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Today, Blackboard Jungle seems tame compared to what’s seen on the screen. However, when it was released in 1955, it caused quite a stir for its depiction of American youth – going even further than Rebel Without a Cause would later that year (read about that film here).
Juvenile delinquency in movies wasn’t commonplace, and many silver screen teens were Andy Hardy types who went astray in little ways.
Blackboard Jungle took delinquency to a new level, prompting some to condemn or even ban the film in parts of the country. But, as the film states in its opening crawl, the intent was to raise awareness about a growing problem as a “first step toward a remedy”.
Go behind the scenes of the film below.
1. It could have been in color!
Blackboard Jungle was filmed in approximately 29 days. The studio wanted to film in color, but director Richard Brooks knew that black-and-white was necessary to capture the mood. It’s hard to tell (especially during that alley scene), but the entire film was shot on MGM’s lot without any location work in New York. The movie was a huge hit for MGM and grossed more than five million dollars. In fact, it’s been reported that the profits from this film helped the studio make Ben-Hur.
2. Poitier didn’t expect to be cast.
When a representative at MGM reached out to Sidney Poitier about finding young actors to play high school students, he didn’t even think about himself. He said, “I automatically eliminated myself because I was about twenty-seven years old at the time.” Thankfully, MGM didn’t and asked him to test for a part. Director Richard Brooks was pleased with his performance and decided to cast him.
3. It has a big first.
The film was the first to feature a rock song, “Rock Around the Clock”, over the opening titles. Its use came thanks to Ford’s son, Peter, who played it while the director was visiting. Brooks also considered using “All Night Long” or “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. The studio paid five thousand dollars in order to use it three times in the film. Before its use in Blackboard Jungle, the hit single had already sold millions of copies and topped the charts. It was so popular, in fact, that it had to be removed initially from the film because people were dancing in the aisles at the movie theaters and distracting the others.
4. It was Farr’s debut.
Blackboard Jungle was the film debut of Rafael Campos, Vic Morrow, and Jameel Farah – better known as Jamie Farr. “Working with Richard Brooks was a real experience,” Farr says. “He was a tough ex-Marine… but he was a wonderful director.” Interestingly, Steve McQueen was considered for Vic Morrow’s role, but he looked too old to play a teenager.