A new English teacher at a violent, unruly inner-city school is determined to do his job, despite resistance from both students and faculty.A new English teacher at a violent, unruly inner-city school is determined to do his job, despite resistance from both students and faculty.A new English teacher at a violent, unruly inner-city school is determined to do his job, despite resistance from both students and faculty.
There is so much intensity and visual punch to this socially concerned schoolhouse narrative, it's hard to not overlook the pushiness of some of the plot and the blatant stereotyping of most of the characters. Glen Ford is, in fact, truly commanding here, and he becomes the movie. Most of the rest, really all the rest, are supporting roles, and not all of them do him credit. And this comes not from lack of talent, but from a script that has too many little agendas at work. Hey, but they are important and interesting agendas, so fear not. It's exciting going every step of the way.
Even young Sydney Poitier, for all his charm and ease on screen, is forced into a role, as a reluctant but talented student, that makes him a two-dimensional, and his relationship with Ford is pushed on us at the expense of the others. Some of the other teachers are convincing in their own ways, most of all Louis Calhern as a grumpy and jaded older teacher who expects the worst and gets it. There are moments of high drama that work--mostly violence or the avoidance of violence--and there are moments too contrived and too foreshadowed to contribute very much. The female teacher is set up to tempt the determined Ford main character, and she plays out in expected ways.
It might be a testament, actually, that the movie grabs you and won't let go even with these storytelling flaws. For one thing, it looks great (with photography by Russell Harlan) and is edited crisply, so technically it soars (and in a vivid widescreen black and white, not 4:3 like IMDb says). The director, Richard Brooks, clearly makes the most of the material. His career has left us a number of almost great movies, and this might be his greatest. It seems to have had the most impact in its time, sparking violence in the theaters where it was shown. And by using "Rock Around the Clock" it helped make Bill Halley and Comets and white rock and roll hugely popular.
But as just a movie, on the screen, it is Ford who takes on the subtle turmoils going on in his character's head, and you read it in his face and his stiff body language, and you believe him.
- Jul 2, 2009