High School Caesar
Cast & Crew
Handsome, wealthy teenager Matt Stevens leads a gang of ruffians comprised of Slick, Dusty, Matt's girl friend, Lita Owens, and his young, adoring sidekick, Homer "Cricket" Davis. Matt runs a lucrative business charging "protection" money and selling stolen tests to the students at his high school. He also hopes to win the position of student body president, and to ensure his victory, Matt intimidates the students and tears up the posters of his challenger, Kelly Roberts. In the library, Cricket spots pretty newcomer Wanda Anderson and asks Matt to arrange a date with her. Wanda is also noticed by Kelly's best friend, Bob Williams, who is too shy to ask her out. Lita hears Matt talking about Wanda and reacts jealously, but is pleased when Matt orders her to arrange a date between Wanda and Cricket. At a student dance Matt has organized, Bob finally asks Wanda to dance, while in the principal's office Matt's flunkies stack the votes to ensure that Matt is elected student body president. After he is announced the winner of the election, Matt names Cricket treasurer and announces that dances, with a door fee, will be held each week. Although the profits are supposed to go toward buying a bulldog puppy as a school mascot, Matt and his boys secretly pocket much of the cash. At home, Matt has all the money and belongings he could desire but wants only the attention of his parents, who travel constantly. Although he bullies his servants, when alone in his room, Matt cries and clutches his prized possession, the gold coin his father once gave him. At the next dance, Lita informs Wanda that she is to be Cricket's date, but Wanda rebuffs her. The principal calls Matt in to ask for his help in identifying the school bullies, after which Matt, confident that he can get whatever he wants, promises Cricket that he will procure Wanda for him that evening. At the soda shop that night, however, Wanda dances with Bob, and Cricket urges Matt to break in on them. When Wanda once again refuses to dance with Cricket, Matt insults her, prompting Bob to punch him. Their fight is halted by the manager, and Bob walks Wanda home, where she kisses him. That weekend, the teens enjoy wholesome car races, but when Matt appears and offers his coin as prize money, the races turn competitive and dangerous. Kelly manages to beat Matt's expensive car and wins the coin, to Matt's irritation. Hoping to intimidate Kelly into returning the coin, Matt grabs Cricket and follows Kelly in the car. They are trying to force him off the road when Kelly's tire blows and his car careens off a cliff. Matt runs to check the wreckage and, upon finding Kelly dead, retrieves his coin and instructs a distraught Cricket to keep quiet. When Kelly fails to appear at the soda shop, his friends search for him and find the body. Meanwhile, Matt tries to call his father but cannot reach him. Matt then holds a meeting of his gang, during which he attempts to increase his popularity by offering them free access to the stolen tests and presenting them with the bulldog puppy he has purchased. He also instructs Slick and Dusty to steal the latest biology test from the principal's office, with keys Matt has painstakingly stolen and copied. The boys are spotted by the principal, and although he cannot identify them, he quickly changes all the locks, effectively ruining Matt's business. While Bob calls a meeting at his house that evening to generate support to challenge Matt's power, Cricket asks Matt why he has failed to get Wanda to date him. In response, Matt approaches Wanda, but she calls him repulsive. That night, he and Cricket follow Wanda as she is walking to Bob's and, when she refuses to join them, throw her in the car. They drive to the lake, where Cricket grows distressed as Matt forces himself on Wanda. After Matt throws Cricket out, Wanda spots the coin in Matt's pocket and, realizing he killed Kelly, flees and hides in the bushes until she can run to Bob's house with the news. Meanwhile, Cricket goes to the soda shop in hysterics and announces that Matt caused Kelly's accident. When Matt arrives at the soda shop, the teens surround him threateningly. He begs for mercy as Bob punches him, then throws the coin in the dirt. Matt collapses in tears, the coin clutched in his hand, as the police arrive.
Anton Von Stralen
Anthony Di Marco
Ethelmae Wilson Page
Ethelmae Wilson Page
George S. Reppas
Edwin Zabel Jr.
