One fall afternoon, producer Richard Wechsler (Five Easy Pieces) told a group of us that when you have to worry about hiding your leading actor’s baldspot in a film about kids in high school, you might want to recast. The film he was talking about was Martha Coolidge’s Plain Clothes and the actor was Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket). While Arliss was fine as an undercover cop roaming the school hallways, the hair was an issue. It hard to believe any kid wouldn’t think he was a narc. Three O’Clock High had a similar yet different issue. Leading actor Casey Siemaszko has a full set of hair, but he also looks like he should be wrapping up his PhD instead of finishing his senior year. He was around 25 when they filmed. It’s not unusual for older kids to play high schoolers. The cast of Beverly Hills 90120 were beyond 12th grade. A lot of times this casting is done so the production doesn’t have to deal with child labor laws. Luckily they did cast a villain that also looked too old for high school. And least they balanced that element out. Now the movie gets a reevaluation with Three O’Clock High: Collector’s Edition.
Jerry Mitchell (Stand By Me‘s Casey Siemaszko) is having a rushed and disastrous morning. After speedily getting dressed and a grabbing an incomplete breakfast, he and his sister (Stacey Glick of Brighton Beach Memoirs) hit the road with carpool buddy
Franny (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s Anne Ryan) just getting to Weaver High barely on time. He’s barely in time for his gig running the student supply store with teacher advisor Mr. Rice (The Larry Sanders Show‘s Jeffrey Tambor). The school is all buzzing with the arrival of troubled student Buddy Revell (Kindergarten Cop‘s Richard Tyson). He’s gone through a lot of school. In an effort to create good will with the new boy, the newspaper editor asks Jerry to interview Mitch. The initial contact in the bathroom goes as bad as possible. Buddy takes it in stride and lets Jerry know that he’ll wait until school is out at 3:00 p.m. to beat him up. Thus Jerry spend the rest of the school day trying to escape the school or hire a bigger guy to fight in his place. This could be Jerry’s last day of school.
Three O’Clock High never seemed to get the cable TV action of other teen flicks from the ’80s. It’s gets muscled out by the John Hughes’ flicks, Brat Pack adjacent titles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Looking at it 30 years after it’s original theatrical release, Casey Siemaszko still seems a little old for the role, but he’s able to play out the terror in the eyes necessary for the role. The film has quite a few recognizable faces beyond the legendary Jeffrey Tambor. Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids), Mitch Pileggi (X-Files), Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson) and Phillip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights) pop up around the schoolyard. The tension is high. Tyson comes off as a guy who would keep getting stuck in high school. Barry Sonnenfeld shot the movie around the same time he lensed Raising Arizona so it has all his dynamic camera touches. The film was quietly produced by Steven Spielberg. So strange that that it might be one of the more obscure of the ’80s teen comedies made by a major studio.
Compared the John Hughes teen comedies, Three O’Clock High has aged well. Perhaps not playing around the clock on cable TV makes much more enjoyable to watch. After his first encounter with Buddy, Casey Siemaszko looks like a student instead of the substitute teacher. There’s enough tension on the screen to make you fear the end of school.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolution brings the fun of ’80s fashions. The audio is DTS-HD Master 2.0 for the original theatrical mix. The levels sound good. Do wish Joanou had been able to go back and make a mix using the complete soundtrack Tangerine Dream provided that was judged way too horrific. The movie is subtitled.
Commentary by director Phil Joanou has him break down the film and how they had to shoot it in Utah to have the right kinda school. He deals with altering the tone of the script. He points out Paul Feig’s small role.
Head of the Class (32:31) an interview with director Phil Joanou covers his “miracle” rise to directing a feature film. Days after he showed his thesis project at USC film school, he got a call from Steven Spielberg to visit his office which led to an immediate offering of directing Three O’clock High. It all came so easily. Phil also deals with watching his amazing start come to a screeching halt when the film tanked at the box office instead of being his “Karate Kid.” He also discloses that the film is based on a film about an adult character being trapped in a neighborhood.
Passing the Test (17:59) speaks with screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson & Tom Szollosi. Previously we learned from Phil that he rewrote the script. The duo met at an advertising agency. The duo worked together on The Incredible Hulk series. Richard’s dad is the legendary Richard Matheson.
School Clothes (13:43) meets with costume designer Jane Ruhm. Opens up with Jane discussing how she too is a graduate of Corman University of film. She hooked up with Paul Bartel to be a costume designer on Death Race 2000. She worked with Phil on Amazing Stories during his episode.
Theatrical Trailer (1:31) lets you know that this was one of those days for Jerry Mitchell.
Gallery (7:54) cover production photos and promotional art from the release.
Shout! Factory presents Three O’clock High: Collectors’ Edition. Directed by: Phil Joanou. Screenplay by: Richard Christian Matheson & Thomas Szollosi. Starring: Casey Siemaszko, Anne Ryan, Richard Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor & Philip Baker Hall. Running Time: 89 minutes. Rated: PG-13. Released: October 17, 2017.