Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Richard Dadier is put into a complex, racial, and, at times, unethical, situation as an English teacher at an inner city school in Blackboard Jungle. Made in 1955, this film is a social commentary addressing issues with race, money, and juvenile delinquency. The film questions the line of ethics one must cross to beat past stereotypes and find the truth. “Blackboard Jungle” is a film well before its time in the sense of portraying a message of morals and taking responsibility for a worthwhile cause.

Miller is an African American student who is suspected for acts of violence committed after Richard begins teaching at his school. This begins a whirlwind of questions addressing Richard’s ethics and beliefs. The fact that Richard presumes that Miller committed the acts of violence is not only a racial issue, but it questions his judgment. Is Richard racist? Or does he simply feel that he has enough evidence to back up his assumptions? On the other hand, Richard does show some promising aspects when he chooses not to report the students who attacked him to the police. Questioning Richard’s judgment and his ethical standpoint is an important theme within this film.

The title, “Blackboard Jungle,” is an obvious metaphor for portraying the students as animals. This is a fair analogy. For example, a character that embodied a lot of the “fuel to the fire” of the chaos at the school would be Lois Hammond, the school’s only female teacher. The male teachers would say things to her such as, “Why don’t you have the National Guard escort you to class?” This is pursuing the fact that the students often attempt to attack and take advantage of her. In such a school, her mere presence can cause uproar. This could perhaps suggest the male dominance in this time period and the common helplessness of women.

Finally, the film closes with a showdown in the classroom in which Miller defends Richard from getting attacked by Artie. This not only disproves Richard’s false presumptions about Miller’s character, but also changes Miller’s power among the students. The final scene shows the rest of the students refusing the assist Artie in fighting back a hopeless cause. Miller’s change of heart and action so easily rubbed off on his fellow students that he soon became an inspiration of nobility not only in the film, but to the audience as well.

Blackboard Jungle presents its characters with dignity and pride in the final scene. The character development that occurs shows the filmmaker’s opinion on how presumptions never serve you well. Miller standing up for Richard at the end of the film shows great strength of character, proving that defending what you believe will always serve you better in the end.

Blackboard Jungle (1955)

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2 thoughts on “Blackboard Jungle (1955)”

  1. Hi Sara –
    I’m a grad student at Berkeley working on a book chapter about Blackboard Jungle. I’m trying to figure out the copyright providence on some of the images we hope to use in the chapter – one of which is the photo you use (of the boys wolf-whistling at the walking woman) as your header for this review. If you know anything about this image will you please be in touch with me? I’m at leah.faw@berkeley.edu and would very much appreciate any help you can provide. Thank you!

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