In the film Blackboard Jungle, an inspiring teacher fights to gain the respect from his class of juvenile delinquent boys, a lot of who belong to a gang that is mostly led by a white boy, and one of the students, Artie West. The teacher, Mr. Dadier, soon finds a connection with one of his black students, Miller. Mr. Dadier believes Miller to be the leader of the delinquency in the all boys’ high school, with his race being the only evidence. Little does he know, Miller is more than meets the eye and the two soon become acquaintances working together to fight against the gang and their troubles.
From the very beginning of the movie, the director is constantly focusing on the black student whenever something bad happens, creating the illusion and stereotype that the instigator is in fact Miller. The audience, as well as Mr. Dadier, is led to believe that Miller is to blame and is the leader of the band of misfits. For example, while Mr. Dadier’s back is turned to the class as he is writing on the blackboard a baseball is thrown at him, the target being his head. Immediately, the camera focuses on Miller seated in his desk.
After class, Dadier holds Miller back to talk to him and accuses him of throwing the baseball even though he had no proof of Miller being the culprit. Mr. Dadier is used in this film to symbolize the “color blindness” in the white middle class. His constant negative attention towards Miller proves to be racist. The director, James Clavell, does much more than zoom in on the black kid in class whenever trouble is caused. Clavell uses certain camera angles to portray the white race in the film to be above the black and how African Americans were “looked down upon” in society.
An example of this is when Mr. Dadier is yelling at Miller in the main stairwell of the school. Dadier is obviously placed above Miller on the stairs to give the physical illusion that he is higher up in society than Miller and is looking down on him. In a certain instance, Dadier even loses it to the point where he screams at Miller, “Why you black…” but immediately realizes what he said and stops. But this quote only emphasizes his racism toward Miller even more. While Miller is accused of crimes he didn’t commit, the main instigator of rouble, West, is getting away with the crimes he has been committing. At one point in the film, West and some of the other boys are stealing a truck with West as the leader. Dadier runs into West on the street and lets West go on his way. West and the other boys even beat Dadier and a fellow teacher to a pulp in an alley and are never held to blame. However, when Dadier finally realizes that Miller is not so much the leader of the gang as West is, Miller also simultaneously realizes that the real racist is Wes and not Dadier.
The two, Dadier and Miller, then come together to oppose West. Miller is, after all, given the title as a leader, but for good instead of bad. When Dadier begins fighting off West and his delinquent followers, Miller has his back, followed by many of his fellow classmates. The boys in this movie are viewed in society as “animals”. Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, working in the late 19th century and influenced by Darwin’s theories, described some criminals as biological throwbacks who failed to develop on the evolutionary tree.
Blackboard Jungle appeared to draw from this theory in the opening scene that featured Bill Haley and His Comets playing in the background and showed the all-male students acting rowdy in the schoolyard, including some walking on their hands like chimps. A tall metal fence enclosed the schoolyard, suggesting a need to separate the students from the law-abiding world outside. The scene became more explicitly zoo-like as the boys reached through the bars of the fence toward a passing female while making crude sounds, gestures, and facial expressions.
The apparent alienation of Dadier’s students from mainstream America suggested the “delinquent subculture”. The animalistic image was consistent with later dialogue. Cynical teacher Murdock called the students “those wild animals,” and even Dadier referred to his “class of screaming wild animals. ” With its setting in a boys’ high school, Blackboard Jungle was consistent with the image that the criminal world was essentially male. The only substantial female characters of the film, teacher Lois Hammond and the pregnant wife of Mr.
Dadier, Anne Dadier, were both victimized by delinquent students. The student behavior was so uncontrolled that Hammond was warned that she would need the National Guard to protect her from students if she dressed in a slightly provocative manner. An alleged link between low intelligence and a tendency toward criminal behavior is also heavily shown in this film. Low academic performance is recognized as being highly correlated with delinquency. The boys in Mr. Dadier’s class are supposed to be around their senior year.
However, Dadier is teaching them basic grammar, sentence structure, and word choice. By doing so, the director creates a link between education and criminal intent. The boys of this school are not highly educated, so therefore they commit crimes, act out, and physically harm others. On the contrary, the smiling boy in the film was called an “idiot boy” but he seemed to be among the most law abiding of the students, and in the final scene when the fight between West and the gang against Dadier and Miller breaks out, idiot boy is a hero against the bad.
This film assesses juvenile delinquent boys in a society run by law-abiding middle class citizens. The film does so by portraying the boys in an animalistic manner. It discusses the stereotypical rowdy boys that just can’t seem to be tamed no matter the consequences, how education can play a part in those who chose a life of crime, and how male dominance and a look outside of the stereotypes of race, sex, and social standing can allow good to come over trouble.