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HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

High-School-Confidential

Your February 2014 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Behind these “nice” school walls… A TEACHER’S NIGHTMARE!...A TEEN-AGE JUNGLE!

Cool Dialogue: “You got 32 teeth buster, wanna try for none?”

Pizza: Maria’s Italian Kitchen

Preshow Entertainment: THE TWILIGHT ZONE episodes THE FEVER and THE AFTER HOURS





IN THIS TOWN, SCHOOL LETS OUT AT 4:20






The year - 1958. It was before Russ Tamblyn was Riff in WEST SIDE STORY, before Jackie Coogan was Uncle Fester in THE ADDAMS FAMILY, and before John Drew Barrymore had a daughter and named her after him. It was a year into Jerry Lee Lewis’s career, and five years after Joan Olander changed her name to Mamie Van Doren. It was between the time Michael Landon was a teenage werewolf and when he lived in that not-so-big house on a meadow. 1958 was also the year all of these people teamed up, along with the son of Charlie Chaplin, to make HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL. It’s a fun teen exploitation movie, full of tough guys and chicks, oblivious parents, overzealous authority figures and a jazz piano-playing drug lord.

Jerry Lee Lewis

If you want to watch HSC just for Jerry Lee Lewis, you’ll only need to view the first few minutes, when he and his band play the title song of the movie from the back of a truck as it moves through town, ostensibly to sell records to citizens. What it’s actually doing is setting the movie’s mood; that rock and roll is anarchy, and there will be trouble in River City.

Switchblade

Transfer student and troublemaker (he’s in his seventh year of high school) Tony Baker (Tamblyn, whose daughter Amber keeps texting me. Girl, leave me alone! You’re married!) hops in his car on his way to school when he realizes he needs a shave…so he pulls out an electric razor and shaves while driving, which just makes me laugh uncontrollably. The first time I saw that was when Emilio Estevez did it in the movie WISDOM. Do people not have time to shave at home?? And are there no shaving-while-driving laws? Actually, there’s a reason Tony’s shaving on the way to school, but viewers won’t learn why for quite a while. Anyway…

milk
Tony wants no part of the Wheeler Dealers, the student ‘weed-head’ suppliers on campus. No, Tony’s got no time to work his way up the delinquent ladder. He’s “looking to graze on some grass,” and wants to start at the top. And “before this crummy day’s over, every crummy stud in this whole crummy school is gonna know who Tony Baker is.”
come on
Tony’s a tough guy, who in his first few minutes at school insults the office clerk, a teacher, and finally the school principal (waiting, Tony sits at the principal’s desk playing with a knife while smoking). Yet when he gets home, he has a glass of…milk. Hmmm. The principal’s seen kids like Tony before, and English teacher Miss Williams (Jan Sterling), who at first is angered by him, softens up to attempt to change him, even though Tony’s hot for teacher. Tony lives with aunt Jessica Rabbit, I mean, Gwen, a siren played by Mamie Van Doren, who enters with a muted trumpet on the soundtrack. And get this…she comes onto Tony.

And then the movie gets all preachy, with the police commissioner holding court with the principal and teachers, showing them what marijuana cigarettes look like, explaining the lingo (“let’s turn on!”) and telling them just how bad drugs are. And all the while, Tony is focused on finding the local drug kingpin known as ‘Mr. A,’ so he can cut out the middle man (especially leader J.I., played by John Drew Barrymore), buy wholesale, and push to his heart’s content.

philippa_fallon
Philippa Fallon
Serviceably directed by Jack Arnold (who also did one of my favorite family films of the 60s, HELLO DOWN THERE, as well as famous B-movie sci-fi/horror movies CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), HSC is fun for many reasons. Sure, it’s campy (it was probably campy in 1958), which is always amusing, but it also has something not common in teen exploitation films – (supposedly) four writers and lots of drafts. Yes, there’s lots of stuff going on in here. Besides the already mentioned, we have Michael Landon as Steve, who is trying to recruit Tony for the football team. We have Tony not only muscling in on J.I.’s Wheeler-Dealer turf, but also on his girl Joan (Diane Jergens). We have a girl overdosing on heroin, a drag race right out of REBEL, and best of all, Philippa Fallon. We have to talk about beat poetess Phillipa and her poem, performed as a call and response with a jazz band. A poem called HIGH SCHOOL DRAG. It was written by Mel Welles, who also wrote for influential outsider Lord Buckley. Here’s a sampling: “I had a canary that couldn’t sing, I had a cat that let me share her pad with her. I bought a dog that killed the cat that ate the canary. What is truth? … Tomorrow is Dragsville, cats. Tomorrow is a king-sized drag.” Welles also wrote the hip dialogue about Christopher Columbus’s voyage that Barrymore spews to his class when the teacher’s away: “And after Chris met his boat connection and scored for three, he got some cats together with eyes for adventure and split across the Atlantic ‘no tomorrow’ style.”

