One of my biggest inspirations for starting this site was Brian Saur’s site Rupert Pupkin Speaks, specifically with his Film Discoveries segment. So, when he started his latest podcast “Pure Cinema Podcast” with Elric Kane (Shock Waves), I knew that I needed to track down an 80’s classic that he’s considered one of his favorites that I’ve yet to see. That film? The lesser known high school bully story known as THREE O’CLOCK HIGH.
Jerry Mitchell is a solid student, he’s trusted to run the student store, on the school newspaper, and friendly with most people. You would think that nothing could stop him as he cruises through his remaining days in high school. That is until a new student transfers to his school, with a reputation that sounds more like an urban legend than a credible story. When tasked with interviewing the new tough Buddy Revell, Jerry makes the mistake of touching his shoulder in a misguided attempt at showing camaraderie. As Buddy doesn’t like being touched, he roughed Jerry up and stated matter-of-factly that they would fighting in the school parking lot at 3 PM. Jerry spends the rest of his day trying to figure out a way to avoid the fight, and survive the rest of his day.
This film is a treasure trove of character actors. We get our lead, Jerry, played by a Brat Pack tag along, to Jeffrey Tambor as his student advisor. Hell, we even get SHOCKER himself, with Mitch Pileggi playing the school’s security officer.
While this film does have a bevy of great actors to fill the roles, there is an over abundance of prominent teacher and faculty roles. Yes, high schools do have a ton of teachers, however the fewer we see gives the ones on screen all the more gravitas.
We are also introduced to a police detective investigating an issue with the student store, played as hard nosed as they come, by Philip Baker Hall. You immediately want to him chew into the other characters to get to the bottom of the case, but his story arc is wrapped up extremely quickly. Such a shame to waste such a performance on a small role.
WHY SHOULD YOU WATCH THREE O’CLOCK HIGH?:
The score is from none other than Tangerine Dream. Yes, the group behind the amazing scores for LEGEND, THIEF, and SORCERER picked up instruments and gave our imminent battle a building score, including a song at the pep rally that has to be an inspiration for new soundtrack hotness, Junkie XL.
Rumor mills are one of my favorite parts of movies and TV shows based on schools or businesses. Teen comedies can live or die on their portrayal of this aspect, but we’ve had great portrayals in CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, MEAN GIRLS, and EASY A. And the rumor mill fueling the fear of Buddy Revell is a beautiful thing to behold. Joanou allows us to track the evolution of this legend that is Buddy with the camera starting with a young Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN). With how the tale grew taller and taller, I wondered if the whole thing would have been avoided had the rumors not swirled. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy, or did Buddy just live up to the hype?
And what would a teen comedy be without a love triangle involving the girl next door, our dorky male protagonist, and the most popular girl in school? While this is familiar territory for these type of films, THREE O’CLOCK HIGH adds one more component that you may be familiar with if you watch Riverdale or old Van Halen videos. Jerry may be dealing with more extracurricular activities if he survives his impending duel.
One of the teen comedy staples has always been the annoying kid sister. Always a foil to our hero, the younger sibling is there as part antagonist, part comedic relief. However, here with Brei (Stacey Glick, BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS), Jerry has a solid support system. She’s the one that make sure that he’s off to school on time, as well as his moral compass throughout the film. Not only is she not annoying, Jerry seems to honestly enjoy having her around. Plus she’s the source of one of the more memorable quotes during the ultimate stand off.
You can currently stream the film on HBO GO and it’s available for rent/purchase on most VOD platforms (links to all of them are here!
Also, if you are in the mood for a light hearted recap of the film, I can’t recommend The Hail Ming Power Hour’s episode “A Tale of Two Buddy” enough. They have Rob Galluzzo from Shock Waves join in for a great discussion about THREE O’CLOCK HIGH and one of my all time faves JUST ONE OF THE GUYS.
Jerry Mitchell: Casey Siemaszko (BACK TO THE FUTURE, STAND BY ME)
Buddy Revell: Richard Tyson (KINDERGARTEN COP, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY)
Detective Mulvahill: Philip Baker Hall (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA)
Mr. Rice: Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent, Arrested Development)
Director: Phil Joanou (STATE OF GRACE, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry)
Writers: Richard Christian Matheson (LOOSE CANNONS, The A-Team), Tom Szolossi (IT TAKES TWO, SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR)
Cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld (MEN IN BLACK, THE ADDAMS FAMILY)