Troubled Teens Triple Feature
The headliner of the package - High School Big Shot - is actually a film noir in disguise. What starts out as a tale of unrequited teenage lust and ambition detours into a drug money heist plot with dire results for everyone. The title character - Marvin Grant (Tom Pittman) - makes straight A¿s but suffers from low self-esteem until Betty (Virginia Aldridge), the class beauty, appeals to him for some after-school term paper help. We know Betty is no good - after all, her boyfriend Vince (Howard Viet) is the school bad boy - but Marvin falls madly in love, despite Betty's voracious appetite for the finer things in life. Then, while working at his after-school job as a shipping clerk on the waterfront, he overhears his employer discussing a million dollar heroin deal with the arranged time and place for the transaction. That's the set-up but it doesn't begin to describe the quirkier moments of this MacBeth wannabe that features some inappropriate comic relief in the form of Marvin's heist partners (a shady druggist and his safecracker brother-in-law) and an odd father-son relationship; Marvin's divorced, ne'er-do-well dad can't hold a job and constantly sponges off his son. He's not much of a confidence builder either. When Marvin proudly tells him he's dating Betty, the old man counters, "Hey, she's the best looking chick in the whole school, ain't she? What's she going out with you for?" Because Betty knows a sucker when she sees one, Pops! And Virginia Aldridge's stylized performance as the bad seed is one of the pleasures of High School Big Shot. Alternating between a sexy tease and a spoiled brat, she plays the role with barely suppressed glee, unmasking herself as a total sociopath in the final reel. It's a shame her career didn't progress after this. In fact, she only appeared in one more film, demoted to "extra" status; her screen credit reads "gnome-maiden" in the Disney fantasy, The Gnome-Mobile, (1967).
Tom Pittman's performance as Marvin, on the other hand, is at times painful to watch; a bundle of Method acting tics obviously influenced by James Dean at his most overwrought. He was much more promising in Sam Fuller's Verboten! (1959). Unfortunately, High School Big Shot was his last film; he died in a car accident the same year. The print quality of High School Big Shot is fair at best, marred by scratches and frame damage, but it somehow seems appropriate for something that would have turned up at the drive-in in the '50s in a similarly battered state.
In terms of pure fun, High School Caesar is sure to be the disc favorite. Whether viewed as a look at fascism on the rise or a juvenile delinquent version of Little Caesar, it's hard not to enjoy John Ashley's smug self-confidence as a sociopathic rich kid who easily manipulates those around him through simple psychology. Ashley was usually cast as the leading man's best pal in teen flicks of the '50s and '60s (he's a regular fixture in the AIP Beach Party movies as Frankie Avalon's backup) and later as the hero in Filipino horror films such as The Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968). But Ashley's forte might be slick control freaks like the one he plays in High School Caesar. We know he's a little dictator from the moment we see Matt Stevens, beating up a fellow classmate with the help of his own goon squad, all of whom fall into a goosestep behind him when he leads the way. Matt is not your typical high school hoodlum however. For one thing, he's running for president of the student body. What self-respecting delinquent wants to be class president? One who has the heart of a crooked politician. In record time, Matt throws the student election, is proclaimed king and begins imposing restrictions on those who oppose him. He tries to charge a fee for off-campus drag races, makes unrealistic promises to his flunkies and uses his charm and then intimidation tactics to make Wanda (Judy Nugent), the new girl in school, date him. But Wanda's no fool; she's the real rebel in this film and tells Matt off in front of everyone, "I don't take orders from anybody and especially from a pampered little punk like you." That earns her a hard slap and later a close call at rape in the backseat of Matt's car. And that's only the tip of the Matt Stevens iceberg - the guy is a blackmailer, thief, extortionist and murderer! It finally takes the whole student body to bring him down - after he's roused Wanda's all-American boyfriend to action and alienated his own gang, particularly his prot¿ Crickett (Steve Stevens, now here's a sick master-slave