This week, we explore another school library in MGM’s Blackboard Jungle from 1955. This dramatic film, starring Glenn Ford, is credited to have helped launch rock ‘n’ roll music in popular media, as it played the “Rock Around the Clock” song by Bill Haley and the Comets over the title credits.
Blackboard Jungle is a very earnest film about teaching. Glenn Ford plays Richard Dadier, a veteran who wants to teach and make a difference in an inner-city school. The beginning scenes of the film go to extreme lengths to illustrate the juvenile delinquency mentioned in the title introduction.
One of the new teachers is Lois Hammond, played by Margaret Hayes. Almost a half-hour into the film, she offers to drive Dadier home and goes downstairs to wait for him. On the stairs, Ms. Hammond stops to adjust her stockings after a long day of teaching. She doesn’t notice a student watching her from below, but we, the audience, definitely get a sense of foreboding. (Plus, there were scenes earlier of other teachers — all male, of course — warning her about the way she dressed and “joking” that she was not safe among all the tough boys in school.)
As Dadier — pronounced “Dah-dee-eh” but, of course, gets switched to “Daddio” by the students — walks down the stairs a few minutes later, he notices a lone high-heeled shoe outside the door to the library.
Dadier hears a muffled scream from inside the library, and his combat training kicks in. He breaks the window with his briefcase and runs in, and he and the student chase and fight each other in the library. Destruction quickly ensues: books overturned, a window broken, a free-standing globe knocked over, Ms. Hammond’s jacket torn, and more.
The student tries to escape by leaping head-first into a window, but Dadier pulls him back in. The student is led away with blood running down his face, and we later hear that he has been expelled.
Ms. Hammond is also led away, in tears, and another new teacher is shocked at this event.
The bland reaction from one of the long-suffering (and jaded) teachers, played by Louis Calhern?
“Why, it’s the first day of school, teacher.“
There is a recurring subplot of blaming the victim for the sexual assault inflicted upon her. (Didier’s own wife — !!! — remarks that “Maybe she provoked the boy. Teachers aren’t allowed to dress sexy.” !!!) Didier defends Miss Hammond on that account, but I will not get into that (unfortunately still timely) social issue here on this blog.
The library scene, featuring Miss Hammond’s terrified reaction during the assault, also gets highlighted on one of the film’s posters (!), as seen here on the IMDb.com site.
What I will get into, however, is why was the library chosen as the setting for this scene of attempted rape? Why not a regular classroom? I think it was a study of contrasts, one that is admittedly very effective. Libraries are usually viewed — in reel AND real life — as safe, secure places. The contrast is therefore heightened between the common view of libraries as being safe places, juxtaposed with the actions of the violent sexual assault and ensuing fight. It is effective in underlining the point that no place is safe: not even a school, not even a classroom, not even a library.
Miss Hammond is seen again, the very next day, but no more scenes take place in the library, nor is there any glimpse or mention of a school librarian. Therefore, Blackboard Jungle (1955) falls into the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.
Blackboard Jungle. Dir. Richard Brooks. Perf. Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier. MGM, 1955. Adapted from the novel by Evan Hunter.