The Drug Wars 50 Years Ago- High School Confidential
High School Confidential, MGM Productions, starring Russ Tambyn with Jerry Lee Lewis doing his hit song High School Confidential, 1958
Mary Jane, weed, tea, ganja, herb, stick and so on. Every generation (which should tell us something) has its own code words for its recreational drugs. But wait a minute. Drugs, especially marijuana, are bad for you, right? Why? Marijuana is the first step on the slippery slope down the road to serious drug addiction- heroin, opium, crack and so on. And then on to a life of crime and jail. Is this a story from today’s headlines? Well, I suppose it could be but it is not. This is the premise behind the 1958 classic B teenage movie "High School Confidential".
Now frankly, this year I have been on a Jerry Lee Lewis kick trying to establish who was the “king of rock and roll” during the 1950’s so I picked up this little movie to see if it could aid my Jerry Lee bias. While the lead-in scene of Jerry Lee on a truck doing "High School Confidential" in front of some California high school students is amazing this film did not help in that effort. What is the case, however, is how even back then when drugs were a fringe phenomena mainly indulged in by the “beats” like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and their crowd and other “anti-social” types the monitors of American teenage mores in the film industry had to weigh in to condemn this practice out of hand. Nothing new there and the police authorities (the good guys, right?) then were just about as successful (in reality, not in the film) as they have been today. That is to say that they have sought to fill the jails as their solution to the problem. Mainly with blacks and Latinos. But enough of that, for now.
This turns out to be a very campy movie complete with new boy Russ Tambyn (a very old teenager, by the way) in town (as an undercover vice cop) trying to become “king of the hill” in the teenage drug market. We have a glance at teen life in the 1950’s as seen by Hollywood with their take on “beat” slang (including a very nicely done be-bop poetic recitation by a young woman at a teenage nightclub), high school dances, hot rods on Saturday night(complete with a Rebel Without A Cause racing scene), grabbing girls (right from under the noses of other guys no less), 'dissing' teachers and headmasters and doing a little weed. (You know to liven up the party). All in the service of one thing- don’t. The only thing not done here is an explicit tie-in with drugs and rock and roll although with Jerry Lee present that might have been a little hard to do. Since this is the 50th anniversary of the release of the film I will finish with one conclusion from viewing the film and the facts of life since then- decriminalize drug use-now.