“At 3PM, It’s Do or Die Time”
You ever have one of those days at school?
In this day and age of anti-bullying campaigns and stop cyber-bullying messages, one has to wonder how the earlier generations made it through adolescence. Growing up during the 80’s, we didn’t have the vigilant awareness of the media, more involved parents and teachers nor even the luxury of an internet to be cyber-bullied over from the comfort of our laptops. Face it– you’d run afoul of some bigger kid at school and just got plain beat up, usually after the 3 o’clock bell.
The film I’m going to recap (do I really need to post a spoiler alert for a 25 year old movie?) is not your typical 80’s high school movie. Some parts dark comedy, some parts action thriller, Three O’Clock High wasn’t one of the more popular teen movies of the 80’s, but has developed quite a cult following over the years.
The story’s hero is Jerry Mitchell, who’s an average high school kid, if not a bit nerdy. He’s never been in a fight, works as a cashier at the school supply store and writes for the school newspaper. The movie starts with Jerry being woken up by his kid sister Brei, who reminds him that he’s running late. Jerry usually gets to school early to open the store. We then find out that their parents are on vacation (typical teen movie plot device) and Jerry does your typical teenager scamper out the door, at one point drying his shirt in the microwave while cooking a Pop-Tart at the same time (did he even shower??)!
Jerry picks up his kooky girl friend (platonic? who knows?) Franny, whose hairstyle is eerily similar to Boof from Teen Wolf. Franny wears black and talks to spirit guides.
On the way to school, as Jerry recklessly speeds and nearly gets into an accident while staring at a hot blonde in the adjacent car, we’re reminded that this is an 80’s flick because I notice they’re in the car without their seatbelts fastened.
Cut to Weaver High School, where we start to hear about the antagonist of the film. A menacing new kid named Buddy Revell is the talk of the morning. We hear various voices telling crazy stories about him: That he’s a “touch freak” who doesn’t like to be touched, he carries brass knuckles, he has a notorious history of violence at several schools… basically he’s your typical 80’s bad-ass with long hair and a leather jacket.
In homeroom, the teacher appoints Jerry as the ambassador (translation: victim) to welcome Buddy to the school. Later, he ends up seeing Buddy standing next to him in the boys’ bathroom and within two minutes he breaks Classick’s public restroom cardinal rule number one: No talking! Not to mention he also breaks rule number 1A: no talking while at the urinals. And here’s the clincher, he finally breaks Buddy’s rule: no touching.
As you might guess, Buddy is incensed! He tells Jerry to be ready for a fight after school at 3 o’clock in the parking lot.
Word gets all around school that day. For the rest of day Jerry does everything he can to try to get out of fighting Buddy at 3:00.
- He later tries talking it out with Buddy. Nope, not a chance!
- Jerry’s friend Vince tries framing Buddy by planting a knife inside his locker. Nope! Buddy leaves the knife stuck in the steering wheel of Jerry’s car,but not after cutting the wires… plus the school security guard who calls himself “The Duker” (horrible nickname!) later finds the knife on Jerry!
- Jerry then tries to hire this football player named Craig to beat up Buddy before 3 o’clock, stealing the money from the student store cash register to pay him. Nope! In the library during study hall, Buddy breaks Craig’s finger and knocks him out with one punch.
- Jerry tries to get himself thrown in detention. Nope! In English class, he gives an offensive book report about adult erotica, at one point smoking a cigarette in class and trying to seduce his English teacher Miss Farmer. In the most unlikely of results, these attempts actually turn her on and earn Jerry an both an A and her phone number.
- Jerry tries to win Buddy’s favor by helping him cheat on a math test. Nope! They get caught and Jerry takes the rap, saying he was cheating off of Buddy (who knew the answers all along).
- Using the money left over from the school store robbery, Jerry tries paying Buddy off to call off the fight. Buddy takes the money and calls Jerry “the biggest pussy I ever met in my life.” Jerry gets mad at this and after a few minutes stewing in anger, he finds the courage to stand up to Buddy, declaring the fight back on.
The buzz around the school builds as the day gets nearer to the fateful title time. During the entire day two annoying film students follow Jerry around trying to shoot a documentary on the events leading up to the fight. We also find out that students are placing bets on how long Jerry will last in the fight and how many stitches he’ll need.
The final lead-up to the fight is one of the most intense scenes in the movie. Jerry walks out to the parking lot to what’s basically everyone from the entire school in attendance. Despite the efforts of the school principal and “The Duker” to prevent the fight (Buddy knocks them both out!!), it goes down as planned. If you want to check out the final fight and totally spoil the movie, check out the clip below…
The worst day of his life turns out to be the best. Jerry makes out with his English teacher, then with Franny. He becomes the most popular guy at school (Big Man On Campus) and apparently also a ladies’ man. Finally, the next morning at the school store we see that he has actually earned the respect of Buddy.
Three O’Clock High is fun, thrilling and a great throwback to the rough days of high school. If you’ve ever dealt with a bully or even if you were a bully, this film will resonate with you. It’s not really a “message” type of film, as Jerry resorts to vandalism, theft, smoking, bribery, cheating and making sexually charged advances at school faculty, however it’s a nice modern day re-telling of the old fashioned David & Goliath tale.
The film was shot entirely in Salt Lake City, Utah and was released in 1987. Production credits include well-known Hollywood legends Aaron Spelling and Steven Spielberg.
The cast features:
Casey Siemaszko as Jerry Mitchell
Richard Tyson as Buddy Revelle
Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) as a random cheerleader
Jeffrey Tambor (from Arrested Development, Larry Sanders Show, and much, much more!) as Mr. Rice
Phillip Baker Hall (the library cop from Seinfeld!) as Detective Mulvahill
Caitlin O’Heaney (Snow White from The Charmings) as Miss Farmer
Alice Nunn (Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) as Nurse Palmer
Much of the soundtrack instrumentals by German electronic music group “Tangerine Dream”
If you ever get a chance, rent or purchase this movie. It’s truly an 80’s Classick!