this will go down on your permanent record

the fifth annual white elephant blogathon is taking place today over at silly hats only!

and i am participating for the first time. the rules, as they state them, look simple:

1. submit the title of a movie you want to see someone else review
2. review the movie you are assigned and post it on 4.1.11
3. have fun!

number three was a tall order, considering i was saddled with phil joanou's three o'clock high (1987).

as the opening titles roll, we are introduced to jerry mitchell, a likable nebbish who is about to endure the long, dark school day of the soul. setting the tone for his day, the clock is his nemesis. his alarm has betrayed him and he is late for his opening duties at the student store. with sister and girlfriend in tow, he races to school, narrowly avoiding a disastrous wreck because he is staring at the new girl driving in the opposite lane. when they arrive, the school is buzzing over another new arrival, buddy revell, who apparently occupies the neanderthal spot on the evolutionary chart that begins with pliopithecus and ends with michael hutchence. according to the stories making the rounds, buddy is a "touch freak" who is fond of brass knuckles and has left a trail of intimidated administrators and brutalized students in his wake. the school paper decides it would be a good idea to welcome/exploit buddy and sends jerry to interview him for a "new student" feature. he awkwardly advances the idea to buddy at the urinal and ends up good-naturedly touching buddy's arm. this minor infraction puts him at the top of buddy's enemies list and earns him a date with an ass-whipping in the parking lot come three o'clock. from there, jerry sweats his way through the rest of the day, one increasingly desperate hour at a time. the clock strikes three and the entire school pours into the parking lot for the bloodletting. things are almost over before they begin, as the principal steps in to announce that there will be no fight today. buddy, however, has been spoiling for this fight all day and no pesky adults are going to keep him from it. he lays the principal and the security officer out as cold as mackerels and the fight is on. buddy goes to his trademark brass knuckles but loses them in a scramble with jerry's best friend. jerry's sister manages to pass them to jerry who promptly dispatches buddy with them. the bully is vanquished, order is restored, the legend of jerry is already reverberating through the hallways. all is right with the world. right?

nope. this thing is a mess. it's trying to be too many things at once. an update of high noon (1952) for the john hughes set? it's about as far from that as you can get. the only thing they have in common is the inevitable showdown. gary cooper was everything casey siemaszko is not in this film. even with a cold fear in the pit of his belly, cooper moved stoically forward, never faltering, providing the cowardly townsfolk with a hero they didn't deserve. siemaszko's character maintains his dignity for all of a period and a half. he attempts to reason with the bully, he even protests when he catches his best friend in the act of planting a switchblade in buddy's locker to get him kicked out of school and arrested. when the chips are down, though, honor goes out the window. first, he runs. at least, he tries to. when he gets to his car he finds the switchblade in his steering wheel with a note that makes it clear there will be no escape. reinforcing this is the fact that buddy cut all of the wires under the hood. flight no longer an option, he attempts to hire someone to do his fighting for him, paying for this ersatz hitman with $450 he steals from the student store. buddy makes short work of his hired goon, leaving him with a broken finger, nose and teeth for his trouble. that plan shot, jerry attempts to get thrown in detention with a book report that walks on the wild side, seducing a prim schoolmarm in the process. he doesn't get detention but he does get those digits. he returns to algebra class in time for a pop quiz. he is seated next to buddy who indicates he had best share his answers. they are caught cheating and sent to the principal's office whereupon buddy actually proves his mathematical proficiency, leaving jerry to take the heat for the cheating episode. jerry sees this as a chance to bond with buddy and appeals to him one last time to call off the fight. when that doesn't work he offers, somewhat pathetically, to buy buddy off with the $350 refund he got from his fight surrogate. buddy takes it, but not before he makes sure that jerry knows, in no uncertain terms, how spineless he is. "you didn't even try. how does that feel?"

well, it must feel pretty bad because self-loathing finally pushes him to accomplish what a sense of honor or righteousness could not and they come to blows. gary cooper, he definitely isn't. anyone who tries to tell you that this movie is about honor and courage in the face of adversity must have skipped the huge section where our "hero" runs, lies, cheats and steals to avoid a potential beating, responding only when his pathetic pride is wounded. man, if nothing else, just take a dive. it can't be any more embarrassing than these elaborate and pitiable machinations. even with all this, i could have taken it had the film not rewarded him. if it had ended with him getting popped for the student store robbery, fine. instead, the student body comes to his rescue, buying sheets of paper for a dollar apiece, allowing him to replace the money he so cravenly absconded with to save his ass. and did i mention he doesn't just get the girl, he gets three girls. well, two girls and one grown woman. these townsfolk - hell, the 80s in their entirety - get exactly the hero they deserve. if you think this has anything to do with high noon, then there is some confusion.

i know, gary. i don't get it either.

the most interesting character was buddy, without a doubt. he was obviously far more than your average 80s teen bully, but what exactly? the movie is unclear about what it's trying to say here, as well. he is obviously articulate. he is his own man, operating without the usual support group of frosted-tipped hangers-on and junior college linebackers that typically surrounds 80s high school bullies. he is a menace, yes, but what must have happened to him so long ago to make him react so violently to uninvited physical contact? it could be that he is just the classic misunderstood monster. all he asks for is to be left alone. if people could manage that then there would be no trouble. but just when you are ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, the movie throws an episode at you like the algebra quiz. he was obviously quite capable of doing well enough on his own. why, then, the need to press jerry for answers? he's toying with him, it's pure cruelty. ok, fine, so he's a sociopath. why, then, let him off the hook for money? $350 is nothing to sneeze at and he's apparently not so much a sociopath that his bloodlust overrules his pragmatism. the exchange, and the contempt with which he views jerry's weaseling, also gives a small glimpse of the fact that he operates by a definite code. it's a code that incorporates an unhealthy amount of violence, but a code nonetheless. that's far more than you can say about our protagonist, whose moral compass might as well be a spinning wheel. things swing back toward malevolent brute when the brass knuckles are introduced but when all is said and done he returns the money that jerry tried to buy him off with. he was paid not to fight, he fought, he didn't hold up his end of that deal, so he gave the money back. he was bested in a (somewhat) fair fight so he gave him a measure of respect as well. it's a morass of mixed messages, none of them particularly convincing.

for a teen comedy it doesn't really succeed at being funny either. most of the time the vibe is desperation, not comedy. the tone is bleak with looks to match. it's as if they need to replace some burned out light bulbs in almost every room they are shooting in and the color scheme seems a relentless green and gray. it does boast some inventive flourishes here and there but it pales in comparison to, say, savage steve holland. the one thing i can say i actually enjoyed about it is that the relationship between jerry and his sister was not the cliched adversarial nonsense that usually comes with the territory. otherwise, not much of redeeming value is going on here. better luck next time, i guess. to all those out there who are continually banging the drum for this "lost 80s classic", claiming that it deserves to be considered with the more prominent john hughes movies and the like, you're right. those movies are terrible, too, when not filtered through the haze of silly nostalgia. the 80s almost invariably leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. i saw them firsthand and they weren't really all that great, contrary to what vh-1 tells you. occasionally, though, their absurdity was almost transcendent and i take some small consolation in the fact that, right now, someone is laboring over the madness that is unmasking the idol (1988) at my behest.

i'm looking forward to reading all the other posts today. many thanks to silly hats only for having me along. now click on over and see who else the joke is on.


  1. "you're right. those movies are terrible too..." Can't stop laughing.

  2. Haven't seen this one. Judging by your review, my life is no less complete for missing it.

    Thanks again for participating.

  3. Sounds like a confusing and mediocre mess. My condolences. Great review, though.

  4. thanks, caroline. your blog is great, by the way. i am sucker for all things golden age.

  5. You are literally, the only person I know who could make Buddy Revell the moral compass of this movie and make a convincing argument of it...Kudos to you , my friend.