Today, when schools have metal detectors to prevent gun massacres, the “jungle” of Blackboard Jungle doesn’t seem like much of one. But back in the 1950s, when adult authority figures from the pulpit to the Capitol thought that comic books and rock ‘n’ roll would create a generation of juvenile delinquents, Blackboard was taken as a serious social statement. (Indeed, it was the first movie to include a rock ‘n’ roll song on its soundtrack – Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” – and when some English audiences seeing the movie rioted and tore up their seats, the film seemed to have proved the alarmists right.)
Against such teen rebels as a young Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow (father of future Fast Times at Ridgemont High star Jennifer Jason Leigh), milquetoast-y teachers like Richard Kiley prove ineffectual. It takes an uncompromising Glenn Ford, bringing the same no-nonsense, bull-headed attitude he brought to his westerns, to tame these New York kids. He’s the only one who’ll stand up to them – or for them, and that’s what ultimately earns him their respect.
Next To Sir, With Love