Saturday, January 27, 2007

BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (MGM 1955) Warner Home Video

Blackboard Jungle (1955) is director Richard Brooks’ social commentary on the slow moral decline of youth in inner city schools. The film stars Glenn Ford as Richard Dadier – a teacher whose optimism is sullied when he realizes the teens he is attempting to impart wisdom on are a bunch of wolfish reprobates in adolescent sheep’s clothing.

Dadier is further disillusioned when he talks to other school staff; particularly Prof. Kraal (Basil Ruysdael) and Jim Murdock (Louis Calhern) who have chosen to merely accept their loss of control in the classroom and tolerate the chronic abuse – sometimes physical - from their student body. After having a baseball hurled at his head while teaching a history lesson, Dadier confronts Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier) about the rumor being spread regarding his romantic badinage with one of his colleagues. Miller’s tough, and doesn’t deny the accusation. But is he really the one responsible for letting Dadier’s wife, Anne (Anne Francis) in on the ‘secret’?

Dated by today’s standards, the film is a fascinating time capsule on juvenile delinquency. The film introduced rock and rollers to Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’ – the song went on to become number one on hit parades across the country. Glenn Ford’s central performance is among his best. He’s cold, steely-eyed and aloof, harboring just the right amount of sarcasm to pit his considerable brain against the unyielding brawn of his sullen motley crew.

In a very early performance, Sidney Poitier illustrates the hallmarks necessary for such a brilliant career that followed, and, ironically now seems to foreshadow Poitier’s own stepping into the authoritarian shoes of an educator in To Sir With Love (1967) a decade later.

Warner Home Video’s B&W DVD is a solid effort. The gray scale has been impeccably rendered with deep, rich blacks. However, contrast levels appear slightly lower than perhaps they should be, the result being whites that are just a tad dull. There is a minimal amount of film grain. The film’s original aspect ratio of 1:85:1 has been slightly cropped to 1:78:1 but the loss of screen information is negligible.

The audio is mono but presented at an adequate listening level. Occasionally dialogue sounds a tad muffled. Extras include a jumble of audio commentaries from Jamie Farr, Paul Muzursky, Peter Ford and Idel Freeman; a cartoon and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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