a mixed to negative assessment:

"Contrived situations and some rather thin characterisation reduce the impact and effectiveness of Blackboard Jungle, both as an exposé of a current American educational problem and a plea for more strenuous efforts by teachers at similar institutions. Characters such as the flirtatious woman teacher and the pregnant wife are fictitious trimmings which only emphasise the artificiality in the handling of the main theme. There are several tense and hard-hitting sequences, and a general atmosphere of strident earnestness, but only in the tiny part of the trade school headmaster, played with considerable force by John Hoyt, is there any real suggestion of complexity or depth."

— Monthly Film Bulletin (October 1955)[11]

Popular culture[edit]

The song "Rock Around the Clock" was included in the film, making the recording an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth.[12] It was Number 1 on the pop charts for two months and went to Number 3 on the R&B chart.[13]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "fresh" rating of 76%. On their best of Sidney Poitier list, it says:

"This was the role that put Poitier on the map. The struggles of educators and students are well documented in this violent and controversial film, based on Evan Hunter's seminal novel about inner-city school conditions. Modern audiences might struggle to sympathize with the tactics employed by Poitier's character, Gregory Miller, but the cultural impact his performance had on both society and education are undeniable."

— Rotten Tomatoes[citation needed]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $5,292,000 in the US and Canada and $2,852,000 elsewhere.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[14][15] Best Screenplay Richard Brooks Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Randall Duell
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis and Henry Grace
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Russell Harlan Nominated
Best Film Editing Ferris Webster Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[16] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Richard Brooks Nominated
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
Writers Guild of America Awards[17] Best Written American Drama Richard Brooks Nominated

In 2010, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) listed the soundtrack of the movie on its list of the Top 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks of all time. TCM described the impact and the influence of the movie:

MGM brought Hollywood into the rock'n'roll era with BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. In search of the kind of music teens like the film's potential delinquents were listening to, director Richard Brooks borrowed a few records from star Glenn Ford's son Peter. When he heard Bill Haley and his Comets perform 'Rock Around the Clock', he found the perfect theme song -- the first rock song ever used in a Hollywood feature. Teens flocked to the film, dancing in theatre aisles as the song played over the opening credits. Parents may have been shocked by such uninhibited behavior, but things got worse when screenings also inspired violence and vandalism around the world. Thanks to BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, the song hit number one on the Billboard charts, eventually selling 25 million copies and becoming what Dick Clark called 'The National Anthem of Rock'n' Roll'.[18]

Cultural impact[edit]

The film marked the rock and roll revolution by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock",[19] initially a B-side, over the film's opening credits (with a lengthy drum solo introduction, unlike the originally released single), as well as in the first scene, in an instrumental version in the middle of the film, and at the close of the movie, establishing that song as an instant hit. The record had been released the previous year, gaining only limited sales. But, popularized by its use in the film, "Rock Around the Clock" reached number one on the Billboard charts and remained there for eight weeks.[citation needed] In some theaters, when the film was in the first release, the song was not heard at all at the beginning of the film because rock and roll was considered a bad influence. Despite this, other instances of the song were not cut.[citation needed]

The music led to a large teenage audience for the film, and their exuberant response to it sometimes overflowed into violence and vandalism at screenings.[20] In this sense, the film has been seen as marking the start of a period of visible teenage rebellion in the latter half of the 20th century. The film was banned in Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia,[21] with the Atlanta Review Board claiming that it was "immoral, obscene, licentious and will adversely affect the peace, health, morals and good order of the city".[22]

The film marked[citation needed] a watershed in the United Kingdom and was originally refused a cinema certificate before being passed with heavy cuts. When shown at a south London cinema in Elephant and Castle in 1956 the teenage Teddy Boy audience began to riot, tearing up seats and dancing in the aisles.[23] After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown.[24]

The 1982 crime action thriller film Class of 1984 serves as a loose remake of The Blackboard Jungle, with Perry King, Timothy Van Patten and Michael J. Fox in the roles of Glenn Ford, Vic Morrow, and Sidney Poitier, respectively.[25]

