Friday, February 15, 2013

#914. High School Caesar (1960)

Directed By: O'Dale Ireland

Starring: John Ashley, Gary Vinson, Steve Stevens

Tag line: "Mob rule in a high school!"

Teenage thug and all-around bad guy Matt Stevens (John Ashley) is one nasty character. As High School Caesar opens, he and his gang, all decked out in leather jackets, are beating the hell out of a fellow student, who, after taking one punch too many, falls to the ground. Without missing a beat, Matt reaches into the poor kid’s coat pocket, pulls out his wallet, and helps himself to all the cash inside. “Next time, he’ll pay”, Matt says to his gang, at which point they walk away. Not two minutes in, and High School Caesar is already shaping up to be a typical juvenile delinquent story, with kids from the wrong side of the tracks terrorizing innocent classmates for the fun of it. The only problem is Matt Stevens doesn’t come from the “wrong side of the tracks”. In fact, he’s so well off, he could probably buy the damn tracks!

Far from your usual hoodlum, Matt Stevens is filthy rich, which is not to say his home life is perfect; actually, it stinks. His parents off on a world tour, Matt pretty much lives by himself, with only a maid and butler to look after him. At school, though, Matt Stevens is king, and, with the help of his sidekick, Crickett (Steve Stevens), girlfriend, Lita (Daria Massey), and the rest of his gang, he rules the hallways with an iron fist. What’s more, Matt has just been elected class president (in a rigged election), meaning he’s now more powerful than ever before. That power is threatened, however, when a new girl named Wanda (Judy Nugent) stands up to Matt, leading to a showdown between him and his chief rival, Kelly Roberts (Lowell Brown), that’s sure to end in disaster.

The main thrust of High School Caesar, the neglected rich kid acting out because his parents ignore him, isn’t exactly original, nor, for that matter, are the various scenes featuring sock hops and drag races, which seem to come standard with teen movies from this period. Yet what makes it all work, and carries it a step above the norm, is the suave, almost effortless performance of John Ashley. His Matt practically runs the school, and manages to make a tidy little profit in the process. Matt’s Achilles heel, though, is his situation at home, and whenever he’s alone in his big house, his insecurities take over. The influence Matt wields at school masks the helplessness he feels at home, and it’s to Ashley’s credit that he turns what might have otherwise been a formulaic tale of teen angst into something worthwhile.

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