The movie Blackboard Jungle is hard hitting and probably a better representation of juvenile delinquency in the nineteen fifties than Rebel Without A Cause or The Wild One. The story revolves around an idealistic teacher on his first job in a tough urban all male high school. The teacher, Richard Dadier, is played by Glenn Ford who performs the role almost too passively. He is surrounded by apathetic teachers and a principle (Mr. Warneke, played by John Hoyt) who has trouble admitting that the school has discipline problems. The movie is based on the novel The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter.
Vic Morrow is Artie West, a gloomy, morose gang leader who has uncanny control over other members of the class who look up to him and fear him. His dislike for Mr. Dadier is immediate and passionate, brought on by an incident in the school library where Mr. Dadier prevents the sexual assault of a new female teacher by members of Artie West’s inner circle. Vic Morrow does an excellent acting job as he plays the Artie West character but it’s almost the same type of brooding portrayal we see him play in later years in the television series Combat! and in Twilight Zone – The Movie where he met his untimely death in a helicopter accident.
Sidney Poitier, as always, turns in an excellent performance. He portrays Gregory Miller, the less bitter and more intelligent class leader. He, too, initially dislikes Mr. Dadier but their respect for one another grows throughout the film. Miller is a student who initially tried to get the most out of his education but soon realized that no one really cared so he succumbed to the frustrations and decided to bide his time until he could legally drop out of school. He, like the others, realized that causing trouble that would get him expelled from school would probable be enough trouble to get him sent to what was called, before political correctness, reform school.
Richard Kiley is Joshua Edwards, another new teacher in the school, who is so naive and passive that he becomes a favorite target of the hoodlums. The final straw is when he brings his prized record collection to play for one of his math classes and the records are destroyed by the delinquents.
Other recognizable names in the movie are Anne Francis as Anne Dadier, Paul Mazursky as Emmanual Stoker, and Jameel Farah (now known as Jamie Farr) as Santini.
Blackboard Jungle was a shocking film for its time and several cities banned the movie which only served to contribute to its success. Some cities banned it because of its multi-racial content while others did it because of fear that it would spark violence. Claire Booth Luce and the Eisenhower Administration kept it from being shown at the Venice Film Festival. Even today it is a disturbing film.
- Glenn Ford – Richard Dadier
- Anne Francis – Anne Dadier
- Louis Calhern – Jim Murdock
- Margaret Hayes – Lois Hammond
- John Hoyt – Mr. Warneke
- Richard Kiley – Joshua Edwards
- Emile Meyer – Mr. Halloran
- Warner Anderson – Dr. Bradley
- Basil Ruysdael – Professor Kraal
- Sidney Poitier – Gregory Miller
- Vic Morrow – Artie West
- Dan Terranova – Belazi
- Rafael Campos – Pete Morales
- Paul Mazursky – Emmanuel Stoker
- Horace McMahon – Detective