Saturday, September 12, 2009

High School Confidential

I've commented before on Hollywood's look at adolescents in the 1950s, and how hilariously inaccurate it was. One of the funniest movies in the genre might be High School Confidential!, airing at 10:30 AM ET tomorrow (September 13) on TCM.

The movie starts with a howler in the opening shot: Jerry Lee Lewis is singing the theme song, on the back of a flatbd truck in front of the students' high school. That's odd enough, but this high school is clearly just a random building on the MGM backlot, as this building looks nothing like any high school anywhere in the US. (I went to a school that was built in the 1920s, and it at least looked like a high school.) Into this school walks new student Russ Tamblyn, who immediately wants to learn who leads the local gang, apparently so he can muscle his way into it. That gang is led by John Drew Barrymore (son of John, and father of Drew), although we quickly learn that there's somebody much bigger in town: Mr. A, the local drug pusher, who's played by Jackie Coogan. Tamblyn wants to meet Mr. A out of ulterior motives. It turns out that he's not a teenage student, but instead a narc who's trying to bring down the drug ring.

High School Confidential! is full of the stereotypes that were common to the genre: Hollywood's idea of teen slang; twenty-somethings playing high schoolers; the BMOC; the local hangout where all the kids go; fast cars, and kids wanting to show them off on weekend nights; the "good kid" who tries to nag "bad" kids like Tamblyn into doing the right thing (played here by Michael Landon!); and of course, the aforementioned music. All of it seems off here, which serves to make the movie funny, if only because it's so detached from reality.

That, however, isn't the only bizarre thing about High School Confidential!. There are also the two older women who show up here. One, the students' teacher, is played by Jan Sterling, who is probably best known for playing the bored wife of the trapped miner in Ace in the Hole. The other is 1950s pin-up girl Mamie Van Doren, who was only in her late 20s when the movie was made. Here, though, she's cast as Tamblyn's putative aunt and guardian, who's also a libidinous lush.

High School Confidential! is a lot of fun, even if nobody ever lived like this. It's been released to DVD, and is well worth watching. Stick around for the final scene, if you do watch it.

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