Shout Select’s Three OClock High

The B-Movie Isle: Shout Factory’s Three O’Clock High (Shout Select)

The B-Movie Isle/Adam goes to the 1980’s with the ultimate High Noon riff set in a High School Phil Joanou’s Three O’Clock High being released by Shout Factory’s Shout Select Line.  The under seen comedy of anxieties stars Casey Siemaszko and Richard Tyson as the Nerd and Bully.  Does this entry into the overstuffed High School Genre a welcome edition or just another poser? What’s up with the Brass Knuckles?  Is Three O’Clock High just a backdoor prequel to Young Guns? Read to find out more…

The Film

Watching Three O’Clock High, which I did three times for this review, you’re struck by just how inventive and great visualist Phil Joanou was in the 1980’s.  Executive Producer Steven Spielberg wanted a simple “High Noon meets Karate Kid”.  What Joanou gave him was a High School set Martin Scorsese film.  Quickly after seeing the first screening Spielberg had said as much and took his name off the film.  Too bad as if Spielberg had kept his name on the production this film would be known in the same breath as Heathers.

Yes, Three O’Clock High that good.

The set up is simple; Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) through a series of mishaps ends at the wrong end of the gaze of Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson) the new kid who also happens to be from all accounts a psychotic bully.  After touching Revell, Jerry has a date in the concrete ring with him at 3:00 pm sharp.  The next 75 minutes is Jerry’s day as he goes through the wringer trying to get out of fighting Buddy Revell whom he’s pretty sure is going to kill him.

The concept could have been your straight-ahead crowd pleaser as Spielberg had wanted ala The Karate Kid.  Joanou lays into the anxieties and comedy giving us something more abstract.  Three O’Clock High is better for Joanou’s approach.  The film taps into the mind of a high schooler in the way that feels like proto-Coens Brothers.

That Coen Brothers feel could be from Barry Sonnefeld, who took over as Cinematographer early in the production but was given a “lighting consultant” credit because of union regulations.  Sonnefeld and Joanou are a visual force to be reckoned with.  The way they glide their camera in and out of conversations.  How they shoot Tyson’s Revell like he’s eight feet tall.  The way that the film is lit in an expressionistic way that bleeds you into Jerry’s psyche.  The film just doesn’t make you feel that anxiety but shows it to you like some sort of teenage nightmare.

The film is beautifully built to pile onto Jerry until the final confrontation which feels like both a rah-rah spectacle you’d swear Jerry stepped into Rock IV.  That final confrontation between Buddy and Jerry is on bar with some of the best High School confrontations in cinema.  Three O’Clock High isn’t content with being The Karate Kid in this moment.  It wants to be Raging Bull… and it delivers.

The film was too good for the simple 80’s.  As much as we want to say that the 80’s were great, they were caustic and simple edging anything with originality out of studio film making. Three O’Clock High shows that inventive spirit and the fact that no one knows the film is further proof of that.  Let us not allow that any longer.  Three O’Clock High deserves its place in the pantheon of the great High School films.

The Transfer

The transfer begins questionable with some visible scratches on the print.  That does dissipate and we’re left with a clean transfer that’s sharp with solid black levels.  The film’s striking visual design is showcased in the transfer.

The Extras

They include the following

  • Audio Commentary With Director Phil Joanou
  • Head Of The Class – An Interview With Phil Joanou
  • Passing the Test – Interviews With Screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson And Tom Szollosi
  • School Clothes – An Interview With Costume Designer Jane Ruhm
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

The extras here have unintentionally strange consequence; you learn that Phil Joanou is an infectiously hyperkinetic man.

From the great informative commentary to the 40 minute interview with the director, you learn that the man who directed State of Grace and Rattle and Hum seems to not be the serious-minded filmmaker that you would think.  He is but there is a hyper-enthusiasm that’s not just infectious but it’s charming.  Joanou leave literally no stone unturned between the commentary and interview. He talks about the thrill of his film opening at the Avco (when it was one giant theater) in Westwood.  He talks about hiring Barry Sonnefeld because of Blood Simple. How Steven Spielberg got involved as an uncredited Producer. Spending 8 weeks in Germany with Tangerine Dream helping them understand Three O’Clock High was a comedy and not a serious drama about one kid that is going to kill another.  Through the features Joanou always seems very grateful for the chance to make the film and proud of the work done even though at the time it was not a success.

Both the interview with screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson & Tom Szollosi and Costume Designer Jane Ruhm are fun and honest.  Ruhm talks about getting clothes from JC Penny’s and sending most of the production sightseeing.  Matheson and Szollosi’s interview is as much a career overview as it is about Three O’Clock High (which was written while they were writing for The A-Team!).

The Bottom Shelf

HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!! Get this loaded Blu-Ray disc. Three O’Clock High deserves to be discovered. Put down your John Hughes 80’s films and give this one a chance. And to answer your question… yes, this film is a backdoor Young Guns prequel though you’ll have to read my fan-fiction on the matter to truly understand.

Three O’Clock High is available on Blu-Ray from Shout Factory on October 3rd.

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