relationship). Despite the amoral behavior on display in High School Caesar, this is a high school where nobody seems to smoke, drink or do drugs. And the chief villain is a textbook example of the pampered but ignored child. While his parents gallivant around Europe, Matt is attended by his much despised butler Carter ("If you can't perform your duties to my satisfaction then I'll just have to replace you") and Lucy, his cook, who seems to function as a substitute mother. In one of the weirder exchanges, Matt gazes at the elderly, overweight woman and says, "Ya know, Lucy, I've been looking at you and you get prettier everyday. I just expect to walk in here one day and find that one of your boyfriends has carried you off for good." And he's being sincere! Lucy takes good care of her boy, even plays his favorite music while she serves him breakfast and it's not rock 'n roll; it sounds more like muzak. The real Matt - the one the students don't see - is an emotional mess, one who cries into his pillow at night, surrounded by relics from his childhood (one great moment - the camera closes in on his bronzed baby shoes atop his bedside radio). Like High School Big Shot, the print quality of this film is serviceable but not pristine by any means. The nicks, blemishes and occasional emulsion mark certainly won't prevent your enjoyment of this twisted little J.D. opus.
Third-billed and the most provocatively titled film in the trio, Date Bait is a melodrama with a Romeo and Juliet subplot. Danny (Gary Clarke, previously seen in Dragstrip Riot, 1958) is from the wrong side of the tracks but he's a good kid and wants to marry Sue (Marla Ryan), despite major resistance from her class-conscious parents, particularly her old man. Meanwhile, Sue's former boyfriend Brad (Dick Gering) has just returned from a treatment center for an undisclosed illness (heroin addiction) and begins stalking Sue's every movement. The fact that his brother Nico is a local racketeer creates a further risk to Danny and Sue's happiness. Despite the rock bottom budget and some lame comic relief provided by Danny's goofball friends, Bud and Frieda, Date Bait is worth seeing for Richard Gering's twitchy, neurotic performance as the ill-fated Brad. In the course of the film, his character tries to knife Danny and rape/strangle Sue ("If I can't have you, no one else will!") yet he still manages to generate some sympathy for his self-destructive character. One peculiar aspect of this film, which binds it to the other two on the DVD, is the depiction of its teenage protagonists (never mind that all the actors look like they're pushing 30). Everyone appears to be the product of a dysfunctional family. In Date Bait, both Danny and Brad are without parents and live with their older brothers; Danny's is completely non-attentive, Brad's is aggressively overprotective. In High School Big Shot, Marvin is viewed as a meal ticket by his father while Betty's dad writes her off as a whore. And in High School Caesar, there are NO parents in sight and no one to care at all about Matt's fate. It's a rough world out there. No wonder these kids have bad attitudes.
Something Weird's "Troubled Teens" triple feature includes a relatively modest offering of disc extras unlike some of their releases which are stocked to the gills with oddball shorts and obscurities. Besides the original theatrical trailer for High School Big Shot, there are trailers for The Choppers (1961), Jacktown (1962), The Violent Years (1956), Wild Guitar (1962) and a gallery of teens-run-wild exploitation art. All in all, a fun disc and recommended for connoisseurs of juvenile delinquency flicks and college professors offering courses in psychology 101.
For more information about the Troubled Teens Triple Feature, visit Image Entertainment. To order the Troubled Teens Triple Feature, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
Troubled Teens Triple Feature
Although the titles state "Introducing Daria Massey," she had already appeared in several films. At the film's conclusion, after all of "Matt Stevens'" followers, including "Cricket," have deserted him, he utters the line, "Not you, too, Cricket?," paraphrasing Julius Caesar's famous last words from William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "Et tu, Brute? (And you, Brutus?)" Reviews state that the film was shot on location in Chillicothe, MO. According to an August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Raynote records released a single entitled "High School Caesar," sung by Reggie Perkins, to coincide with the film's release.