Hey, daddy-o! What was once a hot-topic message movie about the state of juvenile delinquency in inner city schools is now a dinosaur relic of the Eisenhower era. Former navy man turned idealistic teacher Mr. Dadier (Glenn Ford) tries making a difference with schoolyard thugs, whose criminal habits include attempted rape and armed robbery. He finds his hopes confirmed in musical prodigy Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier), but when he tries helping the kid he inadvertently stirs up some racial tension. Melodrama escalates when the pregnant Mrs. Dadier (Anne Francis) gives birth prematurely as a result of hostile letters sent to her by repugnant gang leader Artie West (Vic Morrow, in a fun but insubstantial star-making performance that's imitation Brando), and fellow teacher Mr. Edwards (Richard Kiley) gets frightened out of town when the gang smashes his beloved record collection. Was this public service announcement edgy in 1955? Apparently so—but nowadays it plays out like a pious lecture delivered by middle-aged squares. The absurdity of Blackboard Jungle was taken to its logical conclusion in the 1980s rip-off Class of 1984, where teacher Roddy McDowell lectured his delinquent pupils about the miracle of science at gunpoint. Ford tries hard, but is easily upstaged by the fiery, scene-stealing Poitier. Pauline Kael's favorite scene was the one in which Poitier baits Ford into calling him a nigger. The scene is sanctimonious liberal bullshit, but Poitier's acting is scalding hot. If The Blackboard Jungle is worth anything, it's for bearing witness to a major star in the making.
The black-and-white transfer looks clean and sharp; the mono sound is clean.
There's a lively commentary by Paul Mazursky and Jamie Farr (who can be spotted among the film's delinquents), Glenn Ford's son Peter, and assistant director Joel Freeman, though they don't seem to realize how dated this so-called classic has become. The theatrical trailer plays up the controversy. There's also a cartoon parody "Blackboard Jumble."
Sidney Poitier steals the show in The Blackboard Jungle and makes it a cut above what it is: a holier-than-thou public service announcement. Stay in school, kids!