Barrymore-Cropped
John Barrymore

Which segues nicely to one of the movie’s many jollities - its slang. Almost non-stop, the phrases fly out of every kid’s lips (when I say ‘kid’, I mean actors in their 20s playing teens). And it’s not just the slang that’s fun, it’s other dialogue as well. When they discover one of the students is a heroin addict, Joan tells Tony, “I thought she was a weed-head like me.” His reply? “She was. She graduated.”

Anyway, it all builds up a head of steam in the last 20 minutes. Through a henchman named Bix (Ray Anthony), Tony finally gets to meet and deal with Mr. A.  Ray Anthony was married to Van Doren at the time, although this was the year she asked Anthony, who incidentally wrote the song “The Bunny Hop,” for a divorce. Bix, who refers to himself in the 3rd person (“Bix likes it cool”) has a phone in his car. A car phone in 1958. He’s right. Bix likes it cool.

HSC-Still-ShootingUpFester
From what I’ve read, everyone involved in HSC was being serious about the subject matter when making the movie. They wanted to deliver an anti-drug message, though it didn’t really work. Director Arnold would later say that he thought marijuana was the gateway to heroin only because it said so in the script. It seems this ‘gateway’ idea will never go away. Ten years later, it was also mentioned in the similar exploitation movie MARYJANE, coincidentally screened at RMC a few months ago.

high_school_confidential
HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL was produced by exploitation king Albert Zugsmith, who somehow managed to also produce the esteemed TOUCH OF EVIL that same year. It’s true, while he produced B-movies like the 1952 precursor to RED DAWN called INVASION USA as well as SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE and THE BEAT GENERATION, he balanced them out with more legitimate fare like TOUCH OF EVIL and WRITTEN ON THE WIND. Baffling, yet cool. Cool as Bix.

There’s another Hollywood tidbit about HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL. It was the first gig for Hollywood car modifier George Barris, who still has a cool shop in walking distance to Random Movie Club Headquarters. Barris went on to help create, among many cars, the Munsters car and the Batmobile.

Barris

There’s a tag at the end of HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, where a narrator tells us in somber and important tones that the bad guys are in jail, and the good guys are all off drugs and happy (“Joan confines her smoking to ordinary cigarettes.”). I imagine this had something to do with appeasing the MPAA. I’ve also learned there was a prologue, where a doctor talks right to us, telling of the dangers of drugs. But that prologue seems to be lost. So for now, let’s just all hope that “this insidious menace to the schools of our country is exposed and destroyed.” Are you picking this up? Because I’m putting it down.



pre-show
Preshow Entertainment: THE TWILIGHT ZONE episodes THE FEVER and THE AFTER HOURS

Lots of people love THE TWILIGHT ZONE. And everyone has their favorites. Even Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngvbQoJ5Mzo). I sure have mine, and one of them is THE FEVER. I love it for many reasons; its veiled story of how addiction can kill you (though it’s gambling here, it applies to every addiction), the amazing acting by Everett Sloane who, in 22 minutes, changes from a man who refuses to gamble to a man obsessed. But most of all, by Rod Serling’s perfect script. It gets me every time, especially the two speeches Sloane makes about gambling, speeches which I secretly, till now, imagined Serling wrote about Hollywood. Here they are:

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THE FEVER was directed by Robert Florey, who also directed another of my Top Five Zones called PERCHANCE TO DREAM. He also co-directed the Marx Brothers in their first film, THE COCOANUTS, making my worlds collide.

We also watched THE AFTER HOURS, another great ZONE. This one has the personal distinction of being the first ZONE I’d ever seen. My dad was downstairs watching it, and I joined him…and was hooked. This is the story of Marsha (Anne Francis with porcelain skin that could belie the payoff) trapped inside a department store overnight, only to discover her fate. This is another Serling script, though perhaps plagiarized from John Collier’s 1940 story EVENING PRIMROSE. Oddly (or maybe not), THE CHASER, another Collier story, aired 3 episodes before THE FEVER on the ZONE. Makes me suspicious of some under the table deal (“Give me PRIMROSE and I’ll buy another one off ya…”) PRIMROSE would become a one-off TV musical in 1966 with Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr (Liesl in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, her only other credit). The show’s songs were written by Stephen Sondheim. It’s on DVD, and it’s actually pretty great.
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