The Film That Helped Launch Rock

Pioneer rock 'n roller Bill Haley, seated, with his Comets in 1956. AP

On March 20th, 1955, a movie debuted that was to rock adult complacency, reports CBS News' Sunday Morning.

"Blackboard Jungle" was a gritty drama about life in a big city high school.

Glenn Ford starred as a brand new teacher standing up to toughs, while the young Sidney Poitier played a bad kid turned good.

With juvenile delinquency a hot topic of the times, "Blackboard Jungle" attracted plenty of attention, and lots of controversy, too.

Concerned that it would besmirch America's image abroad, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce, managed to get "Blackboard Jungle" withdrawn from the Venice Film Festival.

But at home, it was a very big hit, particularly among teenagers, who saw parallels with their own experiences and who -- above all -- loved the Bill Haley and the Comets theme song, "Rock Around the Clock."

Fifty years later, at least some of the teens who so identified with "Blackboard" are now playing shuffleboard, while a new generation of educators deals with a new generation of high school problems.

For better or for worse, the phrase "Blackboard Jungle" is a permanent part of the American lexicon -- not to mention an ongoing challenge.

The Web site Rock Is Fifty credits "Blackboard Jungle" with unwittingly launching "the entire rock 'n' roll revolution." It says "Rock Around The Clock" took only three months to become the first rock No. 1 hit, eventually selling 45 million copies. The song had failed in its original release the preceding year, and owed its breakthrough entirely to the film, "Rock Is Fifty" observes.

"The 50th anniversary of this landmark moment in popular culture," the Web site continues, "is being celebrated with an impressive array of events, premieres, screenings and exhibits; the first-ever DVD release of "Blackboard Jungle" on May 10th; and the triumphant return of the band that started it all -- The Comets -- featuring all five surviving members of the original band.

"The official celebrations include events presented by some of America's most prestigious cultural organizations, including The Museum Of Modern Art, The Museum Of Television & Radio, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and The American Cinematheque.

"Major American corporations that have projects saluting the anniversary include: Warner Home Video, Sirius Satellite Radio, Rhino Home Entertainment, Universal Music, SOFA Entertainment and Gibson Musical Instruments.

"An honorary committee -- instigated and spearheaded by producer/rock historian Martin Lewis who, in February 2004, initiated and produced the massive nationwide celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' first US visit -- has organized ten major events and exhibits that will salute the anniversary. The committee members are primarily original participants in the creation of 'Blackboard Jungle' and 'Rock Around The Clock.' "
  • Brian Dakss

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