Back To School – Saturday At The Movies: Three O’Clock High

“You and me, we’re gonna have a fight. Today. After school. Three o’clock. In the parking lot. You try and run, I’m gonna track you down. You go to a teacher, it’s only gonna get worse. You sneak home, I’m gonna be under your bed.” Buddy Revell

That’s a hell of a way to start the first the first day of a new year in high school. But that’s the way timid student, Jerry Mitchell, begins his morning.

Does anyone out there remember the 1987 film, Three O’Clock High, starring Casey Siemaszko in the role of lovable goodie, Jerry Mitchell, in an unyielding and threatening predicament? It’s a bit of a cult classic movie now, one that’s full of great performances by a plethora of actors that would become famous for other roles later in their careers. Three O’Clock High has a loyal following of fans – and is a perfect film to watch on a Saturday in this back-to-school season.

Find out more after the jump!

Three O’Clock High tells the story of Jerry Mitchell (Siemaszko), bullied into interviewing the new kid, tough guy Buddy Revell (played brilliantly by a young Richard Tyson, who you’d probably recognize as the bad guy in Kindergarten Cop as well as roles in various Farrelly Brothers films), for the school newspaper. Buddy just wants to be left alone as he tries to restart his academic career as the new school, but awkward and naïve Jerry commits Buddy’s cardinal sin: he touches him. And, after the uttered threat that you read at the top of this column, Jerry’s first day at school becomes a nightmare.

Here’s the original trailer to the film:

Just like in those other 1980’s school-based films, Fast Times At Richmond High and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we’re treated to a cast of high school characters, students, teachers, administrators and security guards, that all bring to mind someone we may have encountered in our own high school careers. When watching the film, you’ll encounter the much-too-serious school security guard “the Duker” played by Mitch Pileggi of X-Files fame. Jeffrey Tambor of The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development is here too. Look for Philip Baker Hall as Dr. Mulvahill, an actor probably made most famous in pop culture circles as the library cop from Seinfeld. If you’re extra attentive, you’ll even spot a super young Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, at the beginning of the flick!

Three O’Clock High was the first mainstream feature film by director Phil Joanou, he of the U2-in-America tour documentary, the well-regarded Rattle and Hum. There’s lots of cleverness with the camera here: long, twisting pans and quick cuts keep the film moving quickly and the viewer, like Jerry Mitchell, always at the edge of their seat, nervous about the next scene. And the ticking clock is always present!

The film takes aspects of violence and sexuality and panic and turns them into something comedic. Yes, there’s funny, light touch here, but Three O’Clock High always says something about the youthful experience of making one’s way through the maze of high school – and all of those conflicting emotions and events that come with it – but never really illuminates what lies outside of that maze. Three O’Clock High is a day-in-the-life of Jerry Mitchell and Buddy Revell and the film circles specifically around those two, echoed in the climactic parking lot scene where the fight must happen. Siemaszko and, specifically, Tyson, are absolutely brilliant in their performances.

Three O’Clock High. When school’s over, it’s all over.

Tagline aside, it’s a film that can be enjoyed again and again. Better from the comfort of your living room couch, than the hallways of the school you currently attend – or used to.

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