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As too often happens, when the boys in Hollywood get hold of a picture with a message they work so hard on the sermon that they spoil the picture. The Blackboard Jungle could have been a fine movie, but as it stands now it is an uneven one. It has tried just a little too hard both to shock and to preach.
Juvenile delinquency in public schools is an important theme, with great possibilities for dramatic treatment. When The Blackboard Jungle meets this problem directly, in the classroom and playground scenes, the movie is at its best. But when it tries to tie in the marriage problems of teacher Charles Dadier (the class calls him Mr. Daddy-o) with his student nemesis, it loses momentum, and sloshes through several weepy scenes involving his washed-out little wife, played by Anne Francis.
Glenn Ford is a confused and sensitive young teacher in the part of Dadier. His portrayal falters only in certain scenes, as in his return to his old college, where the script leads him down with so many lines of platitudinous garbage that he could scarcely he expected to carry them off well. Among his colleagues at the school. Louis Calhern is bitter but human as a disillusioned history teacher, while Margaret Haves reads her way through a very hollow portryal of a pretty and frustrated schoolteacher who tempts circumstances too much.
But the stars in this cast are Dadier's students. When they are on the screen the picture loses any aura of the trumped-up and shows the kick it might have had. They are shockingly familiar--Miller, the colored boy; West, the Irishman; Morales, the Puerto Rican; Santini, the half-wit. The unpredictable blending of viciousness and humanity in them makes it impossible to know whether their next twist will be comic or terrifying.
So much violence in a schoolroom in the course of two hours might be a little hard to swallow if the boys were not undeniably credible. But they are. Their bop-talk their clothes, their faces, will be waiting right outside the theatre's entrance when you leave.
As a whole, the picture falls well below he level of the scenes these students dominate. In trying to inject a message into Mr. Daddy-o's battle with delinquency, the writers did not realize that it was already there and could have been said a lot better with fewer words. Still, Ford and the boys have managed to save the film. The fine scenes of The Blockboard Jungle make sitting through its inanities worthwhile.
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