Back to School #22: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (dir by Allan Arkush)

Originally, when I started this series of Back to School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  After all, everyone has seen that film.  It’s on TV all the time.  (Looking in your direction, AMC.)  It’s a musical, which is a genre that I love but one which I also rarely seem to review.  The movie features a good performance from Stockard Channing.  It also has a lot of dancing and you know how much I love that.  And speaking of love, a lot of people seem to absolutely love Grease.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while others may love Grease, I don’t.  Oddly enough, I always seem to fool myself into thinking that it’s a fun movie but then I make the mistake of watching it whenever it pops up on AMC and every time, I am surprised to discover just how boring Grease really is.  The majority of the cast play their roles as if they’re still on a Broadway stage and projecting to the back of the house.  Olivia Newton-John is miscast.  John Travolta appears to be acting on auto pilot.  Both the songs and even Stockard Channing are never as good as I remembered.  Worst of all, the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and filmed that, half-the-time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.

While I certainly don’t have any problem writing a negative review (and check out my thoughts on Avatar if you doubt me), I wanted to end the 70s on a positive note.  So, instead of telling you that Grease isn’t good as many people seem to think, I want to recommend another film that, like Grease, features a lot of singing and dancing but which also happens to be a lot of more fun.

That film, of course, is the 1979 cult classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.


Things are amiss at Vince Lombardi High School.  The students are so obsessed with rock and roll (and the music of the Ramones, in particular) that they have caused several principals to quit.  The hallways are a disorganized mess.  Student Riff Randall (P.J. Soles) spends all of her time having fantasies about the way that Joey Ramone eats pizza.  A strange students named Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) runs a shadowy company known as Eaglebauer Enterprises out of a smoke-filled boy’s restroom.  (He’s even got an administrative assistant to schedule meetings for him.)  Handsome jock Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten) can’t get a date, largely because he’s obsessed with Riff who is obsessed with the Ramones.  Little does Tom realize that Riff’s best friend, the sweet and intelligent Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), has a crush on him.

The school board hires a new principal to bring some peace to the high school.  Ms. Togar (Mary Woronov) is a strict and mentally unbalanced disciplinarian who, with the help of two apparently subhuman hall monitors, is determined to suppress any sort of fun, rebellion, or free thought.  Togar hates loud music, mostly because it causes white mice to spontaneously explode.  (When, late in the film, a human-sized white mouse — or he could have just been a very strange man wearing a white mouse costume, the film is ambiguous on this point — attempts to enter a Ramones concert, he’s turned away for his own good.  Until, of course, he reveals that he’s brought along headphones for his own protection…)



In the end, it all comes down to this: Togar and her allies want to burn records.  Riff and the Ramones want to stop her.  And maybe blow up the school.  (David from Massacre at Central High would have been a fan of the Ramones.)

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is an intentionally over-the-top film that both celebrates youthful rebellion while satirizing traditional high school films.  The jokes (which are a good combination of the silly and the genuinely clever) come non-stop, the actors all bring a lot of energy to their roles, and the entire film is just a lot of fun. As played by P.J. Soles, Riff Randall really is the ideal best friend and I imagine that a lot of boys in 1979 probably walked out of the theater with a huge crush on both P.J. Soles and Dey Young.  And finally, Mary Woronov gives a wonderfully demented performance as Ms. Togar.



Rock ‘n’ Roll High School seems like the perfect film to end the 70s with.  Tomorrow, Back to School continues with the 80s!  So, if you’ve never seen Rock ‘n’ Roll High School before, watch it below!

2 responses to “Back to School #22: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (dir by Allan Arkush)

  1. Pingback: Back to School #23: Fame (dir by Alan Parker) | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser) | Through the Shattered Lens

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