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Three O'Clock High

Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Phil Joanou
Produced by David E. Vogel
Steven Spielberg (executive)
Written by Richard Christian Matheson
Thomas Szollosi
Starring Casey Siemaszko
Music by Tangerine Dream
Sylvester Levay (additional music)
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Editing by Joe Ann Fogle
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 9 October 1987
Running time 90 min.
Country  United States
Language English
Budget N/A
Gross revenue $3,685,862

Three O'Clock High is a 1987 American high-school comedy-drama film, directed by Phil Joanou, written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, and produced by Aaron Spelling. It was filmed at Ogden High School in Ogden, Utah, but, in part, was inspired by Joanou's own experiences at La Canada High School. Though it did not do very well at the box office, the film is a minor cult classic among high school films; showing high school as most people remember it, with mundane days punctuated by occasional thrills.

The term "three o'clock high" is a play on words, a war-time aviation term for an enemy that is above and to the right, and a High Noon confrontation that takes place at 3:00 p.m. (in a western high school). Like Gary Cooper in High Noon, Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) is powerless to keep the march of time from bringing an appointment with a frightening enemy. During the film, Jerry runs through a typical high school day: working at the student store, the school paper class, a science film, a pep rally, World History, English Literature, Algebra 2, getting sent to the office, and facing a bully. But the film also is like the daydream world of a frustrated high school senior, punctuated with increasingly fantastic events as he goes through his day. Siemaszko, and the rest of the cast, are plain looking actors portraying ordinary students and teachers. Unusual photography, camera angles, zooms and closeups characterize the film, along with slow motion sequences.


Plot summary

Jerry Mitchell and his kid sister Brei have the house to themselves, as Mom and Dad (never seen) have gone to Fort Lauderdale. It's 6:30am and Jerry has to open the "student store" at 7am, so he rushes through his morning routine. His car has a flat tire, so the kids must take Mom's uncool station wagon to school. Jerry picks up his "New Age" girlfriend, Franny, and nearly wrecks the car when he pays more attention to another girl than to a red light. At school, rumors are buzzing about Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson), a psychopath delinquent who has transferred in from the continuation high school. Jerry is managing the student store when he first sees Buddy, and when he first meets the new girl, Karen (Liza Morrow). The sponsoring teacher, Mr. Rice (Jeffrey Tambor) is impressed with Jerry's work, for there's $470 in cash for the week.

Jerry's first class is working at the school newspaper. Unfortunately, his best friend Vincent (Jonathan Wise) is the editor and has the idea of doing an article about Buddy—and assigning Jerry to do the interview. Jerry is sick over the assignment, and goes to the restroom. While there, he runs into Buddy Revell. Buddy is clearly angry about talking to a school paper reporter, and Jerry says, "Let's forget the whole thing, okay?" and pats Buddy on the shoulder. Bad move. Buddy roughs Jerry up, breaking his watch as he flushes his feet in the urinal and finally slamming him into the bathroom mirrors. Buddy announces that Jerry has made him very mad and he has to "work off" his anger with a fight, in the parking lot at 3 o'clock after school.

With little more than six hours until the encounter, Jerry tries different strategies to avoid the fight. Talking to Buddy doesn't work. Vincent suggests that he plant a switchblade in Buddy's locker to get him kicked out of school. Jerry's sister advises him to simply skip school, but when Jerry tries to drive away, he finds the switchblade stuck in the steering wheel, and the car ignition wires cut. Trying to run, Jerry is caught by an overzealous school security guard known as "the Duker" (Mitch Pileggi), who finds the switchblade and takes Jerry to the office of Mr. Dolinski, the Dean of Discipline. Mr. Dolinski informs Jerry that he will be keeping his eye on him from now on.

Vincent's next idea is to ask Craig, an old acquaintance now on the football team to beat up Buddy. Craig agrees, but he wants $450. Jerry robs the cash register in the student store, and pays Craig's fee. Later, Mr. Rice tells him that someone has burgled and vandalized the store and taken the week's earnings, not realizing that Jerry is responsible.

As Jerry and Vincent watch, Craig finds Buddy Revell in the library, quietly reading a book. While he's trying to intimidate Buddy, Craig makes the mistake of touching Buddy. Buddy then breaks Craig's finger and punches him in the face, sending all of the bookshelves toppling like dominoes, revealing Jerry and Vincent. (As the punchline, Buddy says "Shhh.") The sight of Craig's broken nose and teeth sends Jerry to the bathroom, vomiting. Vincent brings back $350, having given Craig $100 "for his trouble" and the two friends end up arguing.

