Films-U-Missed: David vs. Goliath Coming of Age Story ‘Three O’Clock High’ (1987)
I’ve always had fond memories of 1987’s Three O’Clock High. I could vaguely remember the basic storyline over the years, bullied kid fights school monster, but didn’t remember the details or execution, until a recent re-watch. This is an underrated film, bordering on cult-classic for me. The film stars Casey Siemaszko as high school nerd Jerry Mitchell opposite Richard Tyson’s Buddy Revell. Revell, a kid with a tortured past who’s been kicked out of various schools all for fights/kicking the asses of adults, staff, and students alike, comes to a new high school, where upon Mitchell is assigned the task of penning a “welcome” story on the fairy-tale monster for the high school paper.
The film is from a different era – there is a high school store on campus, where kids purchase books, supplies, etc. – but still has the usual thematic elements of quality entertainment. There’s the David vs. Goliath story, the nerd who’s secretly in love with the hottest chick at school, while the nerd’s goth girl-friend is secretly in love with him, friend vs. foe, etc. As I re-watched the film anew, I was wondering why this never became a hit like so many other high school classics of the same era, like Can’t Buy Me Love or Sixteen Candles for example. The answer is two-fold in my mind.
First, the film lacks the humor central to these types of films. This is actually a brooding, quasi-intimidating sort of film, almost like a would-be horror film with the bully scary and the hunted, who is challenged/forced into a fight at the end of the school day (it all takes place in one day, essentially), constantly on the defensive. In that regard, it almost plays like a drama or thriller, not the comedy it probably was promising audiences at the time. Additionally, and perhaps a weaker argument, is that there were no known faces in these roles – no stars. That probably kept it from becoming a hit later on down the road, as in a “remember when such and such made this” sort of film, but doesn’t really hold up when it came out, considering most of these types of movies made stars out of the leads and not the other way around (in theory). Still, the film cost $5m estimated and only earned $3.5m domestic roughly. Sad.
Three O’ Clock High concludes with a solid finale, a good denouement and interesting story with quality pacing throughout. It hits several of the right notes, albeit without the slam-bang humor many would likely want. (Be on the lookout for Jeffrey Tambor and Phillip Baker Hall in supporting roles.) The movie deserves to be seen really and IMO holds weight when compared to some other 80’s (and certainly 90′s and beyond) “high school growing up” type of films. Do yourself a favor some day when you have 90 minutes to kill and check it out. If you’re not expecting a ton of laughs, you’ll likely enjoy the romp, particularly I suppose, if you grew up during that era.