For the next entry in my back to school series of reviews, I want to say a few words about the 1987 comedy, Three O’Clock High.
I have no idea how Three O’Clock High did when it was originally released into theaters. I know, I know — I could just look it up on Wikipedia or the imdb but I’m lazy and, besides, I hate that whole idea that box office success is somehow synonymous with quality. That said, Three O’Clock High is one of those films that seems to be in a permanent cable rotation (seriously, it always seems to be playing somewhere and there’s always a few people on twitter talking about how excited they are about coming across it) and I kind of hope that it did well when it was originally released. It’s an entertaining and genuinely funny little high school comedy.
Three O’Clock High tells the story of Jerry (Casey Siemaszko). Jerry is a high school student, one of those kids who is a bit anonymous. He’s kind of a nerd but so much of a nerd that he painfully sticks out of the crowd at this school.
You know who does stick out of the crowd? Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson). Buddy is the new kid at school. He’s a big, hulking, and rather intimidating figure and he comes with quite a fearsome repuations. All anyone can talk about are the stories that they’ve heard about Buddy’s dangerous past. The one thing that the rumors all have in common is that Buddy does not like to be touched. In fact, it appears that his aversion to being touched has made him the most dangerous high school student in the country.
The first hour of Jerry’s school day is spent working at the school newspaper and, of course, his teacher has a bright idea. Why not welcome Buddy to the school by interviewing him!? Sure, why not!? Everyone loves to be interviewed! And why not get Jerry to do the interview?
The problem is that Buddy doesn’t want to be interviewed. And, once he realizes that Buddy not only doesn’t want to talk to him but is actually getting rather annoyed with him (this may be because Jerry chooses to approach Buddy in the boy’s bathroom), Jerry asks Buddy to forget that he even bothered him and then reaches over and punches him on the arm.
Of course, this leads to Buddy announcing that he and Jerry are going to have a fight. At 3 pm. In the school parking lot…
The rest of the film plays out like a surrealistic, teen-centered parody of High Noon, with Jerry desperately trying to figure out a way to avoid the fight. He tries to frame Buddy by placing a switchblade in his locker, just to have Buddy use the knife to disable his car, effectively trapping Jerry at the school. He tries to help Buddy cheat on a test. He tries to get the principal to kick him out of school. He even tries bribery!
But ultimately, three o’clock arrives and Jerry must face his destiny…
Three O’Clock High is cheerfully cartoonish and rather entertaining little film. Director Phil Joanou pays homage to a countless number of other films, often framing the high school action like a Spaghetti western stand-off and, when the final fight arrives, it’s just as wonderfully over-the-top and silly as you could hope for. Casey Siemaszko, who was also in Secret Admirer, is perfectly cast as Jerry and Richard Tyson is both funny and intimidating as Buddy. Meanwhile, ineffectual adults are played by everyone from Philip Baker Hall to Jeffrey Tambor to Mitch Pileggi. There’s a not a subtle moment to be found in Three O’Clock High but the relentless stylization definitely works to the film’s advantage.
I’d keep an eye out for the next time that Three O’Clock High shows up on Showtime. It’s an entertaining film about teens doing what teens have to do.