Jerry's sister Brei suggests a fifth idea for avoiding the fight: cause trouble during his next class, getting detention, and thus having an excuse not to meet Buddy after school. To do this, Jerry engages in a sequence of actions calculated to offend the literature teacher, Miss Farmer (Caitlin O'Heaney). First he volunteers to give an impromptu book report on a raunchy paperback, "Honey Goes to Hollywood". As he gives the report (to a musical score from Tangerine Dream, who also composed the scores for Risky Business and Legend), he lights a cigarette and casually smokes it while giving the report; all the while using dialogue laced with slang and poor English. He then makes a thinly veiled attempt to seduce the primly dressed yet sensuous Miss Farmer, culminating in aggressively tossing the still-lit cigarette in her coffee and passionately kissing her. The plan backfires when, instead of being offended, she is visibly aroused by his "performance" and affected rugged demeanor, as she responds to his advance. In the act of kissing her, he loses consciousness and falls to the floor with a content expression on his face. When he wakes up in the school infirmary, the nurse informs him that he didn't get detention; but Miss Farmer said it was the best book report she had ever heard and had left her home phone number, asking him to call.

Leaving the infirmary, Jerry runs into Karen, who invites him to her party the following night. Jerry then runs into Franny at the student store, who has set up burning candles in the store to set the mood for "bonding" with him. After a brief kiss, Franny becomes afraid and backs out, leaving Jerry to dispose of the candles. While Jerry is doing so, Mr. Rice returns to the store, along with a detective (Philip Baker Hall) who is investigating the store robbery, strongly suspecting that the vandalism is an inside job.

In Algebra class, Buddy is in the next chair as a pop quiz is given and signals to be allowed to copy off Jerry. Both of them are sent to the office of Mr. O'Roark, the vice principal. When Buddy correctly answers the rather involved math problems involving exponents posed ad-hoc by the principal, the principal concludes that Jerry must have cheated off Buddy, and expresses disappointment in Jerry. Leaving the office, Jerry tries to approach Buddy as a comrade, with no success. Finally, Jerry offers Buddy his remaining $350 to call off the fight. Buddy accepts the money, but scornfully calls Jerry "the biggest pussy I ever met in my life."

Self-loathing leads to anger and determination, and the frightened, undersized Jerry decides to confront Buddy Revell and demand his money back. When Buddy refuses to do so, Jerry tells him that he is no pussy and the fight is back on. At the appointed time, the showdown begins in the parking lot, with all the school's students watching. The vice principal steps in to break up the fight but Buddy knocks him out cold.

Jerry's first punch misses, and he's knocked down, but manages to knock Buddy off balance and then jump on his back. As Jerry is thrown down, others step in to delay Buddy, including Franny who Buddy pushes to the ground. Jerry manages a surprise punch and Buddy hits back, hard. The Duker arrives with Mr. Dolinski, only to be laid out as well, and Dolinski backs off.

As Buddy puts on his brass knuckles to deliver the coup de grâce, Vincent knocks the weapon down before he's dropped by a gut punch. Brei hands the knuckles to Jerry, and soon the crowd is cheering Jerry on to win. Even principal O'Roark while still sprawled on the ground cheers him on yelling, "Don't fuck this up, Mitchell!". Jerry finally knocks Buddy out. The police arrive and prepare to take Jerry in for questioning over the student store robbery, but O'Roark intervenes on his behalf and says it can wait until the next morning.

The next day, many students show their appreciation to Jerry for giving them such a great fight (one student had set up a betting pool based on the results and had done quite well), and begin buying individual sheets of paper from the school store to help Jerry make up the lost student store cash and clear the suspicion from him. Buddy Revell shows up, begrudgingly showing respect, and returns the $350. Karen Calso shows up and expresses interest in Jerry by reminding him about her up coming party. Miss Farmer reappears and confesses her desire for Jerry by kissing him in front of everyone. The film ends with Jerry replacing Buddy as the new "talk of the school", with the rumors having a wide and humorous range of alignment with the truth.

Main cast


  • The director, Phil Joanou, lives in La Cañada-Flintridge, California. During the 80's when this film was released, La Cañada High School had in its employ a Dean named Voytek Dolinski, who bore no resemblance (other than name) to the Dolinski character portrayed in the film. Still, Joanou's children attended La Cañada High School during that time, so the character might be, partially at least, inspired by the real person.
  • Yeardley Smith, who later supplied the voice for Lisa Simpson, has a minor role as a cheerleader.
  • Three O'Clock High opened in 849 theatres nationwide on 9 October 1987; gaining a $1,506,975 opening weekend gross. The total lifetime gross of the film is approximately $3,685,862, earning 40.9% of its total gross during opening weekend.

See also


External links



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