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  High School Confidential Hip To Be Square
Year: 1958
Director: Jack Arnold
Stars: Russ Tamblyn, Jan Sterling, Diane Jergens, John Drew Barrymore, Mamie Van Doren, Jackie Coogan, Michael Landon, Charles Chaplin Jr, Ray Anthony, Lyle Talbot, William Wellman Jr, Jody Fair, Mel Welles, Jerry Lee Lewis
Genre: Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's a new boy, Tony Baker (Russ Tamblyn), in high school this morning and he's making his presence felt. After finding a parking space for his car, he makes a move on Joan (Diane Jergens), the girlfriend of the school top dog, J.I. (John Drew Barrymore), instantly landing himself in trouble. But he starts as he means to go on, making a big splash by heading over to the principal's office and waiting for him while smoking a joint. He has a lot of cash he's not afraid to whip out of his pocket and show off, and when he gets to class, he tries to chat up the teacher, Arlene (Jan Sterling). However, it's the local drug scene that he wants to be involved with, and it's not long before he's tracking down the major players...

Written by Lewis Metzler and Robert Blees, from Blees' story, this trashy, knowing crime expose is still a lot of fun to watch, not least because of the amount of fifties slang that the characters speak. We first see Arlene teaching her English class about slang, but Tony is deeply unimpressed by her choices, and shows off his superior knowledge of the dialect, leading to him being thrown out and sent to the principal. "Don't flip your lid," as he says, and this dialogue has the effect of making Tony come across as the coolest character in the film, coupled with his rebellious attitude, even if it sounds like an alien language nowadays.

But the most important message the movie tries to impart is "Just say, 'No' to drugs", and there's plenty of narcotic-related slang in there too. We see the heads of the school being taught about the dangers of marijuana by a policeman, and he endorses the theory that smoking the stuff leads directly to heroin use. Parents refuse to believe that their offspring could be doing such a thing, but the cops know better, and let their views be known. As campy as the drama is, it appears to be perfectly serious about this topic, and the budding pothead Joan is already an addict-in-waiting thanks to J.I. Her friend Doris (Jody Fair) is trying to go cold turkey, as we can guess when she refuses to go swimming in the outdoor pool with the others.

Mind you, one recovering heroin addict in the entire cast isn't much of an epidemic, but the implication is that there will be a domino effect and soon the whole school will be stoned out of their minds. And what a cast it is, with the son of Charlie Chaplin rubbing shoulders with piano-playing gangster Jackie Coogan at the local bar, Drew Barrymore's dad and the Teenage Werewolf himself, Michael Landon, as students, and, most memorably, Mamie Van Doren as Tony's Aunt Gwen. She acts like a cat in heat, constantly trying to seduce Tony while her husband is away, and provides a lot of the laughs as she pouts her way though plentiful nympho dialogue.

There is a danger that all this could look completely ridiculous, and to a certain extent it does, but everyone seems to be having a ball playing up for the cameras. From the opening, which sees Jerry Lee Lewis performing the title song with his band on the back of a truck - just for the hell of it, to the tongue-in-cheek moralistic finale, High School Confidential is marked out as top grade exploitation entertainment that could easily be a send-up of the contemporary juvenile delinquent movie. Its smart attitude is just enough to get away with the serious drugs theme, while still packing in such delights as an illegal drag race meeting and two priceless speeches of heptalk ("Tomorrow is a drag!"). Music by Albert Glasser.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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