In 2007, the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture published an article that analyzed the film's connection to crime theories and juvenile delinquency.[26]

In 2015, the Journal of Transnational American Studies published a study with a focus on the film's reception in West Germany and Japan.[27]

The influential Jamaican reggae album Blackboard Jungle Dub (1973) by The Upsetters references the film's title.[citation needed]

The film touches on the still-current issue of teacher pay. The dialog states that in 1955, the pay for teachers was US$2.00 an hour (equivalent to $23 in 2023), or about US$4,000 a year salary (equivalent to $45,496 in 2023), as compared with congressmen and judges at US$9.25 (equivalent to $105 in 2023), policemen and firemen at US$2.75 (equivalent to $31 in 2023), carpenters at US$2.81 (equivalent to $32 in 2023), plumbers at US$2.97 (equivalent to $34 in 2023), and plasterers at US$3.21 an hour (equivalent to $37 in 2023).[citation needed]

In March 2005, the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, which had influenced the subsequent upsurge in the general popularity of rock and roll, was marked by a series of "Rock Is Fifty" celebrations in Los Angeles and New York City, involving the surviving members of the original Bill Haley & His Comets.[clarification needed][citation needed]

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in North America on May 10, 2005, by Warner Home Video.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blackboard Jungle - Details". Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  4. ^ "With "20,000 Leagues," the National Film Registry Reaches 700". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  5. ^ "Evan Hunter's Success Came Out of the 'Jungle'". The News Tribune. 1984-10-07. p. 42. Retrieved 2022-04-04 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 21, 1955). "The Screen; 'Blackboard Jungle': Delinquency Shown in Powerful Film". The New York Times: 21.
  7. ^ "Blackboard Jungle". Variety: 8. March 2, 1955.
  8. ^ "'Blackboard Jungle' with Glenn Ford, Anne Francis and Louis Calhern". Harrison's Reports: 38. March 5, 1955.
  9. ^ McCarten, John (March 26, 1955). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 1 20.
  10. ^ Coe, Richard L. (May 8, 1955). "Now, We're Stuck With It". The Washington Post. p. H1.
  11. ^ "Blackboard Jungle". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 22 (261): 147. October 1955.
  12. ^ "Bill Haley". Rockhall.com. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  13. ^ Weinstein, Deena (2015-01-27). Rock'n America: A Social and Cultural History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-1442600157.
  14. ^ "The 28th Academy Awards (1956) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  15. ^ "NY Times: Blackboard Jungle". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-02-09. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
  16. ^ "8th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  17. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  18. ^ TCM List of the Top 15 Most Influential Movie Soundtracks Archived March 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 5 - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll: The rock revolution gets underway. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  20. ^ Leopold, Todd. "The 50-year-old song that started it all". CNN.com. Retrieved August 15, 2006.
  21. ^ "Blackboard Jungle - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 20, 2024.
  22. ^ "Pictures: Metro Fights Atlanta Lady Censor Who Banned 'Blackboard Jungle' Outright". Variety: 3. 1955-06-08.
  23. ^ Gelder, Ken; Sarah Thornton (1997). The Subcultures Reader. Editors. Routledge. p. 401. ISBN 0-415-12727-0.
  24. ^ Cross, Robert J. "The Teddy Boy as Scapegoat" (PDF). Doshisha University Academic Depsitory: 22. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ Maltin's TV, Movie & Video Guide
  26. ^ McCarthy, Kevin E. (2007). "Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Theory in Blackboard Jungle" (PDF). Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. 14 (2): 317–329. ISSN 1070-8286. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  27. ^ Golub, Adam (2015). "A Transnational Tale of Teenage Terror: The Blackboard Jungle in Global Perspective" (PDF). Journal of Transnational American Studies. 6 (6): 1–10. doi:10.5070/T861025868. ISSN 1940-0764. Retrieved 2019-07-07.


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