1. Play the trailer for (1955). Students should take notes on any words and phrases the narrator uses to describe the onscreen action and music. Discuss as a class:
- What is this movie about? How does the film depict teenagers?
- By playing “Rock Around the Clock” over the image of “teenage savages,” what does the film seem to suggest about Rock and Roll music?
Explain that Blackboard Jungle was the first movie to feature a Rock and Roll song on its soundtrack. After the film’s release, “Rock Around the Clock” went to number one on Billboard’s Pop charts, where it remained for eight weeks. However, due to some people’s concerns over the content of the film, Blackboard Jungle was banned in several American cities.
2. Display June 4, 1955 New York Times article reporting the ban on Blackboard Jungle in Atlanta. Invite a student to read the article aloud. Discuss as a class:
- What are some of the reasons the Atlanta board of censors cite for banning the film? Based on your observations from watching the trailer, do you think the ban was warranted?
- Do you think the controversy over the film helped or hurt the popularity of the song “Rock Around the Clock?” Explain your answer.
1. Explain that the class will view three trailers for movies released soon after Blackboard Jungle: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Rock Around the Clock (1956), and Jailhouse Rock (1957). Each of these films addressed concerns about teenagers in the mid-1950s, particularly the perceived threat of juvenile delinquency and the rising influence of Rock and Roll culture.
2. Divide class into four teams and distribute Handouts 1-4 (links below) to the respective teams. Explain that each team will represent a group of 1950s entertainment industry professionals. Before playing the first trailer, each team should review their handout which explains the role of their organization and a set of criteria which the team will use to review the movies. Each team will have a different final report to share with the class. Check for understanding before playing the first trailer.
Team 1: The Film Studio (Handout 1: Movie Posters)
Team 2: The Record Label (Handout 2: Soundtrack Credits)
Team 3: The Motion Picture Association of America (Handout 3: The Production Code)
Team 4: The Theater Owners of America (Handout 4: Harrison’s Reports)
3. Play trailer for (1955). Allow teams a few minutes to review their handouts and discuss the trailer as a group. Repeat the same process for (1956) and (1957).
4. Once you have screened each trailer, allow teams a few minutes to discuss and reach their final conclusions about the films.
5. Have each team present their findings to the class. For presentations, teams should elect several representatives to introduce their professional organization, explain their assigned task, and describe their methodology to determine which movie to promote or restrict.
To check for understanding, students will submit to the teacher an “exit ticket” on a blank piece of paper. On the paper, students will write 3-4 sentences in which they pick one of the four trailers viewed during the lesson (including Blackboard Jungle) and discuss why they would most want to see that movie in its entirety. Students may base their decision on the film’s subject matter, music featured, star actors, the reviews it received upon first release, or any combination of these factors.
Ask students to read Handout 5: “Intelligent Handling of a Touchy Problem” — an article from the April 9, 1955 issue of Harrison’s Reviews. (Explain that Harrison’s Reviews was a motion picture trade journal for independent theater owners that published film reviews and professional advice for theater owners.)
Write a short op-ed to Harrison’s Reviews responding to the RKO Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey’s decision to run a special trailer at the conclusion of each screening of Blackboard Jungle. Do you agree with the management’s decision? If yes, explain why you think the strategy helped the community, and if no, explain what you might have done differently to address people’s concerns about the film.