High School Confidential (1958)

High School Confidential (1958)

“If you flake around with the weed, you’ll end up using the harder stuff!”

Tough Tony Baker (Russ Tamblyn) arrives at a new high school and immediately tries to edge in on the drug scene — much to the consternation of his concerned teacher (Jan Sterling).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Drug Dealers
  • High School
  • Jack Arnold Films
  • Jan Sterling Films
  • Mamie Van Doren Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Russ Tamblyn Films
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek” film about the “fifties turbulent-youth scene” — which contains “intentionally sleazy elements” — is “great fun because of the wild dancing and action, three blonde actresses…, and hip teen lingo that will make you feel nostalgic: ‘flipout’, ‘swingingest’, ‘nowhere’, ‘square’ ‘(fill in any word)sville'”, etc. He points out that producer Albert “Zugsmith and talented director Jack Arnold include much intentional campy humor, but the drug angle is treated cautiously” — and he adds that while it’s “a much better film than 1936’s Reefer Madness“, there “are a surprising number of similarities between the two” given that both claim “problem children don’t necessarily come from problem homes,” “the major dealers set up business with pushers and are too smart to be users themselves,” and “where there is loud music there are usually drugs” (!). Peary argues that Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn’s “nymphomaniac” aunt is particularly noteworthy, and that he believes “it’s worth the price of admission to watch her walking around in semi-obscene outfits…, biting into [Tamblyn’s] apple with thoughts of Eden in her naughty head.” Okay.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn’s aunt
  • Jan Sterling as Tamblyn’s concerned teacher
  • Tamblyn secretly shooting up into a ball rather than his arm when “testing out” some drugs

Must See?
Yes, as a cult movie. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 (1983).


  • Cult Movie


One thought on “High School Confidential (1958)

  1. Oddly enough, even though ‘HSC’ is, as you feel, a better film than its counterpart – ‘Reefer Madness’ – I would say that ‘RM’ is a must and ‘HSC’ is not. Unlike Peary, I don’t think ‘HSC’ is tongue-in-cheek. It’s hard detecting whether cast and crew were ‘in on the joke’. Unlike producer Zugsmith’s 1959 camp riot ‘Girls Town’ (also with Ms. Van Doren), ‘HSC’ seems to take itself much too seriously. Yes, the 50s lingo is there, but it feels like the result of earnest research. What seems earnest as well is the marked statement that smoking pot leads to using heroin. ‘HSC’ is interesting for the unusual collection of actors in supporting roles, and Jan Sterling proves once again her dependability regardless of material. (She worked for Zugsmith 3 years earlier in a personal camp favorite – ‘Female on the Beach’; unmentioned by Peary.) Zugsmith, director Arnold and writers Blees and Meltzer all have intriguing filmographies. I just wish that, in this combined effort, they hadn’t ‘starched the collar’. [BTW: A song entitled ‘High School Confidential’ is used in a memorable sequence in Egoyan’s ‘The Adjuster